Raziel Reid

Raziel PhotoInterviewed by Heather Farrell

Raziel Reid is a Canadian author with a degree in acting from the New York Film Academy. His work took off just three years ago with the release of his debut novel When Everything Feels Like the Movies. It won the Governor General’s Award for Children’s literature in 2014, when Raziel was 24, making him the youngest author to win the award in that category. Raziel now has a two-book deal with Penguin Random House Canada. The first of the two books, Kens, is set to be released in 2018.

While reading When Everything Feels Like the Movies I was enraptured powerful narration and the impact of the story. It was an honour to be able to correspond with Raziel about his work not long after finishing his new novel.

Your first novel, When Everything Feels Like the Movies [WEFLTM], is based off the true and tragic events in 2008 that led to the death of 15-year-old Larry Forbes King. He was shot by a fellow student whom Larry had asked to be his valentine. What was it like to write a novel-length work inspired by such a powerful true life event? How did it affect your writing process?

I knew the ending before I knew anything else, and since the real-life inspiration was rather bleak, I instinctively countered it with a riotousness and humour in the writing. During CBC Canada Reads in 2015 when the panel had to pick one of the titles as the only book they could read for the rest of their life Martha Wainwright didn’t pick WEFLTM but she said it meant she would be laughing less. I really appreciated that.

Larry became a martyr and idol of mine because I shared in his humiliation and the dissonance between his ethereal spirit and the material world. But I got to survive. By experiencing his death, I found an appreciation for my life.

You’re currently working on a second novel, Kens, which is set to be released in 2018. What do you find yourself doing differently the second time around?

WEFLTM is a beautiful mess. I started writing it when I was twenty-one and I didn’t really know how to construct a book, a flood of emotion and voice came out through my fingertips and I drowned in it. Narcissus had a pond, I have a page. The success of WEFLTM is found in Jude’s narration. I wouldn’t change it now even though I’ve grown as a writer because the flaws are what make it so believable as the first-person story of a fifteen-year-old. With Kens, I find myself existing on the peripheral of the text instead of using the gushing blood of my heart as a writing utensil. All the characters in KENS are inspired by Mattel Barbie dolls — and I feel very much the manufacturer.

As a graduate from the New Year Film Academy you have a background in acting and film. How do you find this plays into your written work?

Acting is a great education in writing. To learn how to perform a scene is to learn how to craft one. Film and TV scenes often start with action and end with information, and I apply that to novel writing. My fiction is also dialogue heavy, if I’m stuck or uninspired sometimes I’ll write out an entire chapter in dialogue and then fill in prose and description around it. And I love a good chapter ending! I always picture a screen smashing to black after the last line.

I think YA novels are so widely read amongst varying age groups because they’re like watching a movie. There’s an immediacy to the text and drama that makes for great binge-reading. I know with WEFLTM many people read it cover to cover in the span of a few hours, the way they sit down to watch a show on Netflix. This type of literature speaks to our instant digital age.

Aside from the writing devices film school offered me, I also just love the overall theme of show business. Jackie Collins said you have to be of Hollywood to be able to write about it, but this was perhaps a pre-internet perspective. My second new work is called Followers and I wrote it in threads of Instagram comments of celebrity offspring, reality stars, and the Instafamous. I’m interested in the construct of fame — the duality of existence as a real person and a projected image, and what happens when the line is blurred.

If you were able to deliver a single writing-related piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Fake sick more often so you can miss school and watch soap operas. The genre has dwindled, but as a child in the ‘90s I used to tell my mom I wasn’t feeling well so I could stay home and watch all my stories. I was obsessed — the sex, the glamour, the way no one ever really died even if you saw their flawless corpse in a casket! I used to keep notebooks where I would continue the episodes, writing dialogue and performing scenes alone in my room. I’d invent my own shows and storylines. While most boys my age were outside playing with their friends I was in my room pretending to be a middle-aged blonde diva who had been married to every man in a rich family and was now sleeping with my daughter’s husband. And that’s how I learned how to write. I used to be very secretive about it — hiding the journals and discreetly watching the Soaps because my family thought I was totally insane. I felt so much shame for my insatiable need to escape the world and play. My advice to myself and to all writers is to eliminate guilt. It’s a useless emotion. There isn’t even an emoji for it.

What is your go to writing snack?

Whiskey neat.

Heather Farrell is Vancouver based writer and student of UBC’s Creative Writing program. Her main genres are speculative fiction and young adult. In spring of 2016 her short play, “Whine!” was featured in the staged reading portion of the Brave New Playwright’s Festival. She can be found on social media @heatheriswriting.

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