Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Caroline Pignat on making her characters do homework

The author of Shooter answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Caroline Pignat is the author of Shooter. (Angela Flemming)

You don't win two Governor General's Literary Awards by not doing your homework. But in acclaimed young adult author Caroline Pignat's case, she's also gone so far as to give her characters homework. 

Below, Caroline Pignat answers eight questions submitted by eight of her fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.

1. Gary Barwin asks, "How or where does a piece of writing begin for you?

My writing begins with reading. A lot of reading. Even if it's not going to be a historical novel, I do a lot of research before I feel ready to start my draft. During that time, I journal the questions and what ifs as they pop up. Often I'll get a snippet of a scene that appears almost as is in the final novel. I love it when that happens.

2. Timothy Taylor asks, "What book were you reading when you were first inspired to write? How old were you? Why do you think that book affected you the way it did at that moment in your life?"

Judy Blume in Grade 4. It was different than anything I'd ever read before. I felt like she knew me. Her characters seemed so real and I had to keep reminding myself someone made this up. And it occurred to me for the first time, if someone can do that... maybe I can, too.

3. Heather O'Neill asks, "What's the strangest thing you've done while researching a book?"

I gave a character the homework I give to my grade 12 Writer's Craft class. Some of his assignments actually appear as his chapters in Shooter.

4. Alan Cumyn asks: "What do you do when the well runs dry, when it feels like you've had your last good idea?"

Every novel feels like my last good idea. I get quite anxious about it, really. I put everything I have in whatever I'm writing and when it's over, I worry that's all there is. I have dry spells then. But curiosity is the divining rod of wonder. I follow whatever piques my interest in that moment and, inevitably, it leads me to my next work of art. Sometimes that's photography, painting, knitting or even just Pinteresting — but eventually, art fills me up and spills out in words.

5. Charlotte Gill asks, "What is your kryptonite?" 


6. 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'm honest about it. Does that make me a hope-dasher? There's the art of writing and then there's the business of writing. They're two separate things. You can excel at one and not the other, that's why we have popular drivel and exceptionally talented unknowns. But I believe we can develop our recessive side, be it art or business. And that makes me a hope-giver. At least, I hope it does.

7. Drew Hayden Taylor asks, "If you were to have a dinner party, which two characters from everything you've created, would you like to have sit at your dining room table and chat with?"

I feel like I have had them to dinner. Many times. My new novel, Shooter, is told in the voices of five teens trapped in a washroom during a school lockdown. It was fascinating to put five individuals (who are actually characters from several of my other unfinished novels) in an enclosed space and watch them conflict, accuse, challenge and eventually relate and empathize. It was a fascinating experience.

8. Sharon Butala asks, "What is the main question that you wish somebody would ask you, although nobody ever has?"

Can I make a blockbuster movie out of your novel?