To finish off our fiction week this week we have an interview with Liam Card, author of Exit Papers From Paradise. Liam tells us about his book, how he went about writing it, and how what inspired him to tell the story of a plumber who dreams of bigger and better things.
Caitlyn: Tell us about your book.
Liam: Exit Papers from Paradise is about a plumber from Paradise, Michigan, Isaac Sullivan, who believes he has both the skill and intellect to be a surgeon. After his father suffers a bad accident, young Isaac was forced to take over his father’s plumbing out of high school. Since then, Isaac has harbored resentment for over fifteen years with regard to the seismic shift in his life plan. His dreams of attending the University of Michigan, and then U of M Medical School, crushed along with his father’s vertebrae. However, Isaac didn’t abandon his dream entirely. For the past several years, Isaac has consumed every medical textbook, journal, podcast and blog he could find. Moreover, he has found time practicing surgical procedures on wild animals he kills around his property. Frustrated, and battling borderline depression, an uncomfortable encounter causes Isaac to shake off the layers of self-doubt and fear and begin going through the process of formally applying to the University of Michigan, as a mature student. As he pieces together the application, a deep connection is formed with a young woman who is just as out of place in Paradise, Michigan. The closer Isaac comes to realizing his dream, the closer he comes to understanding what is truly important in life. Exit Papers from Paradise is about the paralyzing gap between the lives we lead and the lives we think we should be. It is about the dark depths of a life rut, and how we can be our own worst enemy when it comes to digging ourselves out.
Caitlyn: How did you come up with the idea for this work?
Liam: Growing up, I heard countless stories regarding the athletic prowess of my Granddad Card. He was the sprint hurdles champion of Bermuda and an all-around phenomenal athlete. However, WWII got in the way of his Olympic aspirations. On my mother’s side, I grew up hearing stories about my Grandfather Buttrey, a Canadian Champion paddler. My uncle, Jim Buttrey, was a Canadian Skeet Shooting Champion and my uncle, Duncan Card, attended the 1976 Montreal Olympics as an alternate for the 4×100 relay team. Uncle Duncan would have attended the 1980 Olympics, as well, if not for Canada’s boycott. The point is, I grew up understanding how important athletics has been in my family, and I was determined, from a young age, to represent the family on a large stage. That stage, for me, was always the Olympic Games. As a teenager, my plan began to come together. I was a two-time Canadian Junior Champion in the 400m, and represented Canada at major international meets around the world. The dream of the Olympics was becoming more and more a reality. However, in early 2000, I suffered an Achilles injury that would change my life as an athlete forever. The Olympics was not, by any means, a forgone conclusion for me, however, my career was now over, as was chasing that Olympic dream. That summer of 2000, when many of my friends on the national team were marching in the opening ceremonies, I was at home in Paisley, Ontario, and entirely depressed. To give me something else to think about, my mother demanded that I go out and get a summer job or she would find one for me. Two weeks later, she did just that. She found a position for me as a “plumber’s helper,” working for a man named Rob Snider.
There I was, an Olympian in my mind, now a plumber’s helper. As you can imagine, that only lead me deeper into sadness and darkness. However, after a few weeks, I become good friends with Rob and, although my career as an elite athlete was over, I returned every summer from the University of North Carolina to work alongside Rob.
While back at University, I became immersed in creative writing, acting, and performance studies; all ways to vent my frustration over my failed life dream. When I made the decision to write a novel, I wanted to focus on what the mind goes through when the gap between the life you are leading and the life you want to lead seems insurmountable. It would have been far too close and too personal to write a story about a track athlete stuck in a plumber’s career, so I chose to create a scholastic genius instead. I created a story whereby a man with all of the mental capabilities to graduate medical school and become a surgeon is forced to take over his father’s plumbing business out of high school, thus, destroying his dream to attend university and live out his dream.
Moreover, this is a story about what happens to one’s confidence and self-image after suffering such a massive shift in life plan. Personally, I know what this rut feels like. I know what it sounded like inside my head during that difficult time. The tone of what I lived through is present in Isaac, and writing this story was likely the most therapeutic exercise I have ever undertaken.
Caitlyn: How did you research your book?
Liam: Writing a plumber who is also a medical genius was a great challenge. The internet is a wonderful tool, and I did most of my research from my laptop; visiting university webpages, reading medical journals, listening to medical podcasts, Wikipedia and all the way down to simple Google searches. However, I needed to know that my research was correct. For this, one of my closest friends, Marc Rigaux, contacted a Med Student at the University of Michigan (fittingly) and he agreed to proof-read my manuscript with a medical eye. As it turned out, out my research was pretty spot-on. However he did bring to light several instances of misinterpretation, and (simply) offering up better ways to say the same thing. To Dr. Jonathan Streitt, I am forever grateful. Of course, all of the plumbing research was done personally, during those summer months working alongside Rob Snider.
Caitlyn: Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?
Liam: Candidly, I wrote a book that I hoped my closest friends would enjoy. I have read that it is important to have someone in mind when creating a story, and when manufacturing the tone of the writing. Isaac, the main character, is a mishmash of several best friends along with a heaping tablespoon of myself in the mix. Again, I wanted, more than anything, for my friends to read it, connect with it, and enjoy the hell out of it. On a larger scale, I wanted anyone who has suffered a life setback to connect with this story. I want anyone who is currently stuck in a rut, or has a drastically different self-image of themselves to find an escape hatch for their frustrations via this story, even if for temporary relief. I fully understand that not everyone can be a movie star or rock star or professional athlete, but I hope that through this novel, those who are frustrated, those who are not living the life they feel they should be, can find a friend in Isaac.
Caitlyn: How did you come up with the title?
Liam: The title took a while to come to me. I wanted to have the word “paradise” in the title because I found it so ironic that a plumber would be living in Paradise. Having been a “plumber’s helper,” I can tell you that a plumber should, more appropriately, live in Hell, Michigan. It is an absolutely brutal job that is very physically demanding and causes major wear and tear on the body – especially the knees and back. Did you know that Hell, Michigan exists approximately 550 km south of Paradise, Michigan?
When I thought of what the physical application to university represented to Isaac, it seemed to be more of a passport out of Paradise … out of the life he hated so much. The application was a collection of organized exit papers. Thus, Exit Papers from Paradise eventually came together.
Liam Card studied writing at the University of Iowa and the University of North Carolina, respectively, graduating with a B.A. in communication studies while on a full track and field scholarship at both universities. A screenwriter, Liam lives in Toronto.
The Markerting Coordinator at Dundurn, lover of books, tea and dancing in the rain.