Last week I confessed that Marina Endicott’s Good to a Fault made me cry. This week, she apologised for making me cry (thereby perpetuating every Canadian stereotype, ever) and answered my questions about what she’s working on now (a vaudeville romp), how she chains herself to her desk (a Pomodoro timer), and the worst thing she’s ever written (a poem, okay?).
What are you reading now?
Re-reading Greatest of Marlys by Lynda Barry and Waiting for Godot and slogging through Gurdjieff, the Key Concepts. After reading all the fiction in Canada last year for the Rogers Writers’ Trust fiction prize, I’m taking a bit of a break from reading novels while I work hard to finish writing my new one. But I have Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver (with a lovely introduction from Ali Smith) and Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs waiting on the bedside table.
What was your favourite book when you were growing up?
Terrible, Horrible Edie by E.C. Spykman—out of print at the moment but New York Review Children’s Collection is bringing it out soon.
Which fictional character do you wish you’d come up with?
Lyra/Pantalaimon in The Golden Compass etc., by Philip Pullman
What do you enjoy reading besides books?
Poetry. Sometimes I read only poetry for weeks at a time. It is very reliable.
What are you writing now?
A vaudeville romp: a melodramatic, action-packed, rags-to-riches fol-de-rol about a sister trio harmony act touring the western prairies in polite vaudeville in 1913.
Has the success of Good to a Fault changed the way you feel about your own writing?
Not at all. It’s the same book that I couldn’t get published for love or money, three years ago. Outside stuff is nice or difficult, but the book you are writing is always the hardest book you can make yourself write, and you feel good or bad about it in ten-minute bouts of self-indulgence when tired; the work is just the work. I guess, though, that I feel less need now to justify writing as a profession.
Do you have to force yourself to start writing?
Of course. It’s an incredible pleasure to write when it’s going well. To get to the point where it’s going well, you have to crawl, stagger or blast your way through a thicket of boredom and stupidity and bad starts and doubt. Some days the muse whacks you with her wonder-stick, but it’s sadly true that most of writing is applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. I’ve got a great new thing, the Pomodoro timer, recommended to me by a hard-working television writer. It sits on your computer and doles out work-time in 25 minute parcels, then bings for a five-minute rest (to check email and get another coffee). You can do that, you can sit still and type for 25 minutes, you tell yourself. And another 25, and another, all the livelong day.
Do you have any bad habits that you have to keep in check as you write?
Ouch. Many, including over-use of just, very, fine—like Mark Twain, ‘I go through my manuscript and change all the verys to damns, and then my editor takes them out.’ (Poor Twain, with no find-and-replace.)
But I don’t try to keep them in check as I write, that’s for the editing process. To write at all, I think you must be willing to be a holy fool, not censor your impulses. Then you have to (at least I have to) edit like a ravening pitbull.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever written?
Oh, for heaven’s sake. A poem, okay? I’m not saying anything more about it.
ABOUT GOOD TO A FAULT
Which character did you relate to most?
Changed from day to day as I wrote. I have a great deal in common with Lorraine, with Paul, with Clary. But Dolly is me. And Mrs Pell is what I’ll be like when I am old.
Do you think this story could have taken place in a larger city?
Yes, although Saskatoon is the best of cities, and the first place where I saw this kind of thing going on. Communities and make-shift families are created in every place where humans live. The family that is created in Nick Hornby’s About a Boy is very urban, urbane, but just as useful as what Clary pulls together. Even Hillary Clinton talked about a village being needed to raise a child, and although some staffer probably found or invented that old proverb for her, it’s true. I have lots of friends I’d never have talked to except that our children were the same age, so we were thrown together by proximity and common need for an occasional baby-sitting trade.
Dolly’s perspective was such a spot-on representation of how a kid thinks. Would you ever do a story told entirely from a child’s or teen’s voice?
I am working now on a four-part YA series about time/death/memory/ghosts, written from four young teenagers’ voices in a Nova Scotia village called the Hand. The four books are Summer in Hand, HandFall, Winter in Hand, and HandSpring. I love writing from that eye and ear; I don’t think interior consciousness changes much from childhood to adulthood, although our concerns and outer voices might.
Name and species of any writer’s pets, please:
A 4-year-old Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier named Nemo (as in Captain, but also, sigh, as in the little fish) who is my constant companion. He lies at my feet all day as I write, and is here right now.
A mess after my own heart.