Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Why author Aviaq Johnston's stories are rooted in the Arctic

The author of Those Who Run in the Sky, which is a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature, answers eight questions from eight fellow writers.
Aviaq Johnston is the author of the young adult novel, Those Who Run in the Sky.

Aviaq Johnston is an Inuk author from Igloolik, Nunavut. In 2014, her short story Tarnikuluk earned her a Governor General's History Award. Her debut novel Those Who Run in the Sky, published earlier this year, is a coming-of-age story that follows a young shaman trapped in the spirit world. The book was a finalist for the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text.

Below, Johnston takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight random questions from eight fellow authors.   

1. Rudy Wiebe asks, "Why do you write?"

I always wanted to be an artist, but I didn't have the hand for drawing or vision for painting. I could always come up with a creative story, though. Eventually, I learned that I was actually good at writing. Some people don't look at writing as something that is noticeably artistic, but it's pretty hard to share a whole world with people by finding words that complement one another. I'm also an emotional person and writing is my form of release. I was never interested in sports, nor am I a very social person. Writing is something I can do privately and stay relatively anonymous in the process.

2. Saleema Nawaz asks, "What do you do when the writing is going badly... or not going at all?"

Panic. Just kidding. When writing is going badly, it's usually because reading is going badly, too. During times of great stress, I have to consciously take time for myself, avoid my phone, avoid Netflix, avoid social interaction and do things where my mind is actually working, rather than being numbed by the digital world. Reading always pulls me back to the literary world.

3. Erin Bow asks, "Would you write if you could never be read?"

Yes. The number of stories I have drafted in my email largely surpass the stories I have written for others to read. Mostly, I write for myself when I'm emotional. Occasionally, there's a piece in there that I want to share with my family or friends. Rarely, there's something I want to share with more people.

4. Russell Smith asks, "What is the musical soundtrack to your latest book?"

I have been listening to the Gorillaz a lot, and Manchester Orchestra's new album A Black Mile to the Surface

5. Zsuzsi Gartner asks, "What role do religion and spirituality play in your writing?"

Religion doesn't have a significant role in my life, so it doesn't usually have a role in my writing. However, I identify strongly with spirituality, in the sense of Inuit ways of living. My stories are rooted in the natural world of the Arctic, which in itself is a spiritual place. When you are surrounded by ice and snow for most of your life, you learn to appreciate the strength of the land, animals and people. My stories try to reflect that. 

6. Pasha Malla asks, "Who is one writer, living or dead, who you wish could edit or critique your drafts?"

Stephen King, though I think I would appreciate his editor more.

7. Tomson Highway asks, "What keeps you going — first as a writer, and second as a human being?"

First, reading books. I started writing by mimicking the writing styles of other authors. If you read my writing, sometimes you can tell what author I was reading at the time. Right now, I am reading a lot of Stephen King and Sarah J. Maas and you can tell by some sentences who I was reading when I wrote it. Second, as a human being, my family and dogs, of course.

8. Alison Pick asks, "How would you most like to be remembered?"

Ah, good question. I don't know. At some point, I want to be remembered as someone who knows what they are doing with their life. Most of the time, I am aimlessly following a path that brings new and exciting things my way. So far, it's working out well.