Ask the Author: Elan Mastai

“Now that my novel "All Our Wrong Todays" is out, I'm happy to answer any questions about it.” Elan Mastai

Answered Questions (36)

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Elan Mastai Hi Ryan—thank you! Your enthusiasm for the book means the world to me. Whether or not you actually inscribe your body with the image, I'm thrilled something I wrote could mean that much to you. The second novel is in-progress and I'm deep into revisions on it. The movie adaptation is written and currently working with the producer to find the right director. It's a slow process, unfortunately, but the filmmakers we're talking to are terrific.
Elan Mastai I mean... yes, so many things didn't make the cut because I didn't want to overwhelm the reader or weigh down the story. I thought about how I'd explain our world to someone who knew nothing about it—you can't explain everything, so you just point things out as you go and hope that, like a mosaic, they get a coherent picture from all the little tiles. As for the critical aspects of Tom's reality, the book is narrated specifically from Tom's point of view and intentionally includes his personal blindspots. His reality has a lot of cool stuff in it and was fun to write, but it's also explicitly a 1950s vision of the future. Corporations are good, authority is deferred to, gender roles are polarized, science is seen as objective truth, and people generally believe technology can solve any problem. In our version of reality, all of these notions have been interrogated over the past half-century.
Elan Mastai Mastai = Mass + Tie.
"Mass" like a large quantity & "Tie" like a game that ends with an equal score from both teams.
Elan Mastai Thank you, Miguel, that's high praise and much appreciated. Some favourites: Neal Stephenson, Philip K Dick, Dexter Palmer, Ted Chiang, John Wyndham, Leigh Brackett, Lauren Beukes, Kurt Vonnegut, Nnedi Okorafor, and not sure if he counts as sci-fi but if so David Mitchell.
Elan Mastai Thanks Peggy, I'm really happy you're enjoying it and I promise the book will wait for you if you're too busy to get back to it. I don't think I can choose a favorite poet, sorry, because it's usually about reading the right poem at the right time. I suppose my favorite poem is "A Hymn to God the Father" by John Donne. I don't share Donne's religious perspective, but it was the first poem that showed me just how many things a poem can do. The language is beautiful, it's philosophical, despairing, confessional, hopeful, candid, argumentative, narcissistic, and prostrate, and almost mathematically precise, all in 18 tightly wrought lines. My routine before I write is to buy a coffee and go for a walk and think about what I want to tackle that day. I walk, and sip, and think, and walk, and sip, and think, until I find the first sentence of the day. Then I rush home to write it and the ones that come after it.
Elan Mastai I'd be an album of Ludovico Einaudi compositions as covered by Ratatat.
Elan Mastai This is an extremely difficult question! My top 3 would have to be...

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Because it's the book that first introduced me to time travel as both genre plot and psychological metaphor. I reread it a few months ago and some aspects don't hold up 49 years later, but its influence is lasting.

The Time-Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Unlike this book, I took the science of time travel seriously in mine. But this book reminded me that what matters, ultimately, is what time travel does to the characters, emotionally. That's where the book's true impact on the reader happens. So even though I think our books are quite different, it influenced me a lot.

Version Control by Dexter Palmer. I read this book after mine was published, so it didn't influence the writing. But I loved it and its approach really resonated with me. I think if I'd made Victor and Rebecca (Tom's parents) the protagonists of All Our Wrong Todays, I would've ended up with a book a lot like this one.

What are your time travel favourites? Always looking for good recommendations?
Elan Mastai Professionally, as my main job, since 2000. But I've been writing for fun since high school and got even more into it in university. After I graduated, it was more about figuring out ways to make a living from it, but I always kept writing.
Elan Mastai Claire, it's a challenging time when you're about to graduate and your ambitions for yourself can seem faraway and suspect. But like most things in life, it's all about small manageable goals. As a screenwriter, I started by writing short films, making them with friends, learning the difference between how something reads on the page versus how it sounds when shot and performed. I worked for film festivals and met other filmmakers, both established and aspiring, building relationships with likeminded creatives. And I wrote—a lot. My early scripts showed promise and drew interest, but I got better by writing and writing and writing some more. Write stuff, make stuff, get it out into the world however you can, apply to festivals, attend festivals, meet people, make friends who might become colleagues, keep writing, keep making stuff, be great to work with, find the balance between being passionate and hardheaded, be objective about both your strengths and weaknesses as a writer so that you can keep improving, be bold, be kind, be careful about who you choose to work with, and always be writing something new.
Elan Mastai An interesting question. I often use music to get me into a specific frame of mind. So I might assign certain songs or bands to a character that I listen to when writing them. Or I'll go for a walk and think about how the character would see the world around them and get a running commentary in my head from that character's point of view. Sometimes I even record myself talking as them and transcribe it. There's no one way to do it, just whatever works for you as a writer.
Elan Mastai Thanks so much, Srishti, I'm really happy to hear you enjoyed the book. Yes, my next novel will explore a recognizably sci-fi concept. But, as with All Our Wrong Todays, I'll be coming at it from an unexpected and hopefully intriguing angle. I'm excited to get it to readers like you—as soon as I actually finish writing it...
Elan Mastai Jenn—for me, writer's block tends to come when I haven't thought through a story enough, so I don't know what needs to happen next because I'm unsure where it's going. Like standing at a crossroads not knowing which way to walk because you have no destination in mind. What I do is go work on something else and just think about the story that's befuddling me until I've got a better plan for it. I usually juggle a few projects at a time for just this reason.
Elan Mastai Thanks Randall. That's an astute reference, actually. I'm working with This American Life on a project and their storytelling approach has definitely influenced me. Because the book is written as a "memoir" I wanted to perform it as if it was a true story to the narrator. I wasn't trying to do an Ira Glass impression, but something about his vocal rhythms and tonal inflections—so widespread now in the podcast world—probably wormed their way into my delivery. My approach was to narrate the book like a podcast in which Tom is relating his real-life experiences to the listener.
Elan Mastai Thanks very much, Odilon.

1. I kept the structure pretty much intact. But details within that structure—the muscles, nerves, and organs inside the skeleton—evolved as I got to know the characters better through the writing process.
2. I don't think it's necessary to consult specialists if you have a good head for research and a good eye for telling details. Of course a proper expert will likely be able to tell you things about the subject that you may never otherwise find. So it depends on how crucial the research is to your story versus just some interesting shading to the plot.
Elan Mastai I think planet colonization is interesting, of course, but if the resources required to achieve such a thing were deployed to solve the many complex problems of our home world it would make a big difference. My loyalties lie with Earth.
Elan Mastai Traveling to new countries and meeting the local authors. Living in North America, we only get a fraction of the books written all over the world. So the chance to travel to promote my book and meet fellow authors and find about their work has been an unexpected but lovely experience.
Elan Mastai I'm currently writing my second novel. I've also been working on the movie adaptation of All Our Wrong Todays.
Elan Mastai I've always been fond of this quote by W. Somerset Maugham: “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp.”

I stick to a daily routine—usually writing 10am-1pm, take a break, get lunch catch up on email & calls, then writing again 3pm-6pm. Sometimes life intrudes and I can't do a full day's writing, but then I'll often make up for it after dinner, so that I'm averaging a solid 5-6 hours writing per week day.
Elan Mastai I do appear at author events when I can—and thanks for thinking of me for your event. It really depends on my schedule. I'd recommend contacting my American publisher Dutton if it's a US event or my Canadian publisher Doubleday if it's a Canadian event.
Elan Mastai Before I start writing, I build out a structure for the whole book. I don't like to begin until I feel like I have a terrific ending in place and that the rest of the book is durable constructed to get me—and the reader—there. But I always leave lots of room to discover things along the way, so that the actual writing feels spontaneous and alive with possibility. Like a long-distance road trip: you plan ahead where you'll be stopping for each night, but you leave enough space in your schedule to find lots of adventure and surprises along the way.

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