News and Interviews

EMWF: Rob Shapiro on Seeing it Through and Sticking it Out


While this year's physical edition of the Eden Mills Writer's Festival may be cancelled, fans and creators alike were thrilled to hear that organizers had decided to make the experience virtual, presenting a six-month-long (May to October) program of free online literary events featuring over 40 of Canada's best and brightest literary talents. Over the next little while, we'll be interviewing a few participating authors to get their thoughts on the festival and what fans can expect from their appearance.

Sam, the teenage protagonist of Toronto writer Rob Shapiro's new YA novel, The Book of Sam (Dundurn, forthcoming in August), is having a tough time. Facing criticism from his family and mockery from his classmates, he's always stuck feeling like he can't measure up. To make matters worse, he's still aching from an unrequited crush on his best friend, Harper. When he hatches a plan to tell Harper his true feelings, however, everything goes straight to Hell. Literally. After a series of events lead Harper to be kidnapped and taken to the terrifying netherworld, Sam must draw on all his courage to bring her back home.

We're thrilled to have Rob at Open Book today, where he talks about how he's feeling on the verge of his first public event ever, why you should always complete your first drafts, and what he's got coming up next.
Catch Rob Shapiro as part of the "In the Lead" YA panel, happening August 6th at 8pm EST. Visit the EMWF website to register.


Open Book:

Have you participated in the Eden Mills festival before? If so, do you have a favourite memory from the festival, and if not, what are you looking forward to this year?

Rob Shapiro:

This is my first time participating in the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival and my first public event. I’m really looking forward to being on a panel with Lindsay Wong and Sheena Kamal, two writers I greatly admire. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a bit intimidating. 

I’m also excited to connect with young readers and to remember that they’re no longer the mystical creatures I conjured in my head while working on this novel the last few years.

Next year, I plan to attend in person with my family.


Can you tell us a little bit about what you'll be doing at the festival this year?


I’ll be reading an early scene from The Book of Sam. It’s Sam and Harper’s last night together before Harper leaves on an academic exchange. It’s a moment of truth for each character. Sam wants to badly confess his love to Harper whereas Harper wants to make sure she can leave knowing that Sam will be okay without her. 

As with most meticulously planned farewells, it goes spectacularly awry as Sam opens a portal to Hell, Harper is kidnapped, and the adventure is set in motion.


What makes a great event in your opinion? Do you have any special rituals, or any tips you'd share with emerging writers?


This is my first public event so whatever I do well or poorly will most likely dictate future rituals. I have no idea if I should fast for the day or eat a big bowl of pasta. I’m a fast talker, and not in the cool grifter way, but in the way where I shove too many words out of my mouth per minute. My plan is to rehearse a lot.

I feel like being a writer means to be in a constant state of growing, so it’s strange to give advice to others. One thing I always try to do is finish my projects. Even if your first draft is a mess—mine are super terrible, trust me—it’s much easier to work off a complete idea. As a writer, your job is actually to rewrite—it’s a bummer, I know—but this is much more effective if you finish your drafts.

The other piece of advice is to not let agents, producers or publishers dictate if you can make it. It’s a grueling, cold, and uber-competitive business, but if you stick with it long enough, you might outlast many of them.


Are there any other writers or events at the festival you’re excited to check out?


So many! I’m a big Emily St. John Mandel fan. I’m very excited to check out Robyn Harding, Canisia Lubrin, Tyler Pennock and Kenneth Oppel.

My goal is to get acquainted with some new writers and engage with genres that I’m less familiar with. I’ve always felt that the appeal of any literary event is to discover a new voice, one that you might normally miss based on bookstore merchandising and shelf placement.


What are you currently working on?


I always feel like I have a dozen projects on the go. I have a half-hour comedy called Comedy School in development with LoCo Motion Pictures. I’m about halfway through the first draft of a new YA novel. I’m also developing several TV shows on my own and hoping to pitch them later this year.

I’m also watching The Office for the third time this year.


Rob Shapiro is a novelist and TV writer who has dabbled in film, theatre, and copywriting. He recently wrote for Nelvana’s D.N.Ace and co-created two television series that are in development. Rob lives in Toronto.

Buy the Book

The Book of Sam

A hell-bound fantasy starring demons, damsels, and an unlikely hero.

“A fast-paced, page-turning adventure built out of a strikingly original mythology. Eerie, surprising, and a lot of fun.” — Elan Mastai, author of All Our Wrong Todays

Sixteen-year-old Sam Sullinger lives in the shadow of adolescence. He's lost among his overachieving siblings, constantly knocked down by his harsh father, and bullied daily. His only solace is his best friend and crush, Harper.

In a grand plan designed to help him confess his love to Harper, Sam accidentally sets off a series of events that lead to her being kidnapped and taken to Hell. Racked with guilt, Sam makes a bold decision for the first time in his life: he’s going to rescue his only friend.

Sam is thrust into a vivid world fraught with demons, vicious beasts, and a falling city. And every leg of his journey reminds him that he isn’t some brave knight on a quest — he’s an insecure teenager yearning to make his mark on at least one world.