Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Diane Schoemperlen on why she'd make a good accountant

The RBC Taylor Prize finalist answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Diane Schoemperlen is the author of This is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications. (Mark Raynes Roberts)

Diane Schoemperlen's memoir, This Is Not My Life, recounts the tumultuous relationship she had with a prison inmate serving a life sentence for second-degree murder. It was a finalist for the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize.

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

1. Kelley Armstrong asks, "Which has been harder for you: becoming an author or staying one?"

I published my first book way back in 1984. Perhaps the passage of time has happily coloured my memory of this but in retrospect, it doesn't seem hard at all. From here, it seems simply wonderful and exciting. I was young and now I'm not. I had no idea back then what I was getting myself into! I would have to say staying a writer for all these years has been much harder. In addition to the joys, the successes, and the inimitable thrill of writing a good sentence, there have also been intermittent crises of faith, paralysing periods of despair, and crushing wallops of disappointment. Not to mention the unrelenting stress of financial problems. The writing life is not for the faint of heart! As one of my friends recently posted on Facebook: "If what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, then I'm about ready to bench press a Buick!"

2. Saleema Nawaz asks, "If you had to be something other than a writer, what would you choose to be?"

I would be either an accountant - because I like the certainty of numbers by which there is one right answer and all other answers are wrong - or an archivist - because I like to make lists and put things in order. It seems to me that both numbers and lists offer great consolation in the face of the general chaos and anxiety of living - and writing.

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

I have to confess that my reading of what we call the "Great Books" has been rather random and incomplete. I have enjoyed the ancient Greeks, the Russian novelists, the Brontës, Jane Austen, Kafka, Emerson, Thoreau, Dickens and Flaubert. I have never been fond of Chaucer and what I know of Moby Dick is really just hearsay. I'm sure I would love Ulysses if only I could understand any of it. I still have my university copy of the book, with the margins of each page filled with my tidy handwritten notes of what my professor said it all meant. Several years ago I bought a new copy of the book with the intention of reading it again with fresh eyes and no notes. As of yet, this has not happened.

4. Taras Grescoe asks, "Which aspect of your personality is your writing an attempt to conceal?"

Loneliness. Bitterness. Unbecoming bouts of self-pity.

5. Alissa York asks, "Do you have a system whereby you convince yourself that you've accomplished enough in a given day?"

I wish I did! I do most of my writing early in the day and seem to naturally run out of steam in mid-afternoon. I feel comfortable enough about that at the time and go on then to do other things. But by the time I go to bed at night I am always dissatisfied with how much I've done. I know so many people who seem to accomplish more in one day than I do in a week. I often lie awake wondering if I'm EVER going to have a day in which I feel I've accomplished enough. 

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

It very much depends on the book. Sometimes I feel that yes, I have at least come close to answering the questions from which the book arose in the first place. But in other cases, by the time I've finished a book, the original questions have changed so much along the way that it is hard to remember what they were.

7. Lori Lansens asks, "Tell us the funniest or most embarrassing or most humiliating thing that happened to you on a book tour. I know you have many. Just pick one. How did you handle it? What did it teach you?"

Fifteen or more years ago, I was at the very end of a ten-day American tour. My last reading was to take place in a small bookstore in a suburb of Chicago. I don't like being away from home and I do not travel well. I was homesick and exhausted. As my escort drove me to the bookstore, I admired the sights of the city and made pleasant small talk while thinking: I hope nobody shows up. Guess what? Nobody showed up. Not one single person. My escort and the bookstore woman were mortified. I, on the other hand, was giddy with relief. I spent the rest of the evening consoling them and trying to contain my own glee! What did this teach me? That sometimes exhaustion trumps ego. And that's not a bad thing. 

8. Alison Pick asks, "How would you most like to be remembered?"

Depends on the day. Sometimes I would like to be remembered as someone who was often afraid but did it anyway. Other times I would like to be remembered as someone who was always punctual and never forgot to put the garbage out.