Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Found a typo in your book? Steven Heighton has a superhero for that

The Governor General's Literary Award winner answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Steven Heighton is the author of The Waking Comes Late, a poetry collection. (Mary Huggard )

You don't reach Steven Heighton levels of CanLit credibility without thinking a lot about words. A literary triple threat with equal acclaim for his novels, short fiction and poetry, Heighton is most recently the 2016 Governor General's Literary Award winner for poetry for The Waking Comes Late

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

1. Bill Richardson asks, "There is no word in English for the horrible feeling of finding a typo or some other grievous error in your own printed book. What should that word be?"

It happens to me so often that I've come up with a full roster of terms. Here are a few, with apologies to etymologists everywhere:

  • Graphogaffetitis (a malaise often preceded by graphogaffephobia)
  • Disaprintment
  • Dysbiblia
  • Disgraphifaction
  • Agraphonizing

2. Robert Wiersema asks, "If someone were to create a comic book based on your life, what would your hero name be, and what would be your special gift/skill?"

How about an invisible superhero who zaps the very evils that Bill Richardson describes above? Moments before a book irreversibly goes public, typos and all, Redactron infiltrates digital files and makes innumerable saves and fixes. He is a benign hacker. He is also a textual obsessive-compulsive and will eliminate redundant adverbs, insert forgotten commas, and suppress stylistic howlers. As for his fatal flaw (every hero has a fatal flaw): he is unable to identify and fix such problems in his own work.

3. Nazneen Sheikh asks, "Have you ever been frightened by what you write? How and why?"

When I write fiction — especially short stories — if I'm not unsettled by what emerges during my manic first drafts, I start over.

4. Jo Walton asks, "Do you use places and objects as inspiration, and if so, how do you seek them out?"

Places and objects often inspire me — the deserts of the B.C. interior, say, or a friend's cracked, tarnished steel guitar — but actually seeking inspiration is a mistake, at least for me. I have to wait patiently (nonsense: I never feel patient about it) until the fortuitous encounter occurs.

5. Marina Endicott asks, "Can you love a book written by a lousy human being?"

Depends what you mean by lousy. Evil, psychopathic? Psychopaths have zero empathy and thus are incapable of writing fiction or poetry that matters. But if by "lousy" you mean deeply flawed people, I'd say "Yes," of course. For one thing, the lousy bits of a writer — stinginess, for example, pettiness, vanity, envy, spite — are mostly in abeyance, or absent, when the good writing comes. Good writing springs from a place that lies deeper than the layers of unpleasantness that lousy people — any people — accrue like scar tissue over the course of a life. Who isn't lousy? I would hope that readers who learned of my worst flaws would still be willing to like my best work.

6. Patrick deWitt asks, "What is the last thing you read that made you feel actually jealous?"

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes.

7. Dianne Warren asks, "What two Canadian writers, living or dead, would you like to see interview each other? Why?"

Christian Bök and Al Purdy. What a fascinating conflict of personalities that would be. Also, I myself would have loved to interview P.K. Page. I met her once, no, twice, and was too busy trying to impress her to listen closely and remember her words. And now I have so many questions.

8. Robert Currie asks, "What first started you writing?"

Hearing my father quote old poems and ballads in the car on road trips when I was a boy. I wanted to cast that same kind of spell, both as writer and reciter.


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