Books·Magic 8 Q&A

How Catherine Hernandez opens her heart to find the stories she should tell

The author of Scarborough covers her Filipino ancestry and other subjects in her answers to eight questions from her peers.
Catherine Hernandez is a Canadian writer, author and playwright based in Toronto. (Yeemi Tang)

In her debut novel, Scarborough, Catherine Hernandez tells the multi-voiced story of a neighbourhood that refuses to fall apart in the face of poverty and crime. Weaving together the stories of three children growing up in difficult circumstances with the stories of three adults who are doing their best to help them out, Scarborough is a vibrant and emotional debut and is currently on the longlist for Canada Reads 2018.

Below, Catherine Hernandez answers eight questions submitted by eight fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.

1. Brian Brett asks, "Who is your audience?"

Those who feel unseen and unheard by most authors. 

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

The Dollar Store. Jeez Louise, I love the Dollar Store. In my book, Sylvie's wonder at all of the goods on the shelves is actually my own wonder. Give me a $10 bill and I will be in there for hours.

3. Kate Cayley asks, "Do you talk to your characters?"

No. They talk to me. I imagine the characters are just beyond my laptop speaking to each other and I am just transcribing what I am hearing. This allows for the dialogue to be natural and for my ego to be in check. 

4. Vivek Shraya asks, "What has been the most surprising question you have been asked at a Q&A/writer event/panel?"

It's more surprising to me when someone takes up space with their opinions. I am fine with engaging in dialogue, but when it becomes about the expectation for me as a woman of colour to affirm someone in their privilege, I am completely thrown off-centre.

5. Ami Sands Brodoff asks, "When you are at your wit's end with your writing, how do you take out your frustrations — and recharge?"

I don't get frustrated. This does not mean I am some magical evolved being. I trust that the words will come when my ancestors will gift them to me. My artistic practice is decolonized and I have reclaimed Filipino Indigenous tradition of dreamweaving in which I receive ideas, concepts and images through the simple act of opening my heart to what my ancestors tell me. But instead of weaving them into textile, I am weaving those gifts into words. This makes it less about me and more about the work. The work exists perfectly in the ether. I just have to reach out and touch it.

6. Jen Sookfong Lee asks, "Writing sex scenes: fun or torture?"

I am a sex positive person, so I love writing sex scenes. I especially like writing sex scenes that are absurd and clumsy. Skip the grace and elegance. I enjoy choreographing movement of bodies involving stuck zippers, pants that refuse to come off and noisy neighbours. 

7. Kerry Clare asks, "What are some of your favourite words? Which ones do you use too often?"

Ineffable is my favourite word of all time. I cuss too much (according to some). I can't help it. Cussing to me feels like a release. John Coulbourn, who used to review theatre for Toronto Sun, said my first play Singkil had too many swears in it. When it was published by Playwrights Canada Press, I sent him a note saying "I took out a few f**** out of the script just for you." He is still an all-around gentleman and friend.

8. Kevin Major asks, "If you were to write a book with a chef as a major character, what would be the chef's best recipe?"

She would probably elevate the notorious Filipino delicacy of balut. Only, the egg would be propped upright with the help of sea salt, its top removed and ingredients placed carefully inside the shell. This way, she could slow cook and season the duck embryo much like a broth. Since I am a pretty good cook, I hope to achieve this in real life.