Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Lisa Moore on why everyone can (and should) write a book

The 2013 Canada Reads winner answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Lisa Moore is the author of the novel Flannery. (Heather Barrett)

Lisa Moore is one of Canada's most accomplished writers. Her books include February, which won Canada Reads 2013 when it was defended by Trent McClellan, Caught, which was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2013 and was made into a miniseries for CBC television, and the YA novel Flannery

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

1. Donna Morrissey asks, "How do you deal with daily life while you're in the middle of creating a book?" 

Actually, I find it very wrenching, after a day of imagining a character moving and talking and touching things, and the particular texture of the things they touch, and after putting a character through a wide range of feelings, working up a terror for him, or a peculiar, particular kind of joy, allowing him a spectacular sunset or a near drowning — after all that I find it very difficult to haul myself back into the "real" world. But when I do make that transition, it feels like a flick of the windshield wipers after a transport truck overtakes you on a slushy highway. The world is wiped clean, all the colours are brighter and everything sparkles. 

2. Lorna Crozier asks, "If you weren't sitting at your desk writing, what would you be doing instead?" 

Painting, cooking, driving my son to basketball practice, reading, running, walking along the cliffs of the White Hills, hanging around my friends' kitchens, listening to them sing or play the guitar, shopping in second-hand stores, letting the dog tear my arm out of my socket until I let him off the leash in the garden of the Anglican Cathedral. 

3. Sharon Butala asks, "Do you know how the heck we separate the writer-self from the writer's life, that is, the writing from the writer's person?" 

I think the concrete world that we experience through the senses, the smells and sounds and textures, the way light plays on an object — those things are the same for me as they are for my characters. But the moral decisions they make, the choices, the way my characters behave when it comes to love or anger or the risks they take — those things belong to my characters and have nothing much to do with the way I live my life. 

4. Lynn Coady asks, "What are the common themes (or settings, symbols, etc.) you always seem to come back to in your fiction (e.g. bears, wrestling and Vienna in John Irving novels)? Where do those elements come from and what makes them so tenacious?"

Oh, hard question! Vulnerability and openness in the face of a huge and consuming love. A need to face down natural or human-made forces much bigger than oneself, the difference between acting and being acted upon and how that difference changes the unfolding of a life, a course or fate. This may all come from living in such close proximity to the ocean, the raw and unfathomable and fickle power of it. 

5. William Deverell asks, "Is there a surfeit of published books in Canada? Are too many authors competing for diminishing returns?" 

No, I don't think so. I think every single person should write a book, plant a tree and take some part in raising a child, even if it's only to give out good Halloween candy! And I think those stories should be published in some way, or distributed, even if it's a message in a bottle. I tend to think all stories are messages in bottles, floating around out there in the hopes they'll find a willing reader. But I agree that the whole idea of what publishing means will change and change and change again, and hopefully it will mean more distribution, and a wider spread of stories. The question of making sure writers are paid is definitely the sticking point. That's scary territory to consider. 

6. Gail Bowen asks, "If you could live in the world you created in your fiction, would you? Why or why not?" 

I try to put my characters in as much peril as I possibly can. I wouldn't want to live like that. I find a trip to the produce section of the grocery store perilous enough for me. 

7. 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?" 

I love painting, and I would like to do more of it. In an ideal world I would paint for a couple of hours a day. But the theatre is a complete thrill — the notion of an audience sitting in the dark, ready to laugh or feel charged up or cry, to respond, sometimes audibly, and all at once — that is exhilarating. I love that a theatre performance is ephemeral, only lasts for the length of the show — I find that absolutely thrilling and magical. I would love to do more theatre. 

8. Pasha Malla asks, "Flannery O'Connor: 'All novelists are fundamentally seekers and describers of the real, but the realism of each novelist will depend on his view of the ultimate reaches of reality.' Where do your 'reaches of reality' extend to?" 

My stories and novels are often based on things that have happened. But I try reach outside the reality of the story by imagining the how of it. Or all the different possible hows. How a character ends up in a particular situation. What series of gestures and speech, what small thoughts and big decisions and actions lead to the series of "if this, then that" situations that add up to a life. All of that is conjecture. In fact I stray as far away from the "real" actions of a particular story as I can in a search for what is essential about human experience. Or to create a kind of test to determine if anything is essential about human experience. Or maybe that's not how I work at all.  Maybe it's more like I know a certain thing happened — a great love, an infidelity, a death, a birth, a crime, an act of bravery — and then I try to imagine what a character might have been eating when he said, "Let's do it."