Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Saleema Nawaz on homemade cards, vampire killers and crowded cafes

The Canada Reads finalist answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Saleema Nawaz is the author of Bone and Bread. (CBC)

If you find yourself ordering a flat white in a Montreal café, look around — there may be a Canada Reads 2016 finalist peering at you over her laptop. Saleema Nawaz — whose debut novel, Bone and Bread, defended by Farah Mohamed — reveals her current "office," her favourite superhero(ine) and why she wishes she could quit buying cards.

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

1. Susan Juby asks, "What do you tell new writers about the economics of being a writer? Are you a hope-giver or a hope-dasher?"

Well, I try to be as honest as possible, which I guess amounts to being a hope-dasher! But I don't think that many people have illusions about the economics of writing anymore. A writer in Canada might only average about $10,000 a year from writing alone... and that's a good year. 

2. JJ Lee asks, "Superman or Batman?"

Superman! I prefer my superheroes to have actual powers, not just expensive equipment. But ideally, Spider-Man. Or, let's get really real: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

3. Drew Hayden Taylor asks, "Other than writing, what other art form (i.e. plays, movies, music, visual art) do you wish you possessed or had a better grasp of?"

I'd love to be able to draw and make amazing cards and gifts for my friends. Some of my very favourite worldly goods are things my more artistically inclined friends have made for me.

4. Kelley Armstrong asks, "Which has been harder for you: becoming an author or staying one?"

I think one is always in a state of becoming — learning, growing, changing. 

But I am very sympathetic to the not-yet-published and that difficult, undermining feeling that maybe you're not allowed to call yourself a writer. You're doing the activity, usually alone and thankless, and it is the activity itself that makes you a writer, not whether or not you can make a living doing it, since almost nobody does. 

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

These days I do a lot of writing at a café around the corner from my apartment, where I can see a bit of Mount Royal and surreptitiously peer at fashionable and interesting-looking Montrealers. When the café is full, there is such an incredible mix of French and English surrounding me that it makes my heart sing.

6. Greg Hollingshead asks, "What role does self-doubt play in your life as a writer?"

When you have to be disciplined enough to work on your novel after you get home from a full day at your other job — or on the weekend, or during your vacation — for years on end, when nobody is forcing you to do it or checking up on you, you simply can't allow self-doubt to have much of a role. You have to believe in yourself and be tough on yourself and also be forgiving when you can't always meet your own expectations.

But I don't think doubt ever completely goes away. No matter how long you've been writing, you still have to face it down again every time you sit down to work.   

7. Shyam Selvadurai asks, "Writers often use their own life as a springboard for fiction. Could you relate a real incident in your life and then tell us how it got changed into fiction?"

I trained as a yoga instructor in my early twenties because I knew yoga was going to keep getting bigger and I thought that sounded like a pretty good life: teaching yoga and writing. Actually, I still think that sounds good, but teaching yoga isn't for me... I'm about as flexible as your average flagpole. But it was a lot of work I put in — over a thousand hours of training and study and practicums — so it was something I put into Mama's character in my novel Bone and Bread. She trains as a kundalini yoga teacher and finds her way into Sikhism that way, which is how she meets Papa. 

8. Pasha Malla asks: "Who is one writer, living or dead, who you wish could edit or critique your drafts?"

Nabokov. Even if he didn't love the work, you can be sure that he would make it better. And I'd love to have the benefit of Zadie Smith casting her eye over things.