Denis Coupal is the author of Blindshot, a thriller set in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Published by Linda Leith Publishing, it is Denis’ debut novel. Denis was gracious enough to take time from his schedule to talk about Blindshot, writing screenplays, his favourite books and much more!
Miramichi Reader: Tell us about your background, education, employment, etc.
Thank you for this kind invitation to discuss my writing with The Miramichi Reader. It’s a privilege. I am so pleased to have learned that BLINDSHOT has made the 2020 Longlist in “Best First Book” category of The Miramichi Reader’s “The Very Best!” Book Award. Now that’s a thrill!
I’m a lifelong Montrealer, though I did live as a young child in Sept-Îles, for a few years. I went back in recent years, which was a wonderful time of rediscovery. My wife Josée-Lisa, who herself grew up in Matane, and I, drove up the St. Lawrence a few times, always using a slightly different route. These trips were very meaningful to us, and for me in particular, opening my eyes to the profound beauty of Canada’s east and changed my understanding of the world around us. The St. Lawrence River is such an awesome thing. I have an idea for a thriller that takes place from the mouth of the river right down to the Great Lakes. Who knows if one day I will come around to that one.
I also lived for a few years in the Eastern Townships when starting out my career. I was a McGill graduate of architecture and though there wasn’t a crane in Montreal’s skyline then, nor any orange cones in the streets, I managed to find an entry-level job at a small firm outside Cowansville. I lived in Bromont at a time when the town was suffering economically. Hyundai had closed its doors. Then the grocery store closed. There was no food in town. I had to drive to Granby for groceries. I found myself the only tenant in a vast apartment complex. I would play guitar in the hallway, blasting as loud as I wished. There was no one to hear. Glamorous life for a young architect.I also studied a time at Concordia University, in film production. Books and film were and are my great loves. Indivisible disciplines, in my view, from one another. I wanted to be a film director (and still do). I wrote my first feature-length screenplay at sixteen, hoping to get it produced. Knocked on every producer’s door. I worshiped Francis Coppola, Sergio Leone, Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, as much as John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Hugh MacLennan, Margaret Laurence, Robert Ludlum, John Irving, and Kurt Vonnegut. They were all my gods. The altar was the movie theatre. The chapel was the bookstore.
Today, I do two things. I work in business strategy and business development, and the other is writing. No time for fishing or golf, neither of which interest me anyway. I’ve recently completed a French-language feature-length screenplay, co-authored by my beautiful wife Josée-Lisa LeFrançois, who has a way with French I could never achieve. Together, we wrote an amazing, feel-good dramatic-comedy, we would really love to get produced. I’m now working on a new and very exciting English screenplay for a suspense thriller.
MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that influenced you to become a writer.
DC: My very first influence was Charles M. Schultz. He was brilliant. Unique and the quintessence of creativity. There was something so incredibly powerful, simple, about four little squares that told a story or made you think or smile, never mind laugh. I learned from Schultz the strength of brief, clear words. I shared Snoopy’s baffled view of the world. I was Snoopy. He had an eccentric sense of the importance of imagination and I couldn’t have agreed more. But Snoopy was far more zen and confident about life than I was. He could lie back on his little house and rationalize away any problem via cool control and bravado. I wasn’t so laid back. I was more concerned with working hard at creativity and achieving a distinct level of pain, or Van Gogh-like self-sacrifice, in order to conjure brilliance. Good luck, right? It didn’t work. It just made me envious of those whose creativity flowed from them like water from Niagara Falls, dropping into beautiful masterworks. How to do that?
I also want to thank Mr. Haber, who taught English class back in high school. He suggested I enter a student writing contest. I wrote a strange little story about spies chasing each other across the city. It made no sense. Mr. Haber submitted it anyway. Trying to write and continually improving was the point, he told me. He was right. Thanks, Mr. Haber. Still writing and trying to make it better each time.
MR: Do you have a favourite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?
DC: I love this question. I love the books I’m about to mention. The Great Gatsby is way up there for me. I don’t quite know why. I like the soft, quiet entry into the story. The way it all becomes meaningful and heroic, tragic. Coming in a close second to that book are these ones; Dune and Dune Messiah, The Grapes of Wrath, The Invisible Man (both, Wells and Ellison), Chronicle of a Death Foretold, The Dead Zone, Slaughterhouse Five, The Bourne Identity, The Naked and the Dead, Eye of the Needle, and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Much admiration for Et Si C’Était Vrai by Marc Levy. I love reading plays as well. I wore through a compilation of Neil Simon’s plays when I was young. Read it so much the binding broke. I don’t reread any of these books anymore though. I prefer not to damage the meaningful visions they created in my mind back then.
MR: Blindshot was your debut novel. Had written anything previous to this that was published, such as a short story, etc? Where did the idea for Blindshot come from?
DC: First thing I wrote that was published were cartoons in my high school newspaper. I doubt they were funny, but there was always a bit of space to fill. My older sister was the Editor-in-Chief, so I had an in. The first meaningful piece that I published was non-fiction. It was an article published in Magazin’Art called An Autumn Week in Sally’s Pond. It was an account of a gathering of Canadian plein-air painters, lead by the late Bruce Ledain, Past President of the Royal Academy of Arts, and I happened to be one of the artists offered the privilege to partake. So I wrote an article about it. I was a painter then, not much of a writer in that period. That’s the way creative lives go sometimes.
I did focus on writing short stories at one time, especially my college days. And, typically, I immersed myself in the work, with full all-out passion. I wrote stories non-stop and got a few published in student compilations. I entered competitions, hoping for results. None would usually come. I packaged a few of the best and sent them to Hugh MacLennan whom I had heard from teaching at Concordia. There was some controversy about McGill not being able to find space for him in their English department. It made the papers. So I sent him my stories. He wrote back, inviting me to come meet him. I did so. He knew more about me and my background, from one look at me, than I knew about myself and my culture. He was impressive. I handed him a copy of Two Solitudes to sign, which he did, saying it wasn’t his favourite book. He never told me what was his favourite book, though he emphasized what a great book The Tin Flute was.
In 2011, I wrote a short story called Brand Loyalty and submitted it to QWF’s Quebec Writing Competition. It won Honourable Mention and was published in a compilation of stories titled Minority Reports: New English Writing from Quebec, by Véhicule Press. That was cool and I was grateful. I was a published fiction writer! Okay, it was two and a half pages short. Still, a published writer!
On where the idea for Blindshot came from? I worked in the Eastern Townships as an architect. One day, in the office, shots rang out, coming from outside. I wondered who was shooting what? Was someone hunting designers? I explored the question and discovered the hunting culture out there. People shot deer from their backyard balconies, or worse, from their trucks. The idea of a stray bullet came. I wrote a film treatment about it for a pitch to a local film company. I wanted to make a movie desperately. I had offered them a huge pile of different ideas and multiple script samples. They were interested. Of course, as usually happens in the film industry, nothing happened. But it was a good idea. To me anyway. So perhaps one day for a book?
But there are other things that inspired Blindshot. One was the intent to write a book that not only was a contemporary thriller, but that also was culturally and morally relevant and interesting, perhaps in the same was Lord of the Flies remains relevant. It’s a bit of a fable, if you permit, that tries to bring to a whole other level the impulsive, vengeful acts of two young boys in the wake of losing their father to a horrific shooting, potentially a murder.
MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be?
DC: I would love to do that. But to me, biographies seem an impossible task. People, especially well-known ones, are so complex. I read John A: The Man Who Made Us and was fascinated with the time it must have taken Richard Gwyn to write it when before I finished reading it, a second volume came out. I’m still reading it. So, I guess I would be worried about the time such a project might take away from my own works. I loved reading Marlon Brando’s autobiography. I read page after page looking for genius and didn’t find it. Not on those pages. In his film work yes. He was a genius. Not in his autobiography. To better answer your question, I think I would have liked to write a biography of the late Kurt Vonnegut, but only if I had access to the man himself. That would have been fun and probably there, in his presence, I would have found genius.
An alternate answer to this question, though just as meaningful to me, would be the late Michael Crichton. He was a force of nature and though his thrillers are a long way from literature, his productivity, deep intelligence and innovation as a writer were hard to beat. I had read Crichton early on starting with The Terminal Man, The Andromeda Strain, and the oddball The Great Train Robbery. His early success in film and television were something to admire. Definitely a great mind worthy of a good biography.
MR: What are you working on now?
DC: I’m working hard to bring Blindshot to the movies. I’m also actively writing an original, feature-length screenplay. It’s a suspense thriller about a special crimes unit facing a challenging case. I’m really hoping to show what I can do in a screenplay. At least, that’s the goal. Perhaps, if lucky, I might get hired as script-doctor on something or adapt a few books for the screen. Would love to do that. Producers out there, I’m waiting for your call. Hire me! There is also a second novel, a thriller, in the works, but no farther than in the research phase. It isn’t related to Blindshot. That will have to wait a bit. I want to write a solid, muscled thriller with an international flavour. There’s much to research. God bless the Internet. We can know everything!
MR: If they were going to make a movie of Blindshot, who would you like to see cast in the main roles?
DC: Fun question. And in the spirit of fun, without taking this too seriously and imagining a big Hollywood production shot in our own Eastern Townships backyard? Okay, let’s cast the film. Wow!
- The two boys – young actors, who knows?
- Deputy Police Chief Tom Doran – Gerard Butler
- Paul Carignan – Kevin Coster
- Catherine Carignan – Robin Wright
- Anne Desaulnier – Gal Gadot
- Police Chief Arthur Bernier – Paul Gross
- Gabrielle Bernier – Dianne Ladd
- Lennox – Tom Hardy
A dream cast, no?
MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing?
DC: I love jumping in the car with my wife and driving to a small town we’ve never been before. Love that. We don’t go to stores and buy antiques, that’s boring, but rather we try the local restaurant and order the house special and taste the local microbrewery ale. When it rains, we go to the movies. Large popcorn, no butter. Get there early for the trailers.
MR: Finally, what is your kryptonite?
DC: Josée-Lisa, my love, my wife and soulmate. Everything she says and does makes me weak in the knees. My two sons, Nicholas and Luca. Everything they ask, the answer is usually yes. Creatively, what is my Kryptonite? Time, I suppose. Juggling full-time responsibilities, at a high level and making sure to give words the time they deserve has always been a struggle. Finding that balance in life isn’t easy. I am happiest when there is time. I am less happy when there isn’t. I love mornings when it feels like there is lots of time ahead. Sunsets are that green, shiny kryptonite that saps the hope from my brain. Sunsets mean there is little time ahead for creative work. Tried staying up much later for writing. I found that made mornings shorter. More time, more energy, is better.
Denis Coupal’s website: https://deniscoupal.ca/
A Facebook video by Make It Montreal of Denis discussing Blindshot: https://www.facebook.com/makeitmontreal/videos/478496316294828/