Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Miriam Toews on the war she didn't know she was winning

The 2016 Writers' Trust Fellow answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Miriam Toews is the author of A Complicated Kindness. (Carol Loewen)

Miriam Toews isn't the first writer to marry tragedy with comedy, but few do it as deftly as she does in novels like A Complicated Kindness and All My Puny Sorrows. Over the years, Toews has established herself among Canada's literary elite, including being named the 2016 Writers' Trust Fellow, an honour that comes with a $50,000 prize.

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

1. Cathy Marie Buchanan asks, "How do you know when your book is finished?"

When I stop having frustrating dreams and when my head stops hurting and I stop seeing "signs" everywhere and I can hear what other people are saying to me and also birds singing.

2. Zsuzsi Gartner asks, "What are you so terrified of?"

Something causing great pain to my loved ones.

3. Sharon Butala asks, "What do you think of the age-old notion that the best writing comes out of a life led outside the bourgeoisie, where so-called 'rules' of normal middle-class life are deliberately broken and impulse is your guide, rather than duty or convention?"

I think f--kin' A plus! I think no shit, Sherlock!

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

An old cinder-block auto parts factory stupidly being turned into billion-dollar condos and blocking out my Western sky.

5. Andrew Pyper asks, "Have you ever been surprised — deeply and honestly shocked — by the violence of a reader's reaction to your work, whether positive or negative?"

Yes, both. Some department head at a local Mennonite college just west of here declared that if they don't educate their students "properly" about what it is to be a Mennonite, then "Miriam Toews wins." I didn't know I was at war.

6. Vincent Lam asks, "What is your favourite editorial stage, and your favourite type of editorial conversation?"

The one at the very end when my editor says let's put this bad boy to bed. Like when Chaucer said: Fly away, little book.

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

Playing Tree Ball, of course.

8. Pasha Malla asks, "Which would be preferable: a life of relative contentment and comfort, and having your books die alongside you, or being miserable and destitute, and having your books read long after you are dead?"

Haha, the first. Hands down.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?