'You’re going to end up rewriting everything so many times anyway, so just finish it no matter what and fix it after'
Where did you grow up, and what was it like?
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It was a beautiful place to grow up, on a bay off the Pacific Ocean, with snow-capped mountains and misty rainforests ringing the city. It’s a town where the vastness of the landscape makes the human scale seem kind of puny and rickety in comparison. My family came to Vancouver from all over the world. Within two generations we had people from four different continents. I was the first of my generation to be born in Canada. So from my earliest memories, the seesaw of local and global was strongly felt.
When did you know you wanted to write?
I remember, as a child, being taken to a play called “New Canadian Kid” that used language in a way I’d never experienced before. It’s about a kid who has just moved to Canada. At home, he speaks English with his parents. But at school, the kids and teachers speak a gibberish language that makes no sense. It was a powerful way to present what it felt like to move to a place where you didn’t speak the local tongue. As the play progresses, certain English words filter into the gibberish, because the character is starting to understand this new language. By the end, the audience can make sense of what everyone is saying, just as the character can.
The play was written by a family friend, Dennis Foon. He went on to write several novels, including the Longlight Legacy trilogy, which is wonderful and well-worth reading. That play was the first time I understood that the works of art and entertainment I enjoyed were written by actual people. And in this case someone I knew through my parents. It was a job you could do. And so, from that moment, I wanted to do it too.
Where do you live now?
Toronto, Ontario, Canada. A culturally diverse, quickly growing city with terrific art and great restaurants. But not quite as scenic as my hometown of Vancouver, sadly.
What did you do before you were a writer?
I got hired to write my first movie when I was still a university student and have been writing professionally ever since. So, I didn’t do much before I was a writer, although I was specifically a screenwriter rather than a novelist. My most recent movie was called What If and starred Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, and Mackenzie Davis. I did work at both the Toronto International Film Festival and the Vancouver International Film Festival, which gave me an eye-opening crash course in how movies are bought and sold and introduced to the world in a frenzy of hype and hope. Not unlike novels, really. Less popcorn.
What are you reading at the moment?
I recently finished Reality Is Not What It Seems by Carlo Rovelli, which was terrific. I’m currently reading The Big Picture by Sean Carroll, The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, and Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. A lot of nonfiction, apparently. I typically read mostly fiction, but I’m doing research for a new book.
Which fictional character would you like to go out drinking with and why?
Kilgore Trout. He tells great stories.
What would be your desert island…
Song: Where Is My Mind? by The Pixies. Sorry, just confirming, but does this desert island have electricity? Would I need the song on vinyl or is a digital file okay?
Book: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Because I’ve been meaning to read it for, like, decades, so maybe if I was trapped on a desert island I’d finally do it. But to be honest my ideal book would be a massive blank journal that I can write in. So I’d read The Brothers Karamazov and then bleach the pages with sea water and sunshine to write my own book on its pages. Sorry, Dostoyevsky.
Film: The Apartment, directed by Billy Wilder, written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond. Wait, this desert island has a TV but it only shows one movie? Is this actually some sort of experimental laboratory or shadowy government prison? These questions are provoking a lot of other questions…
Not many people know this, but I’m very good at…
Housepainting. I spent a summer during university painting houses. My line work is very clean. I don’t have to lay down tape to protect the edges. I’m smooth with a roller. When I spackle over a chip in the drywall, you would seriously never know it was ever damaged.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Dumb, glossy action movies, probably. I find it comforting how convinced they are that any problem can be solved by two people punching each other while the camera whizzes around them. In my actual life experience, no problem has ever been solved by people punching each other. Also, unnecessarily expensive chocolate. I can barely tell the difference between a delicately packaged wedge of artisanal single variety chocolate and a cheap corner store candy bar, but that’s why the pleasure is guilty.
What moment in history would you have wanted to be present at and why?
The original premiere of Macbeth in 1606. I’d really like to know if Hecate was part of the original Shakespearean text or inserted at a later date as some scholars have suggested. Ugh, sorry, such a nerdy answer. Okay, also, my parents met by happenstance at a café in Jerusalem. Thirty seconds earlier or thirty seconds later, they wouldn’t have run into each other and I wouldn’t be here (and you’d be reading a Q&A with someone else). If I could be assured that my presence wouldn’t meddle with the space-time continuum, I’d like to witness that moment.
What’s the most useful piece of advice about writing you’ve been given?
Finish things. Rewriting an existing piece of material, even if it’s lousy, is so much easier than starting from scratch with a blank page. You’re going to end up rewriting everything so many times anyway, so just finish it no matter what and fix it after.
And finally, what’s the question (and answer to the question) no one has ever asked you but you wish they would?
What is time? I have two answers. First, time is entropy. Our experience of duration is based on the changing state of the matter around us and of which we are composed. Second, time is gravity. As we know, time is inseparable from space, what we call the four dimensions of space-time. Gravity isn’t just a force that exerts itself on mass. It’s the field that defines space and time. Okay, so, if time is change as defined by gravity, we now have a framework to conceive how a vehicle might escape the gravity of time the way a spacecraft escapes the gravity of space. As we know from rocket science, escaping gravity typically requires 90% of a vehicle’s mass to be fuel. If you want to build a time machine, an interesting question is — what exactly is that fuel?
As you can see, there’s a very good reason nobody asks me this question.
Find out more about the author
So, the thing is, I come from the world we were supposed to have.
That means nothing to you, obviously, because you live here, in the crappy world we do have.
But it never should've turned out like this. And it's all my fault - well, me and to a lesser extent my father.
And, yeah, I guess a little bit Penelope.
In both worlds, she's the love of my life. But only a single version of her can exist.
I have one impossible chance to fix history's greatest mistake and save this broken world.
Except it means saving one Penelope and losing the other forever - and I have absolutely no idea which to choose . . .
Praise for All Our Wrong Todays
'A thrilling tale of time travel and alternate timelines with a refreshingly optimistic view of humanity's future'
Andy Weir, author of international bestseller The Martian
'A novel about time travel has no right to be this engaging. A novel this engaging has no right to be this smart. And a novel this smart has no right to be this funny. Or insightful. Or immersive. Basically, this novel has no right to exist."
Jonathan Tropper, New York Times bestselling author of This Is Where I Leave You and One Last Thing Before I Go
'Elan Mastai has conjured up a witty and freewheeling time-traveling romance that packs an emotional wallop.All Our Wrong Todays is a page-turning delight'
Maria Semple, author of Today Will Be Different and Where'd You Go, Bernadette