Magic 8 Q&A

Why Christopher Paul Curtis writes best from a place of fear

The author of The Journey of Little Charlie answers eight questions from eight fellow writers.
Christopher Paul Curtis is an American-born Canadian writer of children's books. (nobodybutcurtis.com)

Windsor, Ont.-based Christopher Paul Curtis is the author of The Journey of Little Charlie. The award-winning writer of children's books and historical fiction often writes using young Black protagonists to tell compelling tales. 

Below, Curtis answers eight questions from eight fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A. 

1. David A. Robertson asks, "How much does your writing routine or process change based on the type of book you're writing? For example, the time of day you write, music you listen to or don't listen to, how much you write, the way you plot (or don't) and so on."

I find the writing goes best for me if I try to replicate as much as possible all of the circumstances of my first book, The Watsons Go to Birmingham  1963. I was writing from a point of fear back in 1994 and that seems to be the place I find my best work. I was afraid I'd taken a year off work to write a book and wasn't going to be able to do it, I feared the loss of income for a year, I feared how it would feel to be unsuccessful at having the chance to try to "follow my dream" and finding out a nightmare was at the end of the journey.

2. Lawrence Hill asks, "If you could start your life all over again and writing were not an option, what work would you most love to do?" 

I remember reading somewhere that all writers are frustrated musicians and that really applies to me. If at all possible, I'd be a master tenor sax player in a funky jazz-fusion band. 

3. Nazneen Sheikh asks, "Do you have set writing hours?"

I'm an early riser, so I start my writing anywhere from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. A good day is four or five hours.

4. Louise Bernice Halfe asks, "Do you believe in the spiritual process of writing?"

I believe it can't hurt to believe there is a spiritual component. Anything that can aid in the writing process is OK with me. But if pressed, I'd have a hard time nailing down what the spiritual part of writing is. Probably related to the sense of satisfaction I feel when a writing day has gone particularly well.

5. André Alexis asks, "Are you conscious of the rhythm that paragraphs have, their length, when you're writing? Or is that something you work on as a form of sculpture afterwards?"

Nope. I really can't say I'm aware of the rhythm when I'm writing. I think that is similar to my failed attempts to learn ballroom dancing; when you're counting steps in your head you've already lost the battle. Once I'm done, I do notice there are certain rhythms. I'm happy when they're there but don't do anything to force them in.

6. Cecilia Ekbäck asks, "Did you ever create a character that you were devastated to leave behind when the story was over? Did you give in to the urge and use that character again in another book?"

Every single time. When a book is done, it's hard knowing I won't be coming back to converse with the character I've become intimately involved with.

7. Durga Chew-Bose asks, "Is there a book you believe is best read aloud to a friend?" 

Monster by Walter Dean Myers. The story jumps off the pages and is a natural for reading out loud.

8. Aviaq Johnston asks, "How do you come up with a title for what you are writing?"

I eventually come up with a working title that identifies some important part of the novel. Nine times out of 10 it has turned out to be the final title as well.

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