Books·Magic 8 Q&A

What gets Cherie Dimaline through the tough parts of writing

The winner of the Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text and the Kirkus Prize, takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.
Cherie Dimaline is the author of The Marrow Thieves. (Cherie Dimaline/Dancing Cat Books)

Cherie Dimaline's The Marrow Thievesa novel set in dystopian North America, has resonated with readers on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border. A day after winning the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text, Dimaline received a major American literary prize: the 2017 Kirkus Prize for young readers' literature.

Dimaline will be judging CBC's The First Page, a creative writing challenge for students in Grades 7 to 12. Learn more here about how you could win a year of OwlCrate and 50 books for your school library.

Below, Dimaline answers CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A, answering eight questions from eight of her literary peers.

1. Eden Robinson asks, "What was your worst and/or best experiences at readings?"

I panic before every reading. I imagine the very worst that could happen like two minutes before they start my bio, things like projectile vomiting on the front row or suddenly getting a very bad and loud stomachache. Thankfully, people are almost always gracious and supportive and want you to do well. I guess the worst experience was reading to a high school 25 minutes on the Friday before March break. I could feel them wishing me away so they could get out of there. And I started wishing along with them. 

2. Tracey Lindberg asks, "Your latest novel is made into a movie. Who is on the soundtrack?"

Pearl Jam, Jane's Addiction, Drake, Future, Lana Del Rey, Northern Cree, Smashing Pumpkins, Edith Piaf, Radiohead — all the music I listened to writing the book.

3. Susan Juby asks, "What gets you through the inevitable hard parts of writing a book?"

Other writers. There is nothing like taking a break to read other people's words to refuel and feel a part of a community. A really nerdy community committed to these ink marks and tiny bits of life, but a community nonetheless. 

4. Susin Nielsen asks, "Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? (It does not have to have been published.)"

In Grade 2, I was asked to stay in at recess to actually do math because I had spent math period writing the story of a dragon who lived in the forest behind my house. I thought it was a better use of my time. And the math sheets — all that blank paper space for number? Pfft.

5. Gregory Scofield asks, "If you could change one thing about anything you've written, what would it be? And why?"

I desperately wish I could have my novel The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy back. There is so much support I didn't bother to give the protagonist and so many other characters who could have been so much more. The idea of this woman who is kept in isolation because of a galaxy of issues surrounding her head (anxiety, OCD, fear, etc.) is still so relevant and haunting.

6. Yann Martel asks, "What's the favourite sentence (or scene) that you've written?"

The very last scene in The Marrow Thieves is my favourite. Its one of those things you write in that beautiful space where time and life and even your sense of self disappear and its just the words. Talking to my grandmother about words and language, she explained that words were like cups that held the feelings and relationship of a thing. Writing this scene was like putting empty teacups in the rain and listening to them being filled up.

7. Anna Porter asks, "When you invent a lead character in a novel, do you try to make him/her sympathetic? And if not, why not?"

I hope that people can connect with or be sympathetic towards the characters based on their fullness — they are generally fully disclosure type of people. They embarrass themselves, and have inner dialogues and wonder what the hell they're doing and just what comes next, which I think is common to us all at some point. 

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

"What is your writing process?" Because then I have to answer and I sound like an amateurish slob. To be honest, its probably accurate: I write at night, scribble on the backs of receipts, napkins and airline barf bags, and don't really do research or work plans until my editor forces me to. 


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