Writer Seth McDonough has a few things to be happy about:
1) He successfully told the story of seemingly boring old John Smith with a touch of wit that makes that character uninteresting.
2) He’s a new dad with a two month old daughter.
3) He had success with his first self-help book, How to cure yourself of narcissism.
4) He has a debut novel, A boring book.
McDonough, whose mother was a school principal, spent much of her childhood moving across the province. (But despite all the travel, his knowledge of geography was terrible, he laments.) When he reached college age, he chose to study philosophy at the University of British Columbia (UBC) with a minor in English. While many of the classmates pursued law, the usual “logical” path for someone with a philosophy degree in hand, McDonough took the road less traveled—he pursued a career in writing because he “had an idea.” .
For 20 years, he dabbled in various professions while traveling in pursuit of writing a book.
From being a programmer at the Vancouver Crisis Center for 14 years to working as a skate hockey coach for a year, McDonough has been through a lot. But for the author to blossom in him, the job he did in retail for six years proved to be the ultimate proving ground. It was in retail that he had the opportunity to meet many people, each with their own quirks, and observe, which inspired the characters and chapters of his books.
In 2020, McDonough got his first breakthrough: he released his debut non-fiction book, How to cure yourself of narcissism.
But A boring book released last month, it’s the work he’s most fond of: it was the one he started with.
Self How to cure yourself of narcissism was a non-fiction social guide to living with narcissists or dealing with our own narcissism, A boring book is a romantic comedy of good manners starring the most boring character in the world.
“It was actually the first one I started with, so it’s close to my heart. It’s the book through which I learned to write and when I finally decided to start publishing books, I wanted to give it some time just to make sure it was perfect. That’s why I posted How to cure yourself of narcissism before,” he said in an interview.
“I consider him a brother to my daughter, because he’s so close to me,” she added. The book was published in December 2022, while her daughter was born in October, making them almost twins.
McDonough considers himself primarily an observer, which is why his six-year stint in retail helped him write his books.
“My studio is people,” she said. “I love the interplay between personalities and foibles and how people will sometimes, unintentionally or intentionally, be rude or inconsiderate. I love trying to capture that in a comedic way.
McDonough likes to think of himself as a puppeteer of words. He finds humor in life’s little moments, like a chance meeting in a bar, and enjoys building a whole world around them.
The process of writing a book is like “the final music playing,” he said. “But to get there, let’s say it’s an opera, I need the story. And then I need the personalities. And then I’m Mozart, who writes the music.
For McDonough, it starts with the overarching storyline. He then he inserts characters as obstacles or catalysts and writes dialogue to help flesh out those characters.
Adding social weaknesses is the finishing touch.
The inspiration for the book and its ultra-boring protagonist came to McDonough one day while on a bus.
“I noticed this guy who was talking to someone else, and I thought, ‘Wow, what a boring person you are.'”
But he soon realized that the “boring person” was actually a good person as well.
“I decided to nominate [my character] John Smith, the most boring name I could think of,” McDonough said.
“I’m his ghostwriter. Along the way, I liked him and really appreciate him because he is very serious and cares about other people. He’s trying his best to help them, he just doesn’t have the inventive means to do it. So the book is the story of him trying to dent the suffering of the people around him without having the imagination to come up with interesting schemes. And the attempts at love along the way.
Despite what the name suggests, A boring book it’s not meant to lull readers to sleep – in fact, McDonough attempts to tell the story of the dullest character in the most fun, creative, and playful way.
While he’s not sure which of his books will be published next, he hopes to release a sequel A boring book this year. Call A fantastic book, the sequel will feature the opposite of John Smith, an interesting character.
Later this year, he will publish a book he wrote with his sister when they worked at the crisis center.
“My sister Taryn and I used to write vacation stories every year,” she said. “We got this tradition from my mother, who was a school principal. She wrote a holiday story every year for her students at her convention. And the deal was that every student’s last name had to be incorporated into the story. So if there was a student whose last name was Larson, at the end of the story, we’d say, and the character learned there, Larson.
“My sister and I continued that tradition when I was at the crisis center for all of our volunteers. And over the years, we’ve written so many stories, for 14 years, that I’ve decided to compile these stories into one long book. So I can’t wait to finish it. Because I think stories are fun seeing where the names take us so to speak.