Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Robert Wiersema on the one question he just can't answer

The author of Seven Crow Stories answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Robert Wiersema is the author of Seven Crow Stories. (Duane Prentice)

Robert Wiersema is the author of five books, most recently the short story collection Seven Crow Stories. But he also worked in bookstores for over 20 years, coordinated author events for Victoria, B.C.'s Bolen Books and is one of the country's busiest book reviewers.

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

1. Linwood Barclay asks, "What keeps you from physically harming people who ask, 'Would you have written anything I might have read?'"

I suspect it's a staunch moral code that allows me to rise above. Or an ineptness at fisticuffs. Or a fear of someone striking back and bending my glasses. 

In truth, though, it's probably my years as a bookseller. I know how hard it is to keep abreast of even a fraction of the books when it's your full-time job, so I can't really fault someone for asking an honest — if possibly passive-aggressive — question. And I like to think that if they're asking, they've at least got a passing interest.

2. Padma Viswanathan asks, "How do others' books figure in your own writing or process?"

Well, the cliché is that we're standing on the shoulders of giants; I tend to picture myself balanced uneasily on a teetering pile of books, waiting to fall. If you could see my office, you would understand where this image comes from.

3. Tom Gauld asks, "If you had to stop writing and take up another art form, what would it be?"

Given my seeming inability to learn how to play a musical instrument or to paint or sketch beyond a rudimentary level, I think I might be driven toward interpretive dance. Or gravestone rubbing.

4. Lorna Crozier asks, "If you could write in any room anywhere in the world, besides your own writing room, where would that be? Please describe it."

When it comes to writing, I think the more spartan the better: a simple desk, some bookshelves and writing implements. Minimal distractions. Sure, I picture it like something out of a hipster lifestyle magazine — distressed hipster Shaker chic — but minimizing distractions is, I assume, crucial; I've never actually been able to figure that out in practice. The key, though, is what's on the other side of the (closed) office door. Preferably, a thriving, bustling city. London, perhaps. New York. Barcelona. Rome. Edinburgh. I'm not awfully picky.

5. Kathy Page asks, "Do you have a least favourite 'question to the author' at readings? What is it, and why?"

I wince at "What are you working on now?" There's no way for me to answer it, really. I'm of the school of thought — the faith, really — that says one simply doesn't discuss what they're working on until a first draft is done, for fear of dissipating the energy of the piece. Usually I make an awkward joke and hope that's enough. Actually, that's pretty much my only coping skill.

6. Jen Sookfong Lee asks, "What book do you wish you had written?"

Honestly? The Da Vinci Code. Having "Dan Brown" as a pseudonym would address a lot of concerns. Well, financial concerns. Basically, it would address ALL the financial concerns, and given the publishing pattern of those books, leave me a lot of time for work under my own name.

7. Phil Hall asks, "Seriously, have you thought about your last words? This will be your last chance to write anything. Thoreau shouted, 'Moose! Indians!' What do you hope yours might be?"

I've actually given this a lot of thought, and I'm reasonably sure my last words are going to be something along the lines of "Yes, I double-checked the breaker. Yes, I'm sure the power is off." There's also a version involving a gas barbecue and an open flame.

8. Lawrence Hill asks, "What is the worst job you ever had, and what kind of good material did it give you?"

Truth be told, I haven't had that many jobs. I was a bookseller for a long, long time, and it's something I would advise for any writer. Not as a source of material — but man, any job in customer service is a font of material — but as a grounding in the reality of the lives of readers, and the lifespan of books. It's an illuminating, and frequently humbling, series of lessons.


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