Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Don Gillmor on teenage investments and head-scratching rejections

The author of Long Change answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Don Gillmor is a journalist and the author of Long Change. (dongillmor.ca)

Don Gillmor is a venerated magazine journalist and author of the new novel Long Change.

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

1. Shyam Selvadurai asks, "Writers often use their own life as a springboard for fiction. Could you relate a real incident in your life and then tell us how it got changed into fiction?"

My first investment in the stock market — at the age of 15 — is used in Mount Pleasant. I put all 
the money saved from my first summer job into a mining stock. I thought I'd be rich by Christmas. It was an asbestos mine, unfortunately, and I was wiped out within two months.

2. Joy Fielding asks, "If you were hired as a publicist by a novelist, how would you go about publicizing that novelist's book?"

I would publicly extoll the book's virtues and privately pray.

3. Shauna Singh Baldwin asks, "What did you learn from writing one book that you have used/can use/will use when writing the next?"

My first book was historical fiction with a large cast of characters, dozens of settings and a 200-year timeline. For the second, I wanted something with a small cast of characters, a specific location and all happening in the present day. I learned that it wasn't much easier.

4. Zsuzsi Gartner asks, "What role do religion and spirituality play in your writing?"

My Scottish ancestors were bleak Calvinists who believed everyone was damned. It's not a bad philosophy for a novelist.

5. Drew Hayden Taylor asks, "Which comes first, the title or the book?"

With all three, I had the title first, though I wasn't sure I'd keep it. But you live with something for two years and you get comfortable with it. 

6. Vincent Lam asks, "At some point in the writing of a book, have you ever had a real low point? Can you tell us about that? What did you hold on to to get out of that place?"

The middle is sometimes the most discouraging section. The unwarranted optimism of the first 100 pages has gone, and the end is still nowhere in sight. I'm buoyed by the fact that other writers have expressed similar feelings. That perseverance will win the day.

7. Kenneth Oppel asks, "What's the most asinine rejection letter you've ever received?" 

When I first started writing, I wrote a satirical political piece and sent it to a magazine. Eighteen months later I received a reply saying that my piece was no longer topical.

8. Claire Holden Rothman asks, "What keeps you writing, year after year?"

There are moments of joy and insight when writing. And each book brings something hopeful.

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