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Books Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize finalists on the nominated literature

Pamela Mordecai’s nominated book, Red Jacket, explores themes of belonging, race and identity.

It's fiction season, otherwise known as autumn, and we're almost halfway through the celebrations: The Governor-General's Literary Awards were handed out last week, the Giller winner is announced on Nov. 10 and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, which features a compelling shortlist, is announced Tuesday. The Globe spoke to this year's Writers' Trust finalists about their work, and the work of their peers.

What moment or scene or detail in your book are you proud of?

André Alexis, nominated for his novel Fifteen Dogs, published by Coach House Books: I don't tend to feel pride because I don't have a vantage outside the work from which to judge it. What I sometimes feel is surprised by a scene. That usually happens when things play out in unexpected ways. The scene in which Dougie kills a cat and he and Benjy laugh at the cat owner's grief was most unexpected.

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Elizabeth Hay, nominated for her novel His Whole Life, published by McClelland & Stewart: Making the connection between Pierre Trudeau as an old man and the sorrows of King Lear gave me great satisfaction.

Pamela Mordecai, nominated for her novel Red Jacket, published by TAP Books: No serious writer would answer that question. That said, there are some letters in Red Jacket that I enjoy rereading …

Russell Smith, nominated for his story collection Confidence, published by Biblioasis: A couple who have been awake all night are reading sections of Winnie the Pooh to each other, because they are in love.

John Vaillant, nominated for his novel The Jaguar's Children, published by Knopf Canada: Well, it's all pretty personal, so I cut the scenes and details I wasn't proud of and left the rest in.

Which filmmaker would you want to adapt your work?

Alexis: My admiration for David Cronenberg is pretty much complete. So, I'd be inclined to say Cronenberg. My work isn't a great fit for him, cinematically, but he – and Bunuel and Tarkovsky – are the filmmakers who've influenced my writing most deeply.

Hay: Patricia Rozema. A woman and a Canadian, who would see the humour as well as the sadness in our worst things.

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Mordecai: Clement Virgo, if he could bring to it all the resources he brought to making The Book of Negroes. I'd want him to adapt it because he is a negro like me. Failing him, Lee Daniels, for the same reason. Plus, the Americans have resources to throw.

Smith: Eric Rohmer. He is my favourite filmmaker because his comedies of manners are perfect miniatures: It's what I aspire to.

Vaillant: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu because he is talented, fearless and has deep connections with Mexico.

What writerly tick can you simply not abide?

Alexis: I'm not sure there is a writerly tick I absolutely can't stand. It depends on the context. I can't stand the overuse of adverbs (he wrote dejectedly), but if Christian Bok decided to write a book using only adverbs, I'm pretty sure I'd read it. And I'd probably like it, too!

Hay: I would retire a few words for a while, like "icon" and "amazing," and bring back "swell."

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Mordecai: There's no writerly "tick" I can think of – I choose carefully the writers that I read – but I dislike writing that draws attention to itself.

Smith: "I hate verbs and adjectives that explain dialogue," he explained, warningly. I also hate "suddenly," anywhere.

Vaillant: Elmore Leonard said something along the lines of: "If it sounds like writing, stop doing it." That.

Which 2015 Canadian book (other than those nominated) would you give this prize to, and why?

Alexis: I'm the wrong person to answer this, I'm afraid. Since beginning this series of five novels I've been unable to finish reading any but two novels. That's two novels in six years, one by Michel Faber and one by Martha Baillie. It's the one real regret I have about my project.

Hay: You're assuming that I've read other books written in 2015. I'm still back in 1950.

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Mordecai: Larry Hill's The Illegal. He's my friend.

Smith: Martin John, by Anakana Schofield, which is probably going to win every other prize anyway.

Vaillant: Martin John, by Anakana Schofield, because of the challenging and eloquent way she immerses us in a type of person I would ordinarily revile and avoid.

The winner of the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize will will receive $25,000. Each nominee receives $2,500.

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