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March 10, 2010

On the Hair Hat Man

I have never met Carrie Snyder, but I started reading her blog just before Patricia Storms recommended Hair Hat for Canada Reads: Independently. (Patricia doesn’t know Carrie either– I checked. Because Canada is a very small town.) So Carrie and I have corresponded by email a few times, and I broke one of my own personal rules to ask her about her Hair Hat Man.

But first, my rule. I will never, ever ask a writer where she gets her ideas. I don’t care. I don’t care if the work is autobiographical, divined by magic, or hatched from an egg. The answers to these questions are rarely illuminating about the works themselves as much as they tell us what we want to know about an author. And just because we want to know doesn’t mean that it does us any good to do so.

BUT. Carrie Snyder’s Hair Hat Man was so impossibly weird, and I just didn’t get him. Though I understood that my inability to grasp him, pin him down, was part of the power of the collection, that the culmination of the stories serve to make him “almost plausible”.

I love the fact that the Hair Hat Man has had the same effect on Snyder’s negative reviewers that he has on the other characters in her book– he makes us uneasy. People hate the Hair Hat Man, within the book and without it, but any character who provokes that reaction must have some substance behind him. Or rather, the criticism is often that he’s more a device than a character, but I think the same thing applies.

So I had to ask Carrie where he came from. Not that it changes anything at all, but as the answer to such questions often is, what she told me was worth repeating:

In answer to your Hair Hat question (and it’s definitely the most-asked question about the book!) … my inspiration came from actually seeing a man with a hair hat. At least, I think that’s what I saw. I was a grad student in Toronto, and often stopped at a coffee shop on my way to campus (at the corner of Bloor and St. Joseph Street, near Wellesley). One day, while walking past the shop, I thought I saw a man inside with his hair shaped into a hat. I don’t even think I did a double-take, but afterwards kind of kicked myself for not looking twice.

Somehow, the image worked its way into my imagination. He first appeared in a song I was writing. A year later, he made his way into the first hair hat story that I wrote–“Queenie, My Heart” (and that title actually arrived a few years before I’d even seen the hair hat man, scribbled in the margins of notes I was taking for fourth-year English class). But that story went unfinished. For about two years.

I’d just given birth to my first child when I wrote another hair hat story: the one in the voice of the lone male narrator in the book, which includes that coffee shop. After I wrote it, I said to my husband: is this just too weird? Because I want to write more hair hat stories. So I did. They just kind of poured out. At that point, I’d written a novel which had gotten me an agent; the novel didn’t sell, but she was able to sell these stories (which were written over the course of about a year) to Penguin. That happened just before I gave birth to my second child. And then, it was only at the editing stage that I found the ending to my Queenie story. And wrote the last story in the book, which surprised me entirely. I had no idea it was waiting to be written, but it felt like the perfect ending.

One thought on “On the Hair Hat Man”

  1. I’m glad you asked the question!

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