Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Adam Haslett on essential morning rituals and the Great Book he found boring

The author of Imagine Me Gone answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Adam Haslett is the author of Imagine Me Gone. (John Storey)

Writing Imagine Me Gone was "an enormous emotional labour," Adam Haslett confesses of his critically acclaimed sophomore novel. Following a troubled family contending with a severe form of depression they refer to as 'The Beast,' the book is Haslett's most autobiographical work to date.

Below, Adam Haslett answers eight questions submitted by eight of his fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.

1. George Bowering asks, "Do you get any enjoyment from reading your unpublished work?"

Not overly much, I confess. The pieces I'm thinking of are a bit like chipped plates. You don't necessarily want to throw them away but you tend to put them back on the shelf and choose another.

2. Camilla Gibb asks, "What's the best advice you've been given in your writing life?"

My first editor signed me up for a book of short stories before I had finished writing all of them, and when I went in to speak with her about the stories I had yet to write, my fear was she'd want something in particular, that she would want to in some way hem me in. Instead, she gave me the best advice I've ever received. Two words: be brave.

3. Nino Ricci asks, "Do you think you would be a better writer if someone just gave you a big whack of money and you didn't need to worry anymore about earning an income?"

Well, I wouldn't say no. But I highly doubt it would make me a better writer. I'm lucky enough to have been writing full time for a while now, but the knowledge that my writing is connected to my livelihood presents its own distractions, which must be put aside to hear what it is I actually want to say.

4. Kelley Armstrong asks, "Which has been harder for you: becoming an author or staying one?"

I think they employ the same muscle, which is the one charged with keeping you upright in the face of radical doubt as to the worthwhileness of the endeavour to begin with.

5. Lawrence Hill asks, "What do you do to steady your mind (if your mind is capable of being steadied), so that you can shut out the world and write?"

I meditate every morning before writing. I've been doing this in one form or another for 15 years or more and I wouldn't be writing today if I didn't.

6. Shyam Selvadurai asks, "Writers often use their own life as a springboard for fiction. Could you relate a real incident in your life and then tell us how it got changed into fiction?"

My new novel, Imagine Me Gone, is the most autobiographical work I've written, and there are many parallels between the family at the centre of it and my own. Just one example of changing elements of one's own experience to turn it into fiction: I am a political junkie of the first order, consuming an inordinate amount of political news, and so I spun that world about which I know chiefly as an observer and turned one of my characters into a political reporter. In this sense, you could say I took a desire of mine and made it literal. That's a lot of what drama does.

7. Yann Martel asks, "Is there a Great Book that you actually hate? Why?"

To say I hate The Charterhouse of Parma would be overstating the case, but I confess between the ambient pressure I felt to admire Stendhal and the stultifyingly long descriptions of his peregrinations in search of love, I found it to be a thorough bore.

8. Susan Juby asks, "What has been the most pleasurable or exciting moment in your writing life thus far?"

Finishing Imagine Me Gone. It was an enormous emotional labour over the course of five years, and to complete it was one of the only events in my writing life I can honestly say was cathartic. A burden was lifted off me. I felt lighter, and happier.