Jowita Bydlowska first connected with readers through her raw and vulnerable memoir, Drunk Mom. She's now turned her attention to fiction, with the publication of Guy, maintaining her trademark unflinching frankness.
In Guy (Wolsak & Wynn), we meet the titular character, a handsome 30-something who sees women as numbers and conquests. Under his charming exterior, his narcissistic inner monologues are chilling, revealing a character devoid of empathy but perfectly adept at passing as a normal, even admirable, person.
We're excited to announce that Jowita is our May 2017 writer-in-residence at Open Book. If you're not already familiar with Jowita and her work, you're in for a treat, and you can get to know her today through our In Character interview. She tells us about how the controversial figure of Guy came about, the tough process of choosing character names, and a recent favourite character in fiction.
Tell us about the main character in your new book.
Guy is a guy in his early 30s who's successful, attractive, confident and who believes himself to be "God's gift to women." He had been described by others as a misogynist and a chauvinist. He is both of those things, yes, but he's more complicated than that -- he's (somewhat unwittingly) sensitive, quite troubled by his own emotions and he suffers from mental illness, which he dismisses as a folly. He is definitely not the nicest guy although he gives excellent first impression.
Some writers feel characters take on a "life of their own" during the writing process. Do you agree with this, or is a writer always in control?
I wouldn't say my characters necessarily have a "life of their own" but I develop them in great detail, in my mind, before writing them out. They become quite real (they have to be, otherwise how can I can I believe in them myself and convince my readers of their possibility). On top of that, their development while I'm writing a particular story might go in unexpected directions but I try to stick to the outline as much as I can. When I was writing Guy, it sometimes felt as if I was living with him and he was a problematic, fussy roommate who would say terrible things -- you could even say he was kind of like the Freudian Id but my Id is definitely less of an a-hole.
How do you choose names for your characters?
I knew Guy's guy had to be "Guy" because I came up with a line (that ended up in the book) about him being a guy named Guy and having a dog named Dog. (His name also represents the fact that he could be any guy, that I believe many guys think in the way he does.)
Other than that, I have a really hard time coming up with names for my characters -- I find names very important and I have to like them enough to be able to spend long time with them. My character Emily went through five different name changes and only became Emily once I knew exactly what she looked like... she looked like Emily (Dolores, on the other hand, was Dolores from the start).
What is your approach to crafting dialogue, particularly for your main character? Do you have any tips about writing dialogue for aspiring and emerging writers?
I tend to write first-person so it's somewhat challenging to go from internal dialogue to external one. We tend to sanitize our thoughts before we speak them so I have to make sure my protagonists adhere to that (especially with Guy who has really troubling thoughts).
I am not a fan of expositional dialogue. I try to keep it short, I avoid exclamation points and would probably not say: She asked, "Can I?" but rather say: she said, "Can I?"
I try very hard to make sure my dialogue sounds authentic like something real people would actually say (while avoiding as much as I can "umms" and "hmmms").
Do you have anything in common with your main character? What parts of yourself do you see in him or her, and what is particularly different?
I tried to write a character that was as different from me as possible: he's male, he's not a parent, he's rich, he really does treat people as objects... I did however give him some sense of humour which I hope I posses even though he claims he's not a funny guy (that's part of the joke — he's clueless but not humourless).
Who are some of the most memorable characters you've come across as a reader?
I love character-driven books so there are too many to name but one that just popped into my head is Eileen in Ottessa Moshfegh's Eileen is deliciously dark and despite telling us exactly what she thinks, her sociopathy is subtle and slowly creeps up on you.
What are you working on now?
I'm working on a novel about a twisted mother-daughter relationship and possibly a memoir about my immigration.
Jowita Bydlowska was born in Warsaw, Poland, and moved to Canada as a teen. She is the author of the bestselling memoir Drunk Mom. A journalist and fiction writer, she lives in Toronto, Canada.