Kate Taylor on her highly contagious literary inspiration
When your world falls apart, try writing for a failing newspaper. That's the dubious path chosen by the protagonist of author and Globe and Mail columnist Kate Taylor's latest novel, Serial Monogamy. As Sharon, a bestselling novelist, faces her husband's affair and her own cancer diagnosis, an assignment writing serialized fiction proves a surprising salvation — one that sees Sharon rewriting her own future, instalment by instalment.
Below, Kate Taylor answers eight questions submitted by eight of her fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.
1. Alissa York asks, "Have you ever strengthened a bond with a loved one through something you've written?"
In my experience, writers mainly try the patience of their loved ones. Writing fiction distracts me from real life and immediate responsibilities and my family indulges me in that regard.
2. Will Ferguson asks, "Do you socialize with other writers? Why or why not?"
I work at a newspaper; my husband is a professional marketing writer, my brother-in- law is a novelist and several other family members are academic writers. So I socialize happily with many writers just in the course of everyday life, but I can't say we spend that much time discussing our craft.
3. 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?"
When I was writing my new novel, Serial Monogamy, I was looking for an incident that an estranged husband and wife would recall differently and offer conflicting accounts. I hit upon the moment in life when you pick head lice out of your kid's hair — of course, my son, like every other Toronto school child, has had lice. I think I did most of the nitpicking but my husband may tell you differently! I often do that as a fiction writer; begin with banal domestic events and use them to illustrate more dramatic stories.
4. Frances Itani asks, "If you were to have a silent conversation with a now-dead writer, which writer would you choose, and from which period? Or perhaps you already converse with dead writers?"
I read a lot of Iris Murdoch when I was young and always admired the way in which she created stories where the characters struggle to take control of their lives, to exercise free will or to behave themselves according to to what they believe to be good. It seemed to me very true to life and yet she was always a philosophical writer. So I'd like to ask her how she balanced that in her fiction, the demands of lifelike characters and the ideas she wanted to express.
5. Vincent Lam asks, "For you — what does the Ultimate Literary Event look like?"
A winter evening, a cozy interior, a glass of wine, a group of thoughtful readers who are friends or about to become so. I love attending book clubs and find they offer intimate and generous readings of literature and life.
6. Anita Rau Badami asks, "What is your relationship with your characters: is it possible to separate yourself from them or do they always reflect some element of your own psyche?"
I try to separate myself completely from my characters, to see them as real people with an existence apart from me even when they are first-person narrators. For example, the narrator of my current novel, Serial Monogamy, is a popular novelist who is making a handsome living writing bestsellers. I suppose some readers may assume she represents my fantasy alter ego, but in truth I created her because I wanted to consider the purpose of storytelling. My editor, God bless her, always discusses the characters as real people and points out to me when my own voice is getting in the way, when the author rather than the narrator is speaking.
7. Yann Martel asks, "Is there a Great Book that you actually hate? Why?"
I have never liked Hemingway and when I read For Whom the Bell Tolls (years ago, as a teenager, so my opinion might soften today) I found it so irredeemably sexist I couldn't believe anyone considered it great literature. I think empathy is at the heart of fiction, for both the author and the reader, and I couldn't understand how a writer could be deemed important when he described a woman as though her experience and her consciousness were little different from that of a cuddly animal.
8. Erin Bow asks, "Would you write if you could never be read?"
I'm committed to the idea of writing as a profession and a livelihood: I never write things — a diary, for example — that can't be published, so I'd prefer not to write things that could never be read.
Still, if I am honest about it, I would have to confess that I am the reader for whom I am writing, that writing is a game I am playing with myself. So maybe I would write exactly the same things I am writing now even if they were never going to be read by anyone.