Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

4 Questions 4 Different Writers

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For fun, I decided to approach four very different writers with diverse literary preoccupations and writing styles. I asked them each to answer a short series of questions. Their answers reveal something of their individual personalities and perhaps lend insight into why they write what they do.

The writers are:
Sally Cooper (
Susan Goldberg (
John Miller (
Jackie Goutor (

Question #1 Which writer, dead or alive, would you most want to sleep with?

Sally Cooper: Keats for his simmering, shimmering passion or a young, unleashed. Kerouac, circa 1953. (Sally Cooper)

Susan Goldberg: Given that she's still alive, I will demur.

John Miller: John Irving

Jackie Goutor: Based on my reaction to their books - intimate, soul-sharing sex would have to be Wally Lamb. I checked online three or four times to make sure he was actually a dude when reading 'She's Come Undone.' Pure lusty rompy sex: Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman, as a pair. They'd totally be into it.

Question #2 If you had to pick, what is the single biggest defining experience of your young life, the one that makes you who you are? Perhaps even makes you a writer?

(Sally Cooper) It was witnessing my mother fall apart when I was eight and deciding I was at fault. The event, and my subsequent decision about myself, left me curious about how trauma works and how one loves in its wake.

(Susan Goldberg) I'm not sure I could pick just one, but I know that even from a fairly early age, in the midst of great strife — being bullied in elementary school, my mother being diagnosed with cancer – part of me always wondered just how I might write these things one day.

(John Miller) The murder of my closest friend Naomi, when we were 19; she was a talented young writer. Losing her and reading her poetry after her death inspired me to try my hand at writing.

(Jackie Goutor)
When I was sixteen or so I wrote a fiction assignment. It was a whole 'dossier' for a boy who'd committed suicide and included letters, poems, etc. I handed it to the student teacher, who opened the duo tang and read the first page, the boy's 'final message.' He blinked, looked up at me, and said, 'did this really happen to you?' All I could think was: YEEESSSS! That's the first time I knew what it was to be a writer.

Question #3 If you could pick a pen name what would it be?

(Sally Cooper) No idea. Kerouac Keats?

(Susan Goldberg) I don't think I would, although I fear that "Susan Goldberg" doesn't seem like a name that's going to sell a lot of books. My parents nearly named me Sadie, and now I wish they had, because maybe I could channel some of Zadie Smith's success?

(John Miller) John Irving. Perhaps then I'd get some of his royalties by mistake.

(Jackie Goutor) I use a pen name, Aron, which is my first name spelled backwards. But if I could be creative, with no consequences, I would probably choose something really awesome like Jerusha Quillen, something that implies passion and secrets and base desires. And then people would meet me and look puzzled.

Question #4 What single piece of advice would you give to your younger (pre-published) self about writing?

(Sally Cooper) Believe in yourself and your writing no matter what anyone else says or does. Keep your head down and your pen moving and the rest will work itself out. Oh, and read more (and even more than that!)

(Susan Goldberg) Realize that you get better at writing by writing every single day, even if it's writing policy briefs or website text or academic essays or newsletter articles or corporate handbooks. All that other writing is like practicing scales on the piano: it makes you stronger and gives you better technique and helps you get over the fallacy that writing is some kind of special activity that can be done only when the stars align. But then, eventually you do have to take the leap and ensure that you use all those skills that you've built up in your work for other people to write your own work.

(John Miller) Don't scrimp on either time or money to have your manuscripts professionally edited. For one thing, a publisher might not give your book the careful and rigorous editing that you thought it would, and only later will you realize what it means to be under-edited. By that time, you will also realize the opportunity to improve your novel has passed and can never be recaptured.

(Jackie Goutor) Just write. Write every day. Write even when you're churning out crap. Write when you're tired, or sad, or happy. Write when you just don't f*cking want to write. Because every now and then, lightning will strike and you will absolutely know, in those glorious, electrified moments, that this is what you were born to do.

1 comment

Tantalizing blog. Loved them all, but this piece really leaves you begging for more...

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Elizabeth Ruth

Elizabeth Ruth’s first novel, Ten Good Seconds of Silence, was a finalist for the Writers Trust of Canada Fiction Prize, the Best First Novel Award and the City of Toronto Book Award and was named a top 10 book of the year by NOW Magazine, the Vancouver Sun and the London Free Press. Smoke, her second novel, was chosen for the One Book, One Community program and also named a top 10 book of the year by NOW Magazine. Her most recent novel, Matadora, will be published in April, 2013 by Cormorant Books.

Go to Elizabeth Ruth’s Author Page