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20 Writerly Questions Series: Robert J Wiersema

abstract:The "Writerly Questions Series" is brought to you courtesy of Random House Canada who partners with BookBuffet. Look for this feature each Monday. The idea is we ask different authors the same set of questions designed to give readers a glimpse into the lives and writing mechanics of authors. It is fascinating to compare and contrast when you check the list to date at bottom. Today's author is Robert J Wiersema. Robert J Wiersema is the author of Before I Wake: A Novel (Reading Group Gold), a national bestseller and Globe and Mail Best Book of 2006, and the novella The World More Full of Weeping, which was shortlisted for the Prix Aurora in 2010. A respected critic and reviewer, he lives in Victoria with his wife, Cori Dusmann, and their son, Xander. His new novel is Bedtime Story.
1. How would you summarize your book in one sentence?
Bedtime Story is about fathers and sons, good and evil, and the power of a book to swallow you whole.
2. How long did it take you to write this book?
I actually try not to think about that... †Start to finish, once I got going? †A year. †Almost to the day. The key part of that answer, though, is ďonce I got goingĒ -- there was a lot of... pre-writing and not writing and writing other stuff that went on before I found my way into Bedtime Story..
3. Where is your favorite place to write?
Iím pretty partial to the deck six port coffee bar on a transatlantic cruise (which is where the book was finished), but generally speaking, The Treasury gets the job done. †(The Treasury is the writing space I rent, a basement suite just down the street from the house. †The Treasury is a little more polite than The Man Cave, which some have taken to calling it...)
4. How do you choose your charactersí names?
Badly. †And with great anguish. †And then I get help.
5. How many drafts do you go through?
With the use of computers, that question is a bit tricky to answer. †It really depends on the section of the book, the scene. †Some bits come out all right in the first draft, and only need a bit of tweaking. †Others I end up hitting 8, 10, 12 times. The opening of Bedtime Story took a good two dozen runs at it before I was remotely satisfied, before I found my way in.


November 01, 2010
6. If there was one book you wish you had written what would it be?
At a strictly mercenary, ďGod it would be good to pay off the credit cards,Ē level, Iím gonna go with The Da Vinci Code. †At a more... aesthetic... level, probably Mark Helprinís Winterís Tale.
7. If your book were to become a movie, who would you like to see star in it?
Iím a great believer in not pissing off the universe, so with deference to the possibility of jinxing anything, I donít think I can answer.
8. Whatís your favourite city in the world?
New York, New York (so nice they named it twice), with no hesitation whatsoever. †That being said, Iíd love to spend more time in Barcelona, which I fell in love with a couple of years ago.
9. If you could talk to any writer living or dead who would it be, and what would you ask?
Aside from meeting Shakespeare (to finally pin down who he really was, and the identity of the dark lady in the Sonnets), Iíd love to have dinner with John Irving. †His The World According to Garp shaped my life, and Iíve never met him, to say thank you in person.
10. Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what kind?
I canít write without music. †As to what kind of music, it depends on what Iím writing. †Generally, though, the fewer lyrics the better (because I tend to pay attention to lyrics, and get distracted from what Iím supposed to be doing). †A lot of jazz (Miles Davis and John Coltrane), some trance stuff, soundtracks. †When Iím revising, though, itís not music: itís The West Wing. †Iíve watched the series about 15 times, and itís perfect for editing, an ongoing reminder of pacing and structure and dialogue.
11. Who is the first person who gets to read your manuscript?
My wife, Cori. †Sheís been reading my manuscripts for 22 years now, and sheís my sharpest reader by far. †She knows -- either intuitively or by experience -- what Iím trying to do with a given piece, and she can and will be brutally honest about whether Iíve met that goal. †Getting a manuscript back from her, flipping ahead to scenes that Iím curious about her reaction, and finding an obscenity in the margin from her? †Thatís when I know Iíve nailed it.
12. Do you have a guilty pleasure read?
I donít actually believe in ďguilty pleasuresĒ -- Iíd like to get rid of the at idea altogether. †If a book brings you pleasure, why feel guilty? By the conventional definition, though, I suppose the comics I read, the series books (like Jim Butcherís Harry Dresden novels) would fall under that category. †But I refuse to feel guilty about them.
13. Whatís on your nightstand right now?
Two alarm clocks...The one place I donít read? In bed. That being said, my To Be Read stack includes Damon Galgutís In a Strange Room, Bill Brysonís next one, John Vaillantís The Tiger, and a couple of manuscripts belonging to friends and fellow travellers.†

14. What is the first book you remember reading?
I used to read a lot of non-fiction as a kid. †Books on dinosaurs, general science stuff. †I remember falling in love, though, with the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators books, and Madeleine LíEngleís Time Quartet, which, at the time I read it first, was just A Wrinkle in Time and The Wind in the Door.
15. Did you always want to be a writer?
OIím ill-suited for anything else. †Iíve known from an early age that I wanted to tell stories. Of course, when I was a kid that just manifested as lying. †Thankfully, I was able to channel that impulse to deceive into fiction. †Mostly.
16. What do you drink or eat while you write?
Coffee. †Black. †In multiple mugs-full.
17. Typewriter, laptop, or pen & paper?
I start off using a fountain pen and a notebook -- itís how the words flow best, for fiction. †(And the choosing of the right pen and notebook, in combination? †Fantastic for procrastination.) †Then I enter it into the computer for revision and /> 18. What did you do immediately after hearing that you were being published for the very first time?
I got out of bed. We were on vacation, Cori and Xander and I, with my mother in law June, down in Seattle. †It was first thing in the morning, and Cori and Xander were downstairs, and June was getting ready to go for breakfast, and I was dozing in bed when the call from my agent came. †We had known there was something in the works, but getting that news... †It blew my mind. I spent the afternoon running up a massive phone bill -- international and roaming charges -- standing in the thrum of Pike Place Market, talking to my agent, my publisher, my editor, calling my friends.. That was a great day.
19. How do you decide which narrative point of view to write from?
Sometimes it comes naturally, sometimes itís a struggle. Before I Wake was always multiple POV -- I didnít even think about it, and Iím not sure, even now, if it would have worked any other way. †I donít think so. The initial struggle to find my way into Bedtime Story was primarily around POV, and voice. †And it took quite a while to figure it out.
20. What is the best gift someone could give a writer?
Well, given the difficulty of wrapping time, Iíd have to say a pen. †But then, Iíve got a bit of a pen fetish, so... of course I would say that. If at all possible, time would be the greatest gift a writer can receive. †And a room of oneís own. †And a good pen.

Author links

  • Random House's "Author Feature Page" for Robert Wiersema's Website
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  • Previous Authors Asked 20 Writerly Questions

  • Justin Cronin
  • Holly LeCraw
  • Joan Thomas
  • Anosh Irani
  • Yann Martel
  • Joy Fielding
  • Andrew Kaufman
  • Beth Powning


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