Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Durga Chew-Bose's surprising literary inspiration

The author of Too Much and Not the Mood answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
In January 2017, Durga Chew-Bose taught a writing course titled "On Not Writing" in Sarah Lawrence College, New York. (Durga Chew-Bose/Twitter)

Too Much and Not the Mood is the debut collection of personal essays from Montreal-born and Brooklyn-based writer Durga Chew-Bose. The book, inspired by a 1931 Virginia Woolf diary entry, examines issues regarding identity, culture and the intricate process of writing.

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

1. Gail Bowen asks, "If you could live in the world created by another writer, what fictional world would you choose, and why?"

Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. It's spooky and dark but discoverable and romantic. It's sad too. It's a world in which wants are half-concealed, even to the person claiming those wants. Maybe it's a heartbreaking world to live in? I'm not sure why I chose it but it's the first one that came to mind.

2. Lorna Crozier asks, "If you could come back as a musician, what area of music would you choose, and are you secretly a songwriter, and if so, what is your song about?"

Metal. Because I don't understand it, but I'm curious.

3. Charlotte Gill asks, "What is your Kryptonite?"

True crime miniseries or documentaries. I could lose a whole weekend binge-watching one.

4. Lawrence Hill asks, "What do you do to steady your mind (if your mind is capable of being steadied), so that you can shut out the world and write?"

An impending deadline helps. Philip Glass, some tea, an overcast sky or going for a walk when it's still jacket weather. Reminding myself the writing is already inside of me but more importantly, that I'll be surprised too. Unlikely rhythms form. That's what ultimately shuts out the world: rhythm.

5. Michael Christie asks, "What is the book you're most embarrassed to admit that you love?"

I'm not sure I'm embarrassed to admit I love any book. That seems silly! 

6. Tomson Highway asks, "What keeps you going — first as a writer, and second as a human being?"

As a writer? The feverish, challenging appeal of trying to express what it is I mean, feel, see, am moved by, angered by, turned on by. Of saying something in my own words. And as a human being? My family, friends, art and art that I can experience a second, third, fourth time.

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

Expressing uncertainty feels risky but also, it's the only thing worth expressing. I'm still learning how to be unsure, to trust my instincts and be okay with what I don't know for sure. To honour all that drumming in my head that lacks any concrete conclusion often feels like taking a big risk. It's usually worth it though.

8. Eden Robinson asks, "What was the most unexpected inspiration you've ever had?"

Honestly, listening to Alan Menken's Disney scores while working on my book was inspiring and truly unexpected. It was like having my childhood collide with my adulthood; like having my past score how I was going to write it down. His scores are magical and a bit haunted and added a sense of flight to my writing days, which often experience long bouts of feeling stalled, grounded, painfully dull.


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