Volunteer Andrea interviews Christopher Meades, author of The Last Hiccup.
Andrea: Why did you choose to write a book about lives affected by a person with long-term hiccups?
Christopher Meades: I wanted to do something unique, to tell a story that has never been told before. And as far as I know, no one else has written a story about a boy in 1930’s Russia with an incurable case of the hiccups. I chose the hiccups because while it’s a slightly esoteric subject for a novel, it’s also quite familiar to readers. Everyone gets the hiccups. But what happens if they never stop?
Andrea: How did you approach research for The Last Hiccup?
Christopher Meades: I’m not a historian but I did a lot of googling subjects online. I’ve found though that you can’t really trust Wikipedia when you’re researching a novel. I would start online and then act as my own fact checker by going through dusty old books in the library. Also, my editor was great at spotting minor historical inaccuracies before they slipped through the cracks. For example, in the first draft of The Last Hiccup I included a section about Vladimir visiting Russia’s ancient Sukharev Tower. But that tower had actually been torn down six years earlier (in 1934) than the chapter in the novel. So we had to adjust and find another landmark that worked.
Andrea: Your characters were very well-drawn and distinct. Which one of them surprised you the most?
Christopher Meades: I think Sergei (Vladimir’s doctor) surprised me the most. Originally I planned on him being a much flatter character and a more stable influence in Vladimir’s life. But the way the novel is shaped, with the young hiccupping protagonist being almost like an enigmatic absence for the first third of the book, it allowed Sergei to grow and develop (and lose a bit of his grip on reality) in ways that I didn’t initially anticipate.
Andrea: When you write, are you a planner, or do you wing it?
Christopher Meades: I’m a big planner. I scribble out a lot of diagrams in colored pens and then tack them up onto the wall, only to take them down, rearrange them all and tack them up again. There’s a school of thought out there that the only way to write a novel is to take a Kerouacian approach – to sit down and start writing and see what comes out. But I wanted the plotline of The Last Hiccup to be really clean. I find the best way to include humor in a novel (and still make the characters believable) is to have a really clean, solid plotline. If I ever found myself drifting off course of the initial plan, I would just stop at the end of the chapter and reassess where it was all going.
Andrea: What was your journey to publication like?
Christopher Meades: I’d been writing on and off for about 10 years before ECW Press signed me to a 3 book deal. In 2007, I really started focusing on getting my work published. I took courses, workshopped my writing, read books on how to improve my work and submitted to print journals. For the first year, it was like sending my fiction out into an infinite black void. I didn’t hear back from anyone. I’d been working on this every day for 12 months and hadn’t had so much as a short story published. But I kept plugging away, did everything I could to make my writing the best it could be and then it all turned around once I won a fiction contest hosted by the Vancouver Province newspaper. After that, my writing gradually started getting accepted by journals and then ECW picked up my first novel (The Three Fates of Henrik Nordmark). Now The Last Hiccup just hit stores.
Andrea: Does the piece you wrote for Potomac Review Issue 47 have anything in common with The Last Hiccup?
Christopher Meades: The Video Poker Bar in Vegas, the story that I had published in Potomac Review, is very different from The Last Hiccup. It’s a contemporary first person confessional and features an immediate, almost desperate tone while The Last Hiccup is more of a macabre comedy with a quirky (and hopefully endearing) cast of characters. The actual prose is quite different as well. Setting The Last Hiccup in 1930’s Russia colored everything in my novel; include the sentence structures and descriptions. I’ve always appreciated books that are well written but still have interesting, well-developed plots, and I tried my best to emulate that in my novel.
Andrea: What are you working on now?
Christopher Meades: Like a lot of writers, I have two small children and a day job, so it’s a challenge to get any work done. But I’m currently finishing up a short story collection and within the next year I plan to travel to Kenya and write a novel loosely based on the experience. I don’t want to give away too much but it will be about lions and zebras, revenge and forgiveness, family and lost love and all things in between.
Christopher Meades is the Vancouver author of The Last Hiccup and The Three Fates of Henrik Nordmark. In 2009, his short story The Walking Lady won the Toyon Fiction Prize. He dreams of one day escaping his cubicle and living by the beach. Find him online at www.ChristopherMeades.com.