What poet and novelist Suzette Mayr hates (and loves) about writing
Suzette Mayr is a poet and novelist whose 2011 novel Monoceros was nominated for multiple awards, including being longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Now, six years later, Mayr is back with a new novel called Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall.
Below, Mayr answers eight questions submitted by eight of her fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.
1. Peter Robinson asks, "What are your favourite and least favourite parts of the writing process?"
I really can't stand getting that very first draft of a novel together. You've got an idea, you've got some notes, you start writing and then it fails. You write again; it fails again. You wonder how you ever wrote a book ever. Over and over and over you fail — it takes years — until you get about three pages that sound pretty good. Then you hope that the three pages will expand into 80 pages. Because at 80 pages, you know you have a book. I. Can't. Stand. It.
I love the part when you've got about 100 pages and the writing process is all about plumping out and embellishing, travelling down roads and finding new details, characters.
2. J.B. MacKinnon asks, "You can write your next book at a desk with a view of the sea, of a busy European plaza, or of a blank wall right in front of your desk. Which do you choose and why?"
I've never had the opportunity to do this, but I would probably choose the view of the sea even though I'd never actually go in the sea. I'm a crappy swimmer and I'm perpetually afraid of things like sharks and krakens and the Loch Ness monster. The sea is flat and plain and is all about possibility because pretty much anything can come charging at you over that horizon. I'm from the prairies. The drive between Calgary and Winnipeg is the best. Flatness is where it's at.
3. Joy Fielding asks, "How do you go about creating believable characters?"
I tend to begin by incorporating attributes from people I've encountered in real life, whether in person or in the news, and think about how they might react in a given situation that would be different from how I would react. That way I try to stay away from clichéd or predictable character behaviour and appearance. For example, I remember reading in the news about a mother whose child was badly injured in an accident and taken to the hospital. Instead of the mother rushing to the child's side in the hospital as I might have expected, the mother refused to go into the hospital room because she was too scared to see the child's injuries. I thought this was an interesting reaction — not one you ever read about because of the clichés and expectations around mothers and maternal behaviour.
4. Donna Morrissey asks, "How do you deal with daily life while you're in the middle of creating a book?"
Frankly, not very well. When I've got a writing deadline, everything else just slides and I have to do a lot of apologizing and clean-up later.
5. Jordan Tannahill asks, "What is the most ridiculous thing you found yourself doing out of distraction/procrastination instead of writing?"
I spent a whole afternoon scooping up a winter's worth of desiccated and crumbly dog poo from the back yard. I chased those feces crumbs like no tomorrow.
6. Alissa York asks, "If 'writer' were removed from the options, what else would you like to be?"
If I had another 175 years to live, I would get really good at playing the clarinet and have my own klezmer band. We would make a million dollars, we'd be so good.
7. Shani Mootoo asks, "What was the best surprise you had in the process of writing your latest published book?"
I don't know if it was a "best" surprise, but it was definitely a surprise when I figured out I'd internalized and then reproduced names from the television show Downton Abbey in my new novel without realizing it. I'd deliberately chosen the name "Crawley Hall" as the name of the main building, but only because I liked the sound of "crawl." But then only very late in the writing process I realized I'd also used the names Edith and Carson, and I'm pretty sure there are other Downton Abbey influences in there that I haven't recognized yet. That show irritates me so much: I hate it, but I love it. I can't believe it infiltrated my brain like that. I also accidentally copped from Alice in Wonderland without realizing it too: I have a character in my new book who wears a Cheshire Cat watch, and somehow two characters both named Alice, and jackrabbits and an obsession with time. Clearly I don't have a single original thought in my head.
8. Lazer Lederhendler asks, "If an aspiring writer asked your advice because she has to choose between taking a degree in creative writing and a full time job that involves, say, a lot of travelling, what would you say to her?"
Travel! You can always do a degree later. You need a healthy and mobile body to travel so cash in on your mobile body while you can, run around those airports and climb those stairs and mountains, and then when your body starts to get cranky from wear and tear and old age, you can do the degree. Also you'll have more to write about.