Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Cea Sunrise Person on the relief and terror of finishing her latest memoir

The author of Nearly Normal answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Cea Sunrise Person is the author of Nearly Normal. (HarperCollins Canada)

In her new memoir, Nearly Normal, Cea Sunrise Person delves deep into her unconventional family and discovers uncomfortable truths about herself. The book is a follow-up to her bestselling memoir North of Normal, which chronicled her youth spent surviving off the land in the Alberta wilderness with her teenage mother and grandparents.

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

1. Ami McKay asks, "What's the most prized book on your bookshelf?"

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. That book made me finally sit down and write my own story. I was so inspired.

2. Bill Richardson asks, "If you were to see someone reading your book in a public place — a plane, a cafe — would you introduce yourself?"

If they were sitting in the seat next to me, I might lean over and ask if they were enjoying the book. If they were enjoying it, I would introduce myself and if they weren't, I wouldn't.

3. Shani Mootoo asks, "What was the best surprise you had in the process of writing your latest published book?"

Probably how much more I learned about myself in the process of writing the book; how much I discovered about why I am the way I am. I did some self reflection in North of Normal, but I was forced much deeper in my second book.

Mostly, I really saw how I had repeated my mother's patterns, even though I tried so hard not to be like her. In my mid-30s, I looked around and realized I had repeated her patterns in my love life, my professional life and pretty much everything. That was difficult for me to comprehend. I really didn't see that, until I started writing about it.

4. Camilla Gibb asks, "Do you have an unpublished novel lying about somewhere?"

Yes, I do. I actually just finished writing it and it's going to be — hopefully — my next book. It's my first attempt at fiction. I don't know yet if it's great or complete crap because I'm too afraid to let my agent read it. It's a psychological thriller about a girl whose mother disappears when she's six.

5. Douglas Coupland asks, "What does your family think of you being a writer?"

I think they're proud. My family of origin really isn't around anymore, except my dad, and he's very proud of me. But it took him a lot of processing to work through everything that happened to me in my books.

My husband is the most supportive person on the planet. He's also my worst critic when it comes to my writing, but in the end I always thank him for it.

6. Ray Berard asks, "What is the hardest thing you find about writing?"

For anyone who writes memoir, the big challenge is to take this really messy series of events that make up your life and try to stuff that into a narrative arc that makes sense, that's interesting and that keeps readers engaged. A big part of that is knowing what parts of your life to include and not include. I have gone back and forth a lot with books, cutting scenes and adding scenes. Even when I go in with a straightforward vision of what I want to achieve, it often changes a lot.

7. Jowita Bydlowska asks, "What does it mean to take a risk as a writer, and how do you feel about it?"

I felt I was taking heavy risks when I wrote my second book. Not my first one so much; I guess it was a risk because no one really knew my past and I didn't know how it would be received. But I held a lot back.

With my second book, I took more risks because I told stories that I told myself I would never tell. Now they're out there. It was mixed feelings when I finished it. I was relieved because that book was a lot of work and took a lot out of me emotionally. I was also kind of terrified and I'm still not exactly sure where my feelings are lying with it, but I'm getting more and more comfortable with the idea of it being out there.

8. Ausma Zehanat Khan asks, "What form of writing would you love to attempt even though you're secretly terrified by it?"

I recently attempted to write a thriller and that is very intimidating to me. There are so many amazing thriller writers out there and, until I started writing, I didn't understand how difficult it is to weave together the pieces of a puzzle of a complex plot. That aside, I'd like to do something that's more young adult, but I don't know that I would have their language and I don't know that they would find my writing relatable, so that scares me.