Books·Magic 8 Q&A

What keeps Kyo Maclear from loitering at the edge of writing

The author of Birds Art Life, one of the five finalists for the $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction, answers eight questions from eight fellow authors in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.
Kyo Maclear is the author of Birds Art Life. The memoir is one of the five 2017 finalists for the $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction. (Diaspora Dialogues)

Kyo Maclear is a novelist and author of children's books. Her latest book Birds Art Life —  one of the five 2017 finalists for the $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction — is a deeply personal memoir that examines themes of love and regret, as well as the life lessons she learned while birdwatching in an urban landscape. 

Below, Maclear tackles the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight questions from eight of her literary peers.

1. Donald Winkler asks, "In his autobiography Maxim Gorky describes sitting in a tree as a boy, reading a book, and being so bewitched by the world before him, that he peered behind the page to see if that world was lurking there. Do you have a comparable memory from your childhood of being wonderstruck by reading?"

Yes. There are a few standouts. A Wrinkle in Time: I remember being subsumed and lost to all. Momotarō ('Peach Boy'): I felt a glow of pink neon and peachy rose that seemed to last for days. My mother wasn't a reader so she never understood my reveries or the blank and mysterious quiet of reading. It's a secretive space and some people feel threatened by it but I love watching my younger son slip away. I can tell when he is lavishly bewitched, not ready to restore himself to the world. I understand the impulse to prolong the escape. I even understand the desire to want to eat a book, nibble on its pages, as this same son has been known to do.

2. Vikki VanSickle asks, "Who are your first readers and how does your relationship with them work?"

My husband and my agent are my first readers. They excel at tough love and are ever-patient with my uncertainties. I can be hard on myself, somehow always hoping for a book that's better than the one I've written. I'm slowly coming to accept that it's that inevitable distance from perfection that makes art and the artist persist.

3. Hoa Nguyen asks, "What is your writing area or desk like? Please share a description."

It is geologic. Strata of past, present and future projects. A laptop propped on a stack of bulky art books per chiropractic decree. (No hunching.)  Jarfuls of writing implements. A dozen talismanic tchotchkes (antler, cactus, ceramic creatures) for good luck. A village of tiny, open notebooks perched like rooftops. Dried fruit and chocolate for sustenance because every writing day is a trek.

4. Lesley Livingston asks, "What is the very first thing that attracts you to a potential story?"

Heat. Maybe a burning question. Something to stop me from loitering at the edge of writing. The heat helps alchemize doubt or laziness into creative fuel — well, not entirely but enough to get going and gather momentum.

5. Ed Riche asks, "Is there a literary genre that you cannot imagine working in?"

Crime fiction. I'm pretty squeamish. I once wrote a scene where a character sustains a gunshot wound. It took all my courage and bravado. I showed the scene to my editor who balked, "Seriously? The toe? He gets shot in the toe?!" (What's weird is that I've written a book about atomic warfare. Go figure.)

6. Vivek Shraya asks, "Who is a Canadian writer you aspire to write like and why?"

No writer in particular but I'm worshipful of many Canadian comics artists/cartoonists. And their incubators: Drawn and Quarterly, Koyama Press and La Pastèque who are producing some of this country's most exciting books — memoir, travelogue, political allegory — bar none.

7. Eden Robinson asks, "What was the most unexpected inspiration you've ever had?"

Meeting a thirty-something musician who had lost his heart to city birds.

8. Kevin Major asks, "If you were to write a book with a chef as a major character, what would be the chef's best recipe?"

Paella. It has an air of improvisation. It's congregational. Also, I like the idea of a chef working towards a Platonic ideal that may never be attained.