Books·Magic 8 Q&A

The question novelist and poet Andrea MacPherson hates being asked

The author of What We Once Believed answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Andrea MacPherson is the author of What We Once Believed. (www.andreamacpherson.com)

In Andrea MacPherson's new novel, What We Once Believed, Maybe Collins reaches a tipping point in her young life. Her mother reappears after nine years of silence, having written a bestselling memoir about motherhood and women's liberation.

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

1. Susin Nielsen asks, "Do you ever get fangirl/fanboy-ish when you meet an author whose work you admire?"

Internally, yes; externally, no. If it's at an event like a panel, or a Q&A, I try to focus on the wisdom and advice they offer about the writing process itself, as well as navigating the ever-changing literary landscape. It's fascinating to me to hear how writers I admire work and how they tackle the same challenges we all face as writers.

2. Jean McNeil asks, "What role do you think fiction has to play in contemporary politics, if any?"

Fiction has always played a role in politics, in a variety of ways. We can use fiction to explore and reveal political movements, both current and historical. Novels that show us what has happened in the past can directly impact our current political landscape — we can learn from it, we can more clearly see patterns.

Many studies have shown that reading fiction (and especially literary fiction) makes you a more empathetic person. This is essential, especially in our current political climate of division.

3. Roberta Rich asks, "Do you find writing a peaceful occupation?"

Peaceful in that it involves a lot of solitary time in a chair, sometimes with a decent view. And yet it's not peaceful in many ways — the dynamic research, the characters coming to life, the way a story is always circling in your mind. There is a certain kind of agitation, of noisiness, in the process.

4. Scaachi Koul asks, "What question do you hate being asked about your career or writing? Why?"

I dislike being asked about balance because it's something I only ever hear being asked of women writers. I have a family, I am on faculty at a university and I write. I balance it all because I have to! I don't have a magic answer.

5. Kim Thúy asks, "Doctors are often the worst patients. Are writers better readers, or worse?"

I think writers are different readers. We have a tendency to be more critical and to be looking at the architecture behind the piece, rather than focusing on the story itself, or the language, or the characters. We tend to read looking for the craft behind the piece, seeking for the threads that hold the whole thing together.

6. Nazneen Sheikh asks, "Are you totally neurotic about your writing environment?"

No, I can write anywhere — on the couch, in my home office, in my campus office, in a café. I am neurotic about how I write, though — everything is longhand in a Moleskine (different colours, depending on the project) until a first draft is done. It's time consuming and fairly superstitious, but it's the only thing that works for me.

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

The worst job I ever had was working for an appraisal company, where I was responsible for any number of administrative tasks. This doesn't sound terrible on the surface, but the vibe in the offices was fairly terrible: I was told my legs were "too distracting" in skirts and overheard an owner screaming about women being Jezebels on the phone.

It certainly gave me material, and further informed my own positions on gender and equality and how our society works. Needless to say, I did not last long in that job.

8. Robert J. Sawyer asks, "The greatest journalist of all time just may be Les Nessman of WKRP in Cincinnati, who would ask but two questions: 'Who do you think you are?' and 'What are you trying to pull?' Well?"

The short answer would be: writer, professor, mother, feminist. And I am writing the stories that I want to read.

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