In 2007, Deni Béchard’s novel, Vandal Love, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best first book, but the Canadian-American author was missing from the U.S. scene until Milkweed Editions released Béchard’s novel (starred by PW) as well as a brand-new memoir called Cures for Hunger. In it, Béchard reveals his own novel-worthy tale: how the son of a French-Canadian bank robber grew up to be a globe-hopping journalist and award-winning author.
“I was 13 when my mother told me my father had been a bank robber,” Béchard tells Show Daily during some downtime between events in Ottawa and Toronto. “But I’d always suspected he was a criminal. I recall being aware for a long time that something was different about him and then being very relieved to have this intuition confirmed at last.” The discovery gave Béchard the confidence to pursue his dream of becoming a writer: “If my father could rob banks, then I should be allowed to do anything.” His father’s misadventures also inspired Béchard “to live as big as he had and test my boundaries.”
Béchard developed a tendency for genre hopping and adventure seeking, which has taken him to some 40 countries during the past 15 years. It was in Afghanistan just a few years ago that Béchard figured out the right approach to the story of himself and his father, which he had begun writing in the mid-1990s, following his father’s death. “I rewrote that draft hundreds of times,” he says, which eventually led him to write Vandal Love. “In 2009, I was standing on a rooftop, looking out over Kabul, thinking how difficult it was to describe a place with so much suffering, and then I saw how I could rewrite Cures for Hunger. It came as a flash, and I rewrote the first half of the book in Kabul.”
Béchard describes writing a memoir as “the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Writing a novel certainly presents other challenges, but none that feels anywhere near as difficult to me.” His next project is an ecological nonfiction report from the Congo: “Like many of us, I am concerned about the environment and want to use whatever tools I have in its favor.” Though his first love was fiction, Béchard has “discovered how much I enjoy nonfiction. With fiction, despite its freedom, it’s a monumental job to create a world and then to people it. With nonfiction, the freedom is in having that world and its people before me, and the challenge is, of course, to recreate it authentically in narrative.”
“However,” he adds, “I am burning to write another novel.”