Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Lesley Choyce on his guiltiest pleasures and writing fears

The author of The Unlikely Redemption of John Alexander MacNeil answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Lesley Choyce is the author of 90 books, including The Unlikely Redemption of John Alexander MacNeil. (

Lesley Choyce has published a whopping 90 literary fiction, poetry, nonfiction and children's books over the course of his career. His latest, The Unlikely Redemption of John Alexander MacNeil, follows a sharp octogenarian from rural Cape Breton who takes in a pregnant, desperate teenage girl.

We asked Choyce to take CBC Books' Magic 8 Q&A and answer eight randomly selected questions from eight fellow authors.

1. Padma Viswanathan asks, "What is the place of dreams in literature, or, for you, the relationship of dreaming to writing?"

Writing is very much like lucid dreaming. The story unfolding is very real to me as if I am living it but I have some control (not total) over where it is going. Dreams and creativity are rooted in the subconscious and, with practice, you can continue to improve the activity there with great results. I sometimes include characters' dreams in their stories, not as foreshadowing but to tap into their basic desires and fears.

2. Drew Hayden Taylor asks, "Do you think you or your books would have been successful, say... 50 or 100 years ago!? Or has the style of writing changed too much in the passing decades?"

I think I might have found my audience 100 years ago. I try to write about universal themes and create characters both noble and flawed. I still like to recreate people and their passions in realistic settings with a story that is memorable as well as meaningful and not just entertaining.

3. Adam Haslett asks, "Is the solitude of writing more a pleasure or a prison for you?"

Solitude is a gift in the times we live in. It means removing myself from as much technology and communication devices as possible and then setting my imagination free from daily worries and chores.

4. Cea Sunrise Person asks, "What's your biggest fear when a new book is released?"

My fear would be that the book would be totally ignored, I guess, and fall below everyone's radar. Because I've laboured over the darn thing for so long, I tend to lose interest in the book once it's out. So I also fear that I may not do the book justice by promoting it as I should.

5. Kim Thùy asks, "Have you ever fallen in love with a character from your own book?"

My characters tend to be more friends than lovers. I grieve some when the story is finished and think, "I'm not ever going to be with that person I shared so much with, not ever again." Then I worry about their welfare and their fate.

6. CC Humphreys asks, "Most writers have other jobs. How does your 'other job' affect the actual writing?"

I'm both a publisher and a teacher of creative writing. My publisher hat is completely different from my writer hat. When I write, I pretend I don't really know a damn thing about publishing, marketing, financing and the fickle public. When I teach and talk too much about the process, it takes away from the raw joy of reckless writing so sooner or later I lock those writing textbooks and ideas in a closet and dip back into the subconscious.

7. Steve Burrows asks, "Sometimes the most minor detail in a book seems to capture the attention of a reader. What is the most obscure detail from one of your books that a reader has commented on?"

I created a fictional island on the eastern shore of Nova Scotia for The Republic of Nothing. It was noted that it was a precise distance from Halifax and some reader looked at a map and decided that it must be a real place called Sober Island. He informed me that he knew the island well and none of the characters in my novel lived there.

8. Sigal Samuel asks, "What are the trashiest guilty pleasures you enjoy (books, movies, TV shows) and is there any way in which they inspire your literary writing?"

I really like car chases in movies. I like old 1960s surf films, even the truly bad ones with the fake waves and people who obviously can't surf. And I could listen to Billy Idol's song "White Wedding" over and over.