Interview by the Young Adulting Editors
Marty Chan writes books for kids and plays for adults. In theatre, he’s best known for his cross-cultural hit Mom, Dad, I’m Living with a White Girl, which has toured across Canada and had an Off-Broadway run in 2004. He’s also written for radio, television, magazines and newspapers. In 2019, Marty celebrated the launch of two books: Metamorphosis, the final book in his steampunk fantasy trilogy, The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles, and Kung Fu Master. He continues to work and live in Edmonton with his wife Michelle and their stressfarting cat, Buddy.
You’re one of the most imaginative, funniest writers we know. How do you manage to be funny in fiction when the world gets you down?
One of the toughest things to maintain today is perspective. Much of my humour comes from being able to step back from situations and then look at them sideways, upside down, or backwards. I opt to go for character humour in my writing rather than referential comedy or attack humour. Referential humour is what you would see on Saturday Night Live. If you understand the target they are making fun of, you’ll find their sketches funny. If you don’t get the reference point, you’re less likely to laugh. As for attack humour, that’s the kind of stuff that can descend into cruelty very quickly, which is why I’d rather create humour out of the characters and their situations.
You’ve written mystery novels and kids’ books, as well as for television, theatre and radio. What’s the biggest challenge for a writer who wants to make the jump to a genre that involves actors?
I’m glad that I made the switch from dramatic writing to fiction, because much of my skill sets in theatre, television and radio could transfer to novel writing. Plus, I had the advantage of being able to write dialogue that wasn’t just straight exposition pretending to be conversation. If I went in the other direction from fiction to theatre, the biggest challenge would be dialogue. A playwright has to trust that their words will convey just the right intention regardless of who is performing the role. For a fiction author, this leap of faith can seem like the Grand Canyon, and often times, authors will overcompensate when they write dialogue. I’ve learned to trust that my actors can convey a meaning with a look or a pause rather than the 17 lines I try to cram into their mouths, so I find myself cutting dialogue after I hear a reading of my work.
How would you say living in Edmonton inspires what you write?
Every city, regardless of size or location, has its own identity. If you live in Edmonton long enough, you see the city for all its wonderful assets and adorable quirks. Whenever I can, I try to incorporate the setting of the city into my stories. My Keepers of the Vault series uses Edmonton as a setting, and I specifically reference landmarks that I have ridden past on my bicycle during the all-too-brief summers we have in the capital city. In Edmonton, summer is usually that sweltering few weeks between when road crews temporarily block traffic to fix the endless potholes on our streets and when you scarf down the last Green Onion Cake on the final day of the Fringe Theatre Festival.
Your website mentions that you play video games. What are your favourite games these days?
I’m a sucker for tower defense games where you build a base and attack others to farm for resources. Empires and Allies is my current obsession. I used to play Clash of the Clans, but I think I had to take out a second mortgage to cover all the in-app purchases I could fortify my base.
What’s up next for Marty Chan?
Now that I’m over 50, I’ve started to amass a collection of useless skills that will never show up on my resume. I’ve learned how to solve a Rubik’s Cube in under a minute, I started to learn how to draw cartoons, and now I’m working on how to juggle one ball without ever throwing it up in the air. Contact juggling is a lot harder than it sounds and I have a nervous cat who can attest to how bad I am. I’m also playing around with the idea of writing a humour novel for adults, but that would mean I’d have to stop playing video games long enough to come up with an outline. Yes, I’m a plotter, not a pantser when it comes to writing.
Keep an eye out for our upcoming reviews of Marty Chan’s books.