Books·Magic 8 Q&A

What keeps Russell Wangersky writing?

The Newfoundland author and newspaper columnist answers eight questions from eight fellow writers.
Russell Wangersky is the author of The Path of Most Resistance. (Dundurn)

Newfoundland author and newspaper columnist Russell Wangersky may write for a living, but don't think that means you can pull out all your fancy literary terms. No matter if his acclaimed books Whirl AwayWalt and his latest, the short story collection The Path of Most Resistance, suggest otherwise.

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

1. Lori Lansens asks, "If you could have dinner with one of your literary heroes, living or dead, who would it be? Where would you eat? What, besides books, would you talk about?"

OK, this is a strange answer, but Studs Terkel. His book Working, which was oral history of working-class Americans, was a great read — and I think he'd be a huge amount of fun to eat with. Dinner? I'd imagine steak and fries with beer at a bar, and we'd talk (competitively) about the strange people we'd met. All kinds of quirky, strange people. He clearly loved them, and so do I.

2. Cordelia Strube asks, "What keeps you writing?"

An inability to stop. It's not that I'm driven to it or anything, it's just that I see the start of a story out in the world that I want to complete, or I realize something that I want to find a way to explain. As well, I slip into the places I'm writing about, and that travel is almost like a free vacation.

3. Bill Richardson asks, "If you were to see someone reading your book in a public place — a plane, a café — would you introduce yourself?"

I'd love to say that I would, but I'm far too shy for that. I imagine I'd stare a lot, and try to make sense of their facial expressions to guess whether or not they liked what they were reading. In my much-more-swashbuckling imagination, I'd say "Hey there, want me to sign that for you?" while waving a pen in the air. Their colour would rise in their cheeks, and they'd fan themselves. WITH MY WORDS. But I wouldn't actually have the nerve.

4. Kenneth Oppel asks, "Even after so many books, do you still feel like you're doing it wrong?"

Truth is, I have absolutely no idea what's right. At one point, an editor told me I had to work on one book's "narrative arc." I said, "Sure will," but in reality, I had no idea what she meant and had to ask my wife, who's also a writer. I bumble forwards.

5. Nino Ricci asks, "Do you think you would be a better writer if someone just gave you a big whack of money and you didn't need to worry anymore about earning an income?"

I often dream a patron will appear or someone's lawyer will turn up out of the blue with a huge bequest for me. A better writer? I'm not sure about that. I would eat and drink more expensive things, and the resulting dissipation would probably be extremely unhealthy. I also like my day job as a columnist sometimes, and it keeps me writing every day and talking to people. (That being said, a period isolated from bills and household worries at the Banff Centre was one of the most productive writing periods I've ever had.) 

A footnote: Anyone with a pressing need to dispose of a big whack of money is welcome to get in touch.

6. Alexi Zentner asks, "Do you ever bribe yourself to write? What with?"

Yes. Bribery and self-cajoling are the centrepieces of my writing technique, along with self-loathing and guilt over my own laziness. I'll promise myself that if I finish a story, I can go and fish or even put up clapboard. Anything that uses a different part of my head.

7. Taras Grescoe asks, "Do you have an ideal reader? (If so, what's his/her name?)"

I don't, really: I have trouble even understanding why I like particular books (some writers just seem to have a magically approachable style), and I can't imagine the exact kind of reader who would like what I do. Funny — if I did, I think I'd try to write for them. And I don't know if that would work.

8. Diane Schoemperlen asks, "I have two as-yet-unattained writerly dreams. The first is to have one of my books issued as a mass market paperback. The second is to find one of my books for sale at Loblaws. Do you have any similar fantasies?"

Well, the my-book-becomes-a-big-Hollywood-movie fantasy, of course. So that I could go to big parties full of famous people and stand with my back firmly pressed against the wall and be too shy to even make small talk. Eyeballs big as saucers, stomach full of snacks. Like that.