Cabin Tales Author Interview #1: Caroline Pignat

The first of a season of author interviews featuring creative writing advice and anecdotes not included in the core Cabin Tales Podcast. Heard today: Caroline Pignat.

Read the full transcript:

Show Notes

[0:00] Intro

Welcome back for a season of interview leftovers, one author at a time. Today’s guest is Caroline Pignat, two-time Governor General’s Award-winning author of Greener Grass, The Gospel Truth, Shooter, Egghead, and many more great Canadian books….

[1:15] Interview with Caroline Pignat

CA: Have you ever written a monster story?

unspeakable cover

CP: Not since like elementary school. … My inner child is traumatized…. I think I feel more threatened by those love and belonging [conflicts], like something happening to the people I care most about…

[4:00] CA: And do you have a favorite setting from fiction?

CP: …The movies I watch over and over are Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Pirates of the Caribbean….. I like watching the hero’s journey happening in settings that are different than what I’m currently in…

[4:50] CA: And when you are drafting or coming up with a story idea, do you ever mop your world or do settings sketches or anything like that?

CP: I do… As I walk around it in my imagination, it becomes a real place. …. Definitely I’ll have a lot of pictures up…

[6:10] CA: And since you’re often writing from first person…

CP: It makes it hard when you’re writing in first person, because they’re not going to describe what the butter churn looks; like they’re just going to go make butter…. It’s always helpful in the opening sentences to place them in the setting….. I’ll try and use setting not just as some random place where the story happens but try and have it be meaningful if it can be….

[7:20] CA: What kind of ending feels satisfying to you? What if the bad guy wins?

egghead cover

CP: …I don’t know if I could write that…. When I first wrote Egghead, the bully got into all kinds of trouble at the end of the book …. But my editor said… you may want to soften that and help us understand why he would do the things he did. … I kind of stick to that Disney mentality that good wins… There’s enough bad news in the world, where you see people who cheat or lie getting ahead. I like to see in a book that fundamental truth that good will prevail…

[8:50] CA: Is first person your favorite point of view to write from?

CP: … I do prefer it. …I’ve had up to six people speaking in first person in novels that I’ve written… I’ve kind of stepped back with this one to try and write in a third person point of view.

[9:40] CA: And when you write, do you choose words consciously to build a mood?

CP: …If I want it to be tense, I’ll go in and chop up the sentences to make them really short because that makes it feel erratic … I don’t usually shape all of that stuff till after I’ve written the story…. For the mood, what helps me imagine the mood is to listen to music. … So if I’m writing like a scary scene, I’ll listen to something scary, and that helps make my heart race and makes me feel antsy and nervous, and it comes out in the writing that I do.

[10:50] CA: Did you know the ends of your stories? 

gospel truth cover

CP: Usually … It’s really cool to set a story in a certain time period because … it’s already giving you your plot points…. Sometimes a blank page where you can do anything is a little overwhelming and you don’t know what to do next…. When I wrote The Gospel Truth, originally it was going to be a story about the Underground Railroad …To me the whole journey of “Should I run away or not?” — that was much more interesting to me, her inner journey of making the decision to run. …. I didn’t know as I was writing that book, is she going to stay or go? …If you know the characters really well, they’re going to help you figure out what the next step. …In Egghead, as well, the Devin character was based on my boyfriend from grade 8 …. In Shooter … when the editor read it, she said … “I think you have a lot of kids with needs in here. Maybe Annie shouldn’t be quite so anxious and neurotic.’ And I started laughing because I had based her on me….

CA: Have you ever written a story about a curse? 

CP: The one I’m working on now has a curse in it.

[14:35] CA: Did you ever tell stories around a campfire?

Unspeakable cover

CP: No…. The stories that I loved as a kid were asking my parents like, How did you meet? … I used to love hearing stories about what it was like for them when they were teenagers and stories about what was it like when I was little ….

[15:15] CA: Do you have any favorite scary stories or movies? 

CP: I did read Stephen King…. For older teens, that might be an author that they want to consider reading….

[16:30] CA: So you have acrophobia, the fear of heights. Do you have any other phobias? 

CP: I used to be afraid of the Dickie Dee when I was a kid. …My mom would give me money to go buy it but I had to go on my own — she was trying to teach me independence. … It wasn’t worth it. …I used to be too shy to get up and speak in front of people… There are things you can learn to work through….

[17:50] CA: Do you collect anything? 

CP: …Art supplies. … it’s more of a collection, really, than artistic endeavors….

[18:20] Caroline Pignat introduces herself

[19:10] Find out more 

Greener Grass cover

You can hear more advice from Caroline Pignat on Cabin Tales Episode 1, “Things Hide in the Dark,” about setting; on Episode 2.5, “Author Interviews about Character,” and on Episode 8, “The Never-Ending Story,” about revision.

Find out more about Caroline and her books from her website at

[19:45] Thanks and coming up on the podcast

I’ll be back next week with leftovers from my interview with Jane Coates, the award-winning author of picture books, early readers, and novels, who joins us from Nova Scotia.

Thanks for listening.


Music on the podcast is from “Stories of the Old Mansion” by Akashic Records, provided by Jamendo (Standard license for online use).

Host: Catherine Austen writes books for children, short stories for adults, and reports for corporate clients. Visit her at

Visit the Cabin Tales home page.

Guest Author: Caroline Pignat is a two-time Governor Generalʼs Literary Award-winning author of 17 novels, plus non-fiction and poetry. With over 20 years’ experience teaching in schools, workshops, and at conferences, Caroline loves helping young writers find and share their unique voices. Find her online at


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