Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Why Cary Fagan has a love-hate relationship with words

The author of Wolfie & Fly and The Old World answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Cary Fagan is the author of Wolfie & Fly and The Old World. (Josh Levine/Penguin Random House)

Cary Fagan is a prolific author who has made his mark in multiple genres. Two of his 2017 offerings include Wolfie & Fly, a children's novel about unlikely friends, and The Old World, a short story collection inspired by found photographs.

Below, Fagan takes CBC Books' Magic 8 Q&A, and answers eight randomly selected questions from eight of his fellow authors.

1. Cea Sunrise Person asks, "Where do you get most of your story ideas?"

The seed of my ideas do come from life experience. But I like to give that seed a lot of fertilizer and let it grow in unpredictable ways. Autobiography isn't the slightest bit important; it's where my imagination takes the starting truth that is more interesting to me.

2. Ausma Zehanat Khan asks, "At what point in your career do you believe you will have accomplished what you set out to do as a writer? How will you know?"

I don't think I ever set out to "accomplish" anything other than to write good stories. And as long as I can convince myself that I have another good one to write, I'll keep going. There's no particular end, just as there's no end to stories in general. But if I ever feel that I have nothing fresh to say or don't feel excited by writing anymore, I hope that I'll just stop. My hope is that there will always be something I want to put into words, even if it's down to a single sentence.

3. Matti Friedman asks, "In what way is your hometown present in your writing?"

Toronto's my hometown and, boy, is it a part of my work. There's the imagined city of my parents' time, there's the suburb of my childhood, the downtown of young adulthood, the park and school world of my own children, etc. Each time the city is the same and different and feels integral to the life of the characters that I write about.

4. André Alexis asks, "Are you conscious of the rhythm that paragraphs have, their length, when you're writing? Or is that something you work on as a form of sculpture afterwards?"

Words. Sentences. Paragraphs. Chapters. The rhythm seems to me akin to music. I feel this as much as think it, from the first draft to the last.

5. Rajiv Surendra asks, "Do you have any major turn-offs associated with writing?"

I just hate it when the writing isn't going well. I feel like a useless non-person. I procrastinate, waste time and dislike myself. That's what I don't like about writing.

6. JJ Lee asks, "Superman or Batman?"

I don't mean to be snooty but I'm not interested in superheroes, with powers or not.

7. Colleen Murphy asks, "Why do you love words?"

Love them? Hmm. Words often feel like they're trying to defeat me by being lifeless, clichéd, overused. Trying to breathe life into sentences — well, when it works, yes, I love words. But at other times...

8. Caroline Pignat asks, "How do you know when a manuscript is 'finished'?"

Probably when there is nothing left in the manuscript that makes my skin crawl.