Books·Magic 8 Q&A

The worst writing advice Eric Walters ever received

The author of more than 80 novels for young readers answers questions about creating unlikable characters, writing advice and more.
Eric Walters has written almost 100 novels for young readers since 1993. (Penguin Random House Canada)

Eric Walters is one of Canada's most prolific and successful writers for young people. Inspired by reluctant readers when he was a grade five teacher, he decided to write them a story they couldn't put down. Since then, he's penned almost 100 (!!) books, including Camp X, The Power of Three and Run. He's reaching more readers than ever: his 2006 novel We All Fall Down came in at #88 on the list of the bestselling 150 Canadian books of the past 10 years. Up next: 90 Days of Different, a book about a responsible teenage girl looking for a different side of herself before starting university. The book will be published at the end of August.

Below, we asked Walters to take the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answer eight questions submitted by eight of his fellow writers.

1. Dianne Warren asks, "What two Canadian writers, living or dead, would you like to see interview each other? Why?"

I would love to watch Farley Mowat and Mordecai Richler interview each other. It would be an open exchange that could lead to anything being said, questioned or answered.

2. C.C. Humphreys asks, "What life experience do you wish you'd had that would have helped your writing?"

I wish I had the capacity to speak another language. It would open my eyes and ears to the subtle nuances of another culture.

3. Karyn Freedman asks, "Is it hard to write empathetically when it comes to characters that do things that you find morally problematic?"

I have written characters where I have walked away from the keyboard and deliberately washed my hands as if they had been tainted by the words they typed. I'm a social worker and family therapist by training. So often I'd deal with abused and abusive people. Your heart and soul naturally goes out to help those who are abused. The harder part is going back to try to find a way to offer assistance to the abuser. I have never met an abuser who wasn't abused. You can never accept their behavior — or get caught rationalizing it — but you have to try to climb inside their lives to offer them a chance at treatment and ultimately redemption and a road to a place where they will not abuse. Climbing inside a character is often difficult, especially when you find that character disagreeable or even repulsive. That is the challenge of the writer.

4. Patrick deWitt asks, "What is the least useful writing advice you ever received?"

Write what you know. What's important isn't what you know, but how you can get to know. You have to figure out what you have to read, who you have to interview, what activity you have to do and who will be your consultant to help you know.

5. Durga Chew-Bose asks, "What is your ideal writing snack?"

When I'm really engrossed in a story — whether writing or reading — I don't have any desire or need to eat. Sometimes I look up from my computer and realize I haven't eaten for six hours. Other times I nibble — cheerios, bananas and chocolate ice cream... not in the same bowl.

6. Scaachi Koul asks, "Is there any piece of writing you wrote in your past that you now regret?"

When it's gone it's gone. After having written — and edited — a story seven or eight times I am happy to set it free. The only occasions I've read one of my novels after it's published is if I'm writing a sequel. There's no question you can always improve but I'm much more interested in the story I'm writing not the story that I wrote.

7. Jo Walton asks, "Does your writing ever change course on you and do something unexpected? How do you deal with that?"

I'm a 'plotter' so I have a pretty good idea of the direction of the story. With that said, I am continually amused — and sometimes shocked — at the direction that my stories go. I'll write a line and stop, wondering — where did that line come from, why did my character say that, where is this going? At times it feels like my characters are inside my computer having side conversations and making their own decisions. If I crept up to my computer and slowly lifted the lid I might be able to listen in on their discussions.

8. Tomson Highway asks," If you were a musician, which instrument would you play? That is to say, which instrument would you choose to tell your story with?"

The saxophone. My quest this summer is to 'relearn' my horn. It's been over a decade since I last played. I mean no offence to people who play, or love, other instruments, but the saxophone is just different. The sax can portray the full range of human emotions. It speaks, it soars, it cries, it laughs, it thrills. Just listen to Grover Washington Jr. or Canada's own Warren Hill and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.


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