Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Creativity is 'like a chronic rash' says Governor General's Literary Award finalist Paige Cooper

The author of short story collection Zolitude takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.

Paige Cooper is a short story writer from Montreal whose work often features sci-fi and fantasy elements. (Adam Michiels)

It's a good time to be Paige Cooper right now. The Montreal-based author's first published book, Zolitude, a short story collection that mixes social commentary with sci-fi and fantasy elements, was on the longlist for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize and is currently a finalist for both the 2018 QWF Literary Awards and the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction.

Below, Cooper takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A, answering eight questions from eight writers.

1. Méira Cook asks, "Is creativity a gift or a pathology? Something else?"

It's a pathology, but a minor one. It's kind of like a chronic rash. You get desperate with discomfort at unpredictable moments, when everyone else is fine.

2. Andrew Pyper asks, "Authors often speak of an ideal reader they think of as they write, a generally sympathetic kindred spirit who understands and endorses the work-in-progress.  But do you have an opposing presence in your mind sometimes too? A kind of demonic reader who mocks and challenges and titters at your efforts, and whom, if the finished book is successful, you look forward to seethingly telling to stick it in their pipe and smoke it?"

Imagining readers' reactions can be paralyzing for me. Reading is such a random confluence of a million chance factors, half of them unconscious. That's the magic of it, but it's also kind of dizzying to try to imagine. So my demonic reader is actually more strident now that the book is out in the world, because I can't rewrite or fix anything.

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

Once for a story, I spent an evening in a Phnom Penh hostess bar smoking the manager's menthols beside an air conditioner set to 14 degrees Celsius. I also paid to ride an elephant. I don't feel particularly great about either of those things.

4. Kim Thùy asks, "If you had to choose, would you prefer one extremely successful book or many much smaller successes?"

I hear that fame corrodes everything, so the latter. But OK, what if extreme success means your one book is so universally popular that its empathetic depth makes the world less horrible? Then, OK. If that's even possible, OK.

5. Kate Pullinger asks, "Do you plan what you write before you start writing it?"

I've tried, but I get so bored with my own brain I have to abandon the piece.

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

The Beats. All of them.

7. Caroline Adderson asks, "Which stage of writing most satisfies you: the idea, the realization of the idea or the finished work?"

The high of the idea stage — like those couple of days or weeks where you're sucking in every detail around you and it all makes some kind of miraculous sense — is the best, because it's right before you remember how much work it's gonna take to translate your ravings into good sentences.

8. Lawrence Hill asks, "If you could start your life all over again and writing were not an option, what work would you most love to do?" 

I hope I'd be a psychotherapist of some denomination. It's a job I can't do simultaneous to writing. What if I stole some infected, gorgeous detail from a client? I totally would.


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