Lisa Moore takes the Magic 8
The author of February, a contender for this year's Canada Reads, fields questions from the Canadian literati on how she deals with daily life, what she would do if she weren't a writer, and why she wouldn't want to live in the fictional world of her characters.
1. From Donna Morrissey: How do you deal with daily life while you're in the middle of creating a book? I pretend to those around me that I am listening to them when really I am living out a scene in my head. I say things like, ‘How was your day’ and after they tell me, I say: ‘How was your day?’
Actually, I find it very wrenching, after a day of imagining a character moving and talking and touching things, and the particular texture of the things they touch, and after putting a character through a wide range of feelings, working up a terror for him, or a peculiar, particular kind of joy, allowing him a spectacular sunset or a near drowning—after all that I find it very difficult to haul myself back into the ‘real’ world. But when I do make that transition, it feels like a flick of the windshield wipers after a transport truck overtakes you on a slushy highway. The world is wiped clean, all the colours are brighter and everything sparkles. And then I really, really, really do want to know how everybody’s day went.
2. From Lorna Crozier: If you weren’t sitting at your desk writing, what would you be doing instead?
Painting, cooking, driving my son to basketball practice, reading, running, walking along the cliffs of the White Hills, hanging around my friends’ kitchens, listening to them sing or play the guitar, shopping in second-hand stores, letting the dog tear my arm out of my socket until I let him off the leash in the garden of the Anglican Cathedral.
3. From Sharon Butala: Do you know how the heck we separate the writer-self from the writer's life, that is, the writing from the writer's person?
I think the concrete world that we experience through the senses, the smells and sounds and textures, the way light plays on an object—those things are the same for me as they are for my characters. But the moral decisions they make, the choices, the way my characters behave when it comes to love or anger or the risks they take—those things belong to my characters and have nothing much to do with the way I live my life.
4. From Lynn Coady: What are the common themes (or settings, symbols, etc) you always seem to come back to in your fiction (eg. bears, wrestling and Vienna in John Irving novels)? Where do those elements come from and what makes them so tenacious?
Oh, hard question! Vulnerability and openness in the face of a huge and consuming love. A need to face down natural or human-made forces much bigger than oneself, the difference between acting, and being acted upon, and how that difference changes the unfolding of a life, a course, or fate. This may all come from living in such close proximity to the ocean, the raw and unfathomable and fickle power of it.
5. From William Deverell: Is there a surfeit of published books in Canada? Are too many authors competing for diminishing returns?
No I don’t think so. I think every single person should write a book, plant a tree and take some part in raising a child, even if it’s only to give out good Halloween candy! And I think those stories should be published in some way, or distributed, even if it’s a message in a bottle. I tend to think all stories are messages in bottles, floating around out there in the hopes they’ll find a willing reader. But I agree that the whole idea of what publishing means will change and change and change again, and hopefully it will mean more distribution, and a wider spread of stories. The question of making sure writers are paid is definitely the sticking point. That’s scary territory to consider.
6. From Gail Bowen: If you could live in the world you created in your fiction, would you? Why or why not?
I try to put my characters in as much peril as I possibly can. I wouldn’t want to live like that. I find a trip to the produce section of the grocery store perilous enough for me.
7. From Drew Hayden Taylor: Other than writing novels, what other art form (i.e. plays, movies, music, visual art) do you wish you possessed or had a better grasp of?
I love painting, and I would like to do more of it. In an ideal world I would paint for a couple of hours a day. But the theatre is a complete thrill—the notion of an audience sitting in the dark, ready to laugh or feel charged up, or cry, to respond, sometimes audibly, and all at once—that is exhilarating. I love that a theatre performance is ephemeral, only lasts for the length of the show - I find that absolutely thrilling and magical. I would love to do more theatre.
8. From Pasha Malla: Flannery O'Connor: "All novelists are fundamentally seekers and describers of the real, but the realism of each novelist will depend on his view of the ultimate reaches of reality." Where do your "reaches of reality" extend to?
My stories and novels are often based on things that have happened. But I try reach outside the reality of the story by imagining the how of it. Or all the different possible hows. How a character ends up in a particular situation. What series of gestures and speech, what small thoughts and big decisions and actions lead to the series of "if this, then that" situations that add up to a life. All of that is conjecture. In fact I stray as far away from the "real" actions of a particular story as I can in a search for what is essential about human experience. Or to create a kind of test to determine if anything is essential about human experience. Or maybe that’s not how I work at all. Maybe it’s more like I know a certain thing happened, ( a great love, an infidelity, a death, a birth, a crime, an act of bravery) and then I try to imagine what a character might have been eating when he said, "Let’s do it."
Lisa Moore is the author of the short story collections, Open and Degrees of Nakedness, and the novels Alligator and February. Her new novel Caught is forthcoming in June 2013.