Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Billie Livingston on the CanLit cage match of her dreams

The author of The Crooked Heart of Mercy answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Billie Livingston is the author of The Crooked Heart of Mercy. (Random House Canada)

Judging from the great Canadian authors who loved her book The Crooked Heart of Mercy — from Will Ferguson to Lynn Coady — Billie Livingston could well be called a "writer's writer." But we prefer to think of her as the kind of writer that your smartest reader friend tells you to read, stat.

Below, Billie Livingston takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A. How does it work? Authors give us the questions they always wish they were asked in interviews. We pose eight of these questions randomly to any new takers. Then they give us questions to add to the Magic 8 pool. And on it goes...

1. Linwood Barclay asks, "What keeps you from physically harming people who ask: 'Would you have written anything I might have read?'"

A muzzle and mittens. Ha! I'm not bothered by that question. There are a billion books in the world. You can't read 'em all.

2. Pasha Malla asks, "Which would be preferable: a life of relative contentment and comfort, and having your books die alongside you, or being miserable and destitute, and having your books read long after you are dead?"

Can I pick door number three?  I'm sure there's a weekend in The Poconos waiting there for me.

3. Dianne Warren asks, "What two Canadian writers, living or dead, would you like to see interview each other? Why?"

Margaret Atwood and Rex Murphy. Not really an interview, more of a cage match. Why? Trust me, it'll be good.

4. Peter Robinson asks, "How important is the sense of place in your work?"

The personality of a town or a country can affect its characters. So, sometimes that important, but generally I tend to come back to the same place. All my characters' wars are fought in the living room. 

5. Samuel Archibald asks, "Cormac McCarthy once said: 'I felt early on I wasn't going to be a respectable citizen.' When did that realization come to you?"

When I was eight years old and my mother told me not to spend time with riff-raff. I stared at her. But that's us — we're riff-raff! What am I supposed to do, run away from home?

6. Lynn Crosbie asks, "Have you ever confronted, in your writing, the most shameful thing you have ever done? Should you?"

No. Otherwise I'd be writing from prison. And I ain't never goin' back! Never!

7. Bill Richardson asks, "How often have you resisted an editor's suggestions only to realize, when it's too late, that he or she was right?" 

No need to resist, I've got that wild-eyed genius, Anne Collins at Random House, in my corner. Even if part of me wants to resist, I tend to snap out of it within 24 hours. Anne's like a brilliant shrink — she keeps asking questions about each character until I break, confess the truth of them and then lie laughing and sobbing for the rest of the weekend.

8. Zsuzsi Gartner asks, "Have you ever written a sentence you think could save lives?"

That would be a shock. Not unless one of the hardcovers stopped a bullet.


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