Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Kathy Page on literary cocktails and worrying her characters are too weird

The author of The Two of Us answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Kathy Page is a Canadian novelist and short story writer. (Billie Woods)

In The Two of Us, Kathy Page's short story collection, no relationships are spared from the teeth-clenching tension that's become a trademark of the author's work. The compelling collection was longlisted for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

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

1. David McGimpsey asks, "If you were to pair your latest book with a signature cocktail, what is that cocktail called and what's it made of?"

This is very hard, because what is the point after Hemingway's "Death in the Afternoon" (absinthe and chilled champagne)? I might suggest the "Co-Dependent:" vodka, Cointreau, freshly squeezed blood orange juice and a dash of bitters.

Or the "Bad Mother," which would include gin, coconut milk and something else I can't quite put my finger on.

2. Meg Rosoff asks, "What's your favourite way to waste time?"

Reading in the bath. But then again, is it a really a waste if pleasure and/or learning are involved? And if they are not, how could the activity be a favourite? I'm overthinking this. I also very much like staring out of the window.

3. Zsuzsi Gartner asks, "Have you ever written a sentence you think could save lives?"

I'm not aware of a particular sentence, but I firmly believe that stories and poems sometimes do just that. The profound sense of contact and connection (to the author, living or dead, to others who have read a book, to the world itself) that is sometimes created by a kind of alchemy between reader and text is a powerful and sustaining thing.

4. David Szalay asks, "Do you find it difficult to finish writing a book? I only feel my own books are finished years after I actually stop working on them — perhaps at the point when I am simply no longer the same person I was when I wrote them. Is this a common feeling?"

I'm often impatient to finish, and need a good editor to goad me to the real end. By the time the book line edited, proofread and out, I normally have a sense of completion (or is it exhaustion?). At the same time, I feel very connected to the book and its characters for years on end... I agree that this is something that only changes once I have moved on, and become a somewhat different version of myself, with different interests.

5. Drew Hayden Taylor asks, "Other than writing novels, what other art form (i.e. plays, movies, music, visual art) do you wish you possessed or had a better grasp of?"

All of them, especially music. I once had ambitions to be a painter, and still occasionally delude myself that I might return to it. I loved the outward focus, the way it made me look at the physical world. Writing does this, too, but not in the same way. I'm afraid any skills I once had have withered. You need to draw or paint every day — or regularly, at least.

6. Tomson Highway asks, "Do you ever get jealous of other writers? If so, why?"

Of talent or artistic achievement, never. I just admire and am inspired. Of friendly-to-writing circumstances and financial reward, which are not distributed only on the basis of merit, and sometimes appear to be meted out according to blind luck or entrenched privilege, yes, I do sometimes feel that not-very-helpful emotion. I avoid dwelling on it.

7. Linda Spalding asks, "What moves you to tears?"

Almost anything. When she was little, my daughter once made me a T-shirt with "Sponsored by Kleenex" blazoned across its back because I would cry every time she pulled ahead in a swimming race. A few years back I wept copiously at David Hockney's "Bigger Picture" show in the Royal Academy of Arts because the work was sublime. This year, on a trip to Peru, I wept as the struggling member of our hiking party finally made it to the top of the 14,000 foot pass where the rest of us were waiting; I wept again in a place called Qurikancha because the history of the place was so bloody and awful.

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

Ever? Always. It normally involves a profound conviction that no one — but no one — will want to read about the weird characters and offbeat topics I'm compelled to explore, along with some soul-searching as to why am I so devoted to them, etc., etc. I wallow in this for a while, and then think: Too bad. It's interesting. I'll do it anyway.