Monday, March 18, 2024

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: Sheldon Birnie


In 2023, I decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

Sheldon Birnie is a writer, dad, and beer league hockey player from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and the author of Where the Pavement Turns to Sand (Malarkey Books, 2023). He can be found online @badguybirnie


What do you do when you’re not writing?

I’m a reporter by trade, so my weekdays are spent interviewing, researching, and writing stories about the community I call home. I have two small children, who keep the rest of my time pretty busy with various activities and day-to-day stuff. I play hockey an evening or two a week, occasionally get the old band back together to play some music, and generally just hang around home or the vicinity of my neighbourhood, reading and writing for fun when possible.

What’s the best money you’ve ever spent as a writer?

I bought an office chair from Costco a couple months back. $90 I think. Beats the hell outta the kitchen chairs I’d been sitting on to work/write for the past few years.

How do you celebrate when you finish writing a new book?

A nice size glass of the good bourbon.

Describe your book in three words.

Gritty, grimy, weird.

What is your favorite way to waste time?

If you can spend 20 minutes just laying around, doing absolutely nothing, just watching the leaves blow in the wind, that’s time well spent if you ask me.

What are some of your favorite books and/or authors?

Impossible to single out even just a few, but I’ll giver a go here… I was a big Ray Bradbury and Stephen King fan as a kid, and still enjoy their stuff today, and can see how early exposure to their work, particularly short-stories, informed my own writing even today. In my late teens, Philip K Dick was a big influence, then in my early 20s, I became obsessed with the work of Raymond Carver, Charles Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, and Cormac McCarthy. Over the past 10 years, I’ve tried not to let any writers in particular exude such a smothering effect on my own work. I’ve come to really appreciate the work of Margaret Laurence and Alice Munro, while trying to read as widely as I can, both contemporary and older writers I’ve somehow missed. Paul Quarrinton’s a beauty, both Whale Music and King Leary are top notch. Over the last couple years, I’ve been digging on Shirley Jackson, William Gibson, Kazuo Ishiguro, Denis Johnson, Charles Portis and Raymond Carver, among many others lately, and am excited everytime I see something new from Willy Vlautin, Bud Smith, Claire Hoppel, Andrew F. Sullivan, Jon Berger, Kyle Seibel. The list goes on and on forever, really, and the party never ends.

What is your favorite book from childhood?

Was a big Lord of the Rings fan too back in Grade 6/7, but have found it impossible to get back into it since then, even just in reading The Hobbit to my son, who is 8 (we both agreed to put it aside, try again later) and I’ve never even made it through those three films. I’ve found that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy holds up as an entertaining read, and I’d have to say that reading Trainspotting in junior high blew my young mind, back then, and I’ve enjoyed re-reading it a few times since.

What are you currently reading?

Right now, I’ve got Saga of the Swamp Thing Book 5 by Alan Moore on the go, loving it. I’ve also been working my way through The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols and Liberation Day by George Saunders, enjoying both on the whole. I also just started in on The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker, after seeing some chatter about it online, and though it’s early going still, I’m digging it.

What genres won’t you read?

Self-help, though I could probably use some.

What songs would be on the soundtrack of your life?

Hard to say, but I hope my buddies will play Todd Snider’s “Play a Train Song” at my funeral when I die, if I haven’t outlived them all.


Ride along on a journey with these 20 stories by Sheldon Birnie through the wild and wondrous backwoods of the Canadian prairies, out to where the pavement turns to sand and the possibilities are as endless as the horizon…

From close or would-be encounters with extraterrestrials, lycanthropes, bigfoot and the Ogopogo, haunted hockey skates and more, Sheldon Birnie’s new collection of short-fiction Where the Pavement Turns to Sand takes readers on a midnight cruise through the Canadian prairies before dumping you back on your doorstep, unsure as to what exactly just transpired.

A golf pro claims he was abducted by aliens before the big local tournament, though townspeople figure he finally fell off the wagon. A line cook comes face-to-face with something from his worst nightmare only to be mocked mercilessly by his peers. A beer league hockey player worries he didn’t do enough to help a former teammate, with tragic consequences. In these 20 stories, the mundane and the menacing meet over a pint at the local rink on the darkest night of the year, or around a midsummer bonfire beneath the stars on the shores of a deep forbidden lake.

Where the Pavement Turns to Sand is a collection of working class, everyday heartbreaks and bad decisions. In a refreshing rural Canadian setting, the characters in these slice of life tales stumble through divorce, debt, bad sex, and boring jobs, but also curling robots, aliens, jackalopes, wendigo, lots of legs wet with urine, and (maybe) sasquatches with an unexpected whimsy. What makes it work is Birnie’s signature dark humor and conversational style that makes every story feel like it was your neighbor telling it to you over a beer around a campfire, or at the rink. Surprising, entertaining, grimy and weird.

– Meagan Lucas, author of Songbirds and Stray Dogs and Here in the Dark, Editor in Chief of Reckon Review.

Buy it here:

No comments:

Post a Comment