Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Will Ferguson remains one syllable short of greatness

The author of Road Trip Rwanda answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Will Ferguson is the author of Road Trip Rwanda: A Journey Into the New Heart of Africa. (Alex Ferguson)

In his new memoir Road Trip Rwanda, Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning author and humourist Will Ferguson travels to Rwanda with his friend Jean-Claude Munyezamu, who he met as a fellow dad at his son's soccer game and who left the country just before the genocide. 

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

1. Tomson Highway asks, "Why do you write?"

Because I enjoy it. Writing is a very satisfying way to earn a living. It can be difficult at times, true. But so can any creative undertaking, and as Hugh Garner so perfectly put it, "It sure beats working in a pickle factory."

2. Johanna Skibsrud asks, "What are some of your biggest frustrations while you work? In what ways do you continuously fail at what you do?"

Biggest frustration: the fact that a book never feels done. The publisher always has to drag the manuscript from my talon-like hands. I'm terrible for editing and reworking material right to the last moment, constantly tweaking it even after the pages have been typeset and the printers are standing by, drumming their fingers impatiently. My manuscripts are never really finished; they're confiscated.

3. Helen Humphreys asks, "What is the best piece of advice about writing that you have ever received?"

I studied screenwriting in university and the best advice I received was this: When you can see the end of a story, get to the end of the story. You might get bogged down in the middle (Lord knows, I do), but you have to end strong, you have to end crisply, cleanly. The best endings should be both surprising and inevitable.

4. Claire Holden Rothman asks, "What draws you to fiction written by others? What are the ingredients of a good novel? What do you look for when you read?"

I look for story. Story in the classic sense of conflict and a journey, of character and incident colliding. I'm not a fan of extended character studies, nor of galloping plots that are all incident with no sense of character. The two should be irretraceably entwined, with character driving plot, and plot shaping the characters. I believe that who we are is reflected in what we do, in the choices we make, and I look for stories that reflect this.  

5. Frances Itani asks, "Describe a walk that would and could feed your imagination and your writing. In what part of the world would this walk take place?"

I miss Rwanda. The hills, the forests, the trails, the gorillas. I don't know if I would refer to it as a "walk," more of a hike, but it has stayed with me ever since. In my imagination, I often return to Rwanda's Virunga Mountains (though, in my imagination, I'm in much better shape). 

6. Susan Juby asks, "What do you tell new writers about the economics of being a writer? Are you a hope-giver or a hope-dasher?"

The economics of writing is the least interesting part of writing. When new writers ask me, I tell them, do it because you enjoy it. Not because you have Something Important to Say, but because you enjoy playing with words, telling stories. Don't worry about the economics of it. 

It's strange. Lots of people paint without ever thinking they will become a famous artist. Lots of people play the piano without expecting to perform at Carnegie Hall. Why is that everyone who writes feels that if they aren't published and earning royalties, they've failed? 

7. 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?"

Bob Edwards, newspaperman and professional shit-disturber. We would have rib-eye steaks and salt-encrusted Caesars at the Petroleum Club in Calgary — or at least, until they threw us out — though I don't imagine we would speak so much as I would be regaled.

8. Camilla Gibb asks, "Do you have an unpublished novel lying about somewhere?" 

Not a novel, no. But I do have a haiku that I've been working on for the last 20 years. It's just one syllable short of greatness. (Story of my life.)


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