Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Catherine Leroux on the literary value of loose ends

The Giller Prize finalist answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Catherine Leroux is the author of the short story collection The Party Wall. (Jimmy Jeong)

Catherine Leroux's The Party Wall focuses on pairs — brothers and sisters, mothers and sons, husbands and wives — and how their fates intertwine in surprising ways. Catherine Leroux was a finalist for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and the novel's translator Lazer Lederhendler won the Governor General's Literary Award for French-to-English translation. 

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

1. Nazneen Sheikh asks, "Do you write to music?" 

I prefer dead silence, but I'll sometimes write to music if I need to cover a conversation in the background. In those cases, I prefer instrumental music — lyrics, even in a language I don't understand, are too distracting. The day I started my third novel, Madame Victoria, I had a pretty glorious moment writing to Keith Jarrett's The Köln Concert. I think the absolute artistic joy expressed in his shouts and his humming infected me.

2. Gail Anderson-Dargatz asks, "Who is your muse?" 

I don't have one. Or if I do, it changes every day.

3. Katherine Govier asks, "Do you feel, when you've finished a book, that you got at the questions you wanted to write about?" 

I don't, but I'm okay with it. I feel better when there are still loose ends. I wouldn't wish to solve all the questions that drove me to write the story, and I don't want the reader to feel like I'm giving away all the answers. I like books that leave me wondering, that give just enough to make me feel satiated while leaving some sort of ellipsis so that my own mind can step in. It's important to keep that space open.

4. Lorna Crozier asks, "If you could write in any room anywhere in the world, besides your own writing room, where would that be? Please describe it." 

It would be a treehouse. Just high enough that I see more than when I am at ground level, but not so high that I can't hear people or recognize their faces.

5. Russell Wangersky asks, "When someone comes up to you and says 'I know you based your character X on me,' have they ever been right? And if they were, even in a small way, did you admit it?" 

It's never happened. I rarely base characters on real people. I sometimes borrow a particular trait or an anecdote, but it's integrated into a fictional person and it becomes part of a completely different character. If someone recognized themselves in these borrowed fragments, I would admit it. I usually borrow the most interesting things, so I see that as a tribute.

6. Linwood Barclay asks, "Does writing get easier the more you do it, or more difficult because you don't want to repeat yourself?" 

It gets easier and harder, for these very reasons. I'm not concerned about repeating the same stories, but I worry about the structure of my storytelling, or my style. The hardest hurdle for me was between writing novel #1 and novel #2, because that was the transition from not knowing if anyone would ever read the book to being certain that somebody would.

7. Patrick deWitt asks, "What is the least useful writing advice you ever received?" 

Write what you know. I have no interest in writing about what I know, about the world I am from or my own experiences. I want to write about things that I don't fully understand, things that intrigue me, that scare me, worlds and people that are completely different from mine. I want to try on as many lives as I can through my writing.

8. Kate Taylor asks, "Why do think people read fiction?" 

A good novel acts as one of those perforated boxes through which you can watch solar eclipses without burning your eyes. It allows us to approach topics, people, situations that would scar us in real life. It allows us to revisit intolerable moments and question them, grasp at least their contours, and regain our humanity through it. It allows to see further, to dream, to travel and come back, hopefully, a better person.

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