Magic 8 Q&A

Guillaume Morissette is willing to destroy himself for literature

The author of the novel The Original Face answers eight questions from eight writers.
Guillaume Morissette is a Montreal-based author. (guillaumemorissette.com)

Guillaume Morissette's second novel, The Original Face, follows an internet artist working freelance and struggling both financially and in his personal life. Morissette's first novel, New Tab, was a finalist for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award in 2015.

Below, Morissette takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight random questions from eight writers.

1. Nicolas Dickner asks, "Which writing skill would you like to improve?"

Writing about race in a nuanced manner without feeling like I am the whitest person who has ever lived, although I probably am.

2. Susan Juby asks, "What do you tell new writers about the economics of being a writer? Are you a hope-giver or a hope-dasher?" 

I try to be realistic without discouraging the person in front of me. I've seen plenty of writers who could have gone on to write books I would have liked to read give up along the way because they got tired of worrying about money, so they got a "real job" and eventually moved on with their lives entirely. Sometimes with writing, or even art in general, it's not just who is the most talented, it's also who wants it the most, who is willing to destroy themselves the most for literature.

I still have no idea if I am any good at being a writer, but one thing I do know for sure is that I am 100% willing to destroy myself for literature. Come at me.

3. Pasha Malla asks, "Who is one writer, living or dead, who you wish could edit or critique your drafts?"

I'd love to get an AI robot to analyze my writing and learn to generate entire fake novels that look like they were written by me. The sole purpose of this would be to allow me to see what my writing actually looks like from an outside perspective, kind of like what happens when you hear your own voice recorded on tape. 

4. Shani Mootoo asks, "What was the best surprise you had in the process of writing your latest published book?"

I failed many, many times during the writing (and editing and maybe even publishing) of my new novel and things still worked out, somehow. One example: in late 2015, I sent the manuscript of what became The Original Face to three separate literary agents, trying to see if they could get me more $ for it. They all seemed to like it to a degree, but also told me things like it was "too precise." I am not even sure I know what that means. After exploring this process and feeling like it was going nowhere and like all literary agents were useless, I simply sent it directly to Véhicule's fiction editor, Dimitri Nasrallah, who is great to work with. Thank you, Dimitri.

5. Linden MacIntyre asks, "Is there value in what I'd call 'literary collegiality'? How useful are the workshops and writers' retreats?" 

Writing can be very lonely, so any kind of collaborative work always feels to me like the opposite of sitting alone in a room and trying to think of good words to type. What are the best words I can type? Are there even any good ones left? Earlier this year, I led for the first time a weekly fiction workshop at Gamma, an independent art space in Montreal and it quickly became one of the highlights of my week. Personally, I find it energizing to work with other people and see what their challenges are. I have a keen interest in other people's problems.

6. Russell Smith asks, "What is the musical soundtrack to your latest book?"

My new novel, The Original Face, is about the gig economy and making content in a world already oversaturated with content. Because of social media and the attention economy, reality nowadays feels to me like an insane fog of noise, kind of like descriptions I've read of Guantanamo Bay where they're blaring death metal music all day long nonstop at detainees. Imagine trying to read a novel in those conditions. That's sort of what reality feels like to me nowadays.

7. Nazneen Sheikh asks, "Have you ever been frightened by what you write? How and why?" 

I am scared of what I write and publish getting any kind of recognition or success. In Canada, I am not sure we want writers to achieve any level of "fame." Being "successful" just puts a target on your back. 

8. Padma Viswanathan asks, "How do others' books figure in your own writing or process?"

While writing The Original Face, I exchanged manuscripts with two other Montreal-based writers, one of which was Jay Ritchie, and we all gave one another feedback. That process felt to me like the writing equivalent of mixing blood, like a little bit of Jay's influence is in my book and probably vice versa. It seems perfect to me that we're now two years later and Jay's book, Cheer Up, Jay Ritchie, is coming out at the same time as mine with a different press. We didn't coordinate this in any way, but I like it.

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