Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Lori Lansens on canine crushes, tequila and really bad traffic

The author of The Mountain Story answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Lori Lansens is the author of the novel The Mountain Story. (Laura Starks)

Four strangers spend five days lost on a Southern California mountain in Lori Lansens' novel The Mountain Story. It's a setting familiar to the Canadian novelist, who now lives at the foot of the Santa Monica mountains.

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

1. Rudy Wiebe asks, "Who helped you most in becoming a writer?"

My partner of more than 30 years, Milan Cheylov, not only inspired me to become a writer but kept faith through some very lean years. 

2. Sharon Butala asks, "Someone once said to me, 'It's a sin not to write,' meaning that if you have the gift you do not have the right not to use it. Is writing something given to you by the gods and thus it is your duty to pursue and develop it?"

This question makes me think of that great jazz singer, Alberta Hunter. Her gift was her voice — but the same principal applies. At the height of her fame, at the top of her game, she abruptly left the music business to become a nurse. She worked at a low-paying hospital job for fourteen years before she was persuaded to get back into the recording studio. The same spark that drove Alberta Hunter to sing drove her into nursing — a desire to touch people, to comfort, heal. By all accounts she was spiritually satisfied by her choice. The singer didn't sin by depriving the world of her voice. She just used another one of her gifts in a different way. 

3. Claire Holden Rothman asks, "What kind of a child were you that you grew up to write fiction? What were the formative influences?"

I had terrible eczema and my hands were chronically inflamed, my palms often cracked and bleeding. In kindergarten, when it was time to make a circle, the other children in my Catholic school would not hold my hands. Who could blame the other five-year-olds for not wanting to touch my raw palms? Being empathetic by nature, and because my own skin affliction made me feel like an outsider, I loved Jesus for his compassion and acceptance. For a long time I wanted to be a nun. I left the church when I was still quite young but the church made an indelible impression on me and the early imprint of my experiences with religion can be read in the subtext of all that I write. 

4. 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?" 

The drink is tequila in a tall skinny glass because tequila looks like water and my characters, lost on a mountain for five days, are very thirsty. There's a skewer crammed with marshmallows and dark chocolate because they're hungry too. The drink should be taken like a shot. You're left with the flavor of hot chocolate with marshmallows as you fall into a drunken stupor.

Name of the cocktail? The Well Deserved Rest.

5. Helen Humphreys asks, "If you write in a room with a window, what is the view out of that window?"

The room where I write is over top of the garage, separate from the house, and has a large window that looks out onto the horse ranch across the road, and the scrubbed mountains beyond, and the gorgeous pink blossoms on the plum trees, and my down-the-way neighbour walking her 150 lb Great Dane puppy — Mitch. I love Mitch. I see him often on my walks. We have a special bond. I get jealous when I see other walkers stop to greet him. That's why my desk isn't in front of my window. I find it terribly distracting. Instead, I have my huge, basic black rectangular desk against a wall filled with notes and clippings and reminders. A few times a day I take a break to look out the window though, hoping for a glimpse of Mitch. 

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

Experience teaches a person gratitude and perspective. I hope my book does well, but that doesn't deflate my enthusiasm for other books and authors, or the general celebration of writing and writers. My competition is with myself.

7. JJ Lee asks, "If you had to write a country song right now, what would the chorus be?"

I live on the outskirts of Los Angeles and my children are involved in extracurricular activities that mean we travel the area's famously congested highways. So my song right now would be:

Well, we're stuck in traffic once again
we haven't moved at all
the guy behind me is on his Mac
the one in front just stalled
we've moved just one mile in two hours
construction up ahead
we're late for school or is it dance?
I wish that I were — 

I'm no Shania Twain but give me a break — I've been in the car all day. 

8. Rick Mofina asks, "How do you overcome that overwhelming feeling that convinces you that the book you're working on is a complete failure?"

That feeling. Ugh. Well, you really only have to get over it one time — somewhere in the middle of your first novel. For subsequent books you tell yourself that it's just a stage that you need to go through to get to better days. It's mostly true.

Like any bond, we shouldn't expect our relationship with our book to be agreeable all the time. Uncertainty and self-searching leads to better writing.