Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Questionless Books Interview: Author and Editor Jessica Westhead

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Jessica Westhead

In The Questionless Books Interview, I get a whole bunch of books people (from authors to editors to publishers to sales / publicity / production people, booksellers, designers, librarians, readers, etc) to "answer" a series of unspoken "questions". The results highlight a delightful mix of the opportunities and challenges facing our sector: from doom and gloom to sunshine and rainbows, and every irony in between.

Jessica Westhead is a Toronto writer and editor. Her fiction has been published in numerous literary journals, including The New Quarterly, Geist, and Indiana Review. She was shortlisted for the 2009 CBC Literary Awards, and one of her short stories was chosen for the The Journey Prize Stories 23. Her first novel, Pulpy & Midge, was published by Coach House Books in 2007. Her short story collection, And Also Sharks, published by Cormorant Books, was a 2011 Globe and Mail Best Book. Jessica was Open Book: Toronto’s June 2011 online writer-in-residence. Her archived posts can be viewed here.

Jessica’s Links:

Author Site
Pulpy & Midge
And Also Sharks
(a joint effort with fellow short fiction lovers Sarah Selecky and Matthew J. Trafford)

I am...grateful when people buy me things on their vacations. It makes me happy to know that someone thought of me during their leisure time.

I am known to...1) write fiction 2) appreciate good party lighting 3) have bad dreams about the neglected hamsters of my youth 4) enjoy TV police dramas with my husband.

I do this in...the privacy of my own home. So maybe I’m not known to do these things. Until now!

I do this because...if I don’t, there will be hell to pay. Either that, or I’ll just end up eating a McCain Deep ’n Delicious cake instead.

I do this when feeling vulnerable. Or powerful. I like feeling powerful better, though. It’s a nicer feeling.

The way I do this is...1) Watch, listen, write down ideas and observations, try to deduce which ideas and observations fit with other ideas and observations. 2) Assess the overall effect on mood—does this lighting make me feel free and easy and amenable to socializing? 3) The dreams just come. I carry a lot of guilt. The hamsters deserved more of my love, and more frequent cage cleanings. 4) We like it when the cops catch the criminals, but there has to be a point where we’re wondering, WILL they catch them??

At his/her core, a Writer is...someone who writes.

As opposed to an Author, who is...someone who has written a book. Then you go back to being a writer again.

A Writer is responsible for...figuring out how to make their trees and margarine and floor tiles different from other writers’ trees and margarine and floor tiles.

As opposed to an Author, who is responsible for...not congratulating him- or herself too heartily for the extra-unique trees and margarine and floor tiles in his or her last book, because there are always more pines and oleo and parquet to be described.

At its core, Publishing is...a love of books.

As opposed to Editing, which is...a love of words.

A Publisher should always...believe in the books they release into the world, and use their powers to bring those books as much attention as possible.

As opposed to an Editor, who should always...believe in the writers they work with, and use their powers to embolden writers to be better than those writers previously thought possible.

A Manuscript that’s ready to be read by others is...something with my name on it that I’m hoping to hold in my hands again one day.

As opposed to a Book that’s ready to be read by others, which is...something with my name and a lovely cover on it that I’m hoping to hold in my hands again one day.

A Manuscript should always...absorb its writer.

As opposed to a Book, which should always...absorb its reader.

At its core, Bookselling is...the gooey centre.

As opposed to Book Marketing, which is...the chocolatey coating.

The smallest unit of narrative is...a lonely man walking a dog and thinking about the casserole he has always wanted to make but never had the time. It would be the best casserole ever, containing bits of ham, some soup mix, canned corn, and probably egg noodles. He could make it tonight, but then there’s this damn dog. The dog needs to be walked constantly! Why did he get a dog in the first place? He thinks about letting go of the leash, how the dog would slowly pick up speed, unable to quite believe its luck but also a bit uncertain if it should go forward or back or just run in circles. The lonely man passes a lonely woman, but he is thinking too hard about his dog and the frustration it’s caused him since Day One to notice how beautiful she is, or to intuit her passion for all types of casseroles. No, wait, that’s totally not it.

The biggest reason to anticipate the future is...the unknown, and an endless array of new gelato flavours to try.

The biggest reason to be scared of the future is...the unknown, as well as the potential for human beings to upload their consciousness into a computer. I heard about that somewhere, and it freaked the crap out of me.

In the future we will grateful for our routines.

At his/her core, a Reader is...someone who wants to know what happens next.

However, the ideal Reader is...someone who wants to know what happens along the way to what’s next.

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.

Related item from our archives

George Murray

George Murray’s six books of poetry include The Rush to Here and The Hunter. His most recent books, Whiteout and Glimpse: Selected Aphorisms, are published by ECW Press. He is the editor of the popular literary website

Go to George Murray’s Author Page