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Newfoundland writer Lisa Moore is the author of Open, a collection of short stories nominated for the 2002 Giller Prize. Currently writing her first novel, Moore spoke to National Post reporter Susanne Hiller at Coffee and Company in St. John's.

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How I Do What I Do

Right now, I'm working on a novel. It's hard to say how far along I am because I have been writing lots and lots of scenes. I have a strong idea of the plot but I haven't been forcing those scenes to fit the plot.

I will, I guess -- although I just heard an interesting thing by Norman Mailer that a plot is fascistic, that it forces characters to be something other than who they are in order to fit a plot line. So, I'm keeping that in mind. I'm hoping it will grow organically into a novel before I have to impose too much order on it from the outside.

I've been working on it since Open came out last May -- it feels like a million years ago now. I'm thinking it will be finished, a completed draft, by Feb. 20. From there my editor, Martha Sharpe, and I will work on it together, doing edits and stuff. That's the plan.

Some of it is based in Newfoundland and some of it will be in other places. It's contemporary, a love story. It's about intimate relationships.

Of course, the first book you write, you have no reason to believe that anyone will read it -- but you go ahead and write it anyway. I was completely surprised by the reaction to Open. I worked on it for seven years, and during that time I had several jobs and two children. It's surprising that you can work away in a room by yourself for such a long time and go over and over the sentences that you are making and then suddenly realize that people are reacting to your words.

My day changes all the time, but I try to maintain a schedule. I have a three-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. My husband and I get up around 7 and get breakfast going and the kids off to school. On the third floor, my husband and I have separate studies. Around 9:10, we go up there and each closes the door and my husband sits in his study and he doesn't move. Sometimes we leave a pot of coffee out on the landing in the middle, so we don't have to go into each other's office to get it.

I tend to walk around a lot. I write and walk. At around 1 p.m., we both go for a run and then Steve goes to the university to teach. I spend the afternoon checking e-mail and doing businessy stuff and reading.

I usually carry a notebook with me. I write down things I see, all kinds of images and bits of dialogue or whatever. Now, I won't often take notes at a dinner party, even though a dinner party is where you find the best dialogue. The reason dinner parties are so brilliant is the way they are remembered rather than the way they actually were. I usually write what I am struck by, if an image looks beautiful or looks like it has some kind of meaning, and then I rewrite it and rewrite it until a story evolves.

I just read this interesting quote by Virginia Woolf about character or personality being as ephemeral as a rainbow. We are not necessarily solid people with certain characteristics. We are actually much more shifting beings. In my novel, I want my characters to be real that way.

In part, my characters are drawn from the people around me. I don't think any writer totally makes up a person. We are all affected by the people we meet and know. I do try to make characters that are mysterious to me in some way and that I care about. That is important to me.

I am really influenced by Michael Winter. I think his use of language is absolutely beautiful. Michael Crummy and Wayne Johnston, too. These are the writers I have been reading all my writing life. As for Americans, I really like Don DeLillo and a writer named James Salter. Light Years is the book I really like by him. I also like Marguerite Duras. I enjoy writers who are really into voice, where you hear the characters speak -- like Mordecai Richler -- but also writers who are sparse, whose prose is filled with images and emotions that are developed very subtly.

My study is a total mess of papers and books all over the place. And if I'm stuck, I'll pick up that James Salter book and I'll read a page and that's enough to make me go, "Oh, yes, that's how it's done. "

I might be on a great roll for weeks, producing this great high, and then that's followed by weeks when every single word I write down is dull and boring and cliched. It's really depressing to spend four hours writing and come up with nothing. You have to sit then, and keep going. You cry and get depressed and have fights with everyone and then it eventually goes away.

My husband reads my stuff. He has a great critical eye and he is very honest. He says I don't take criticism very well. It's difficult for him, because he has to give me the criticism and then live with me afterwards. You can't argue with someone who says you don't take criticism well, because then you are not taking criticism well. Regardless, I really appreciate that he is honest with me.

I'm writing about relationships between lovers, between friends, between mothers and daughters, and that could happen anywhere. It just happens to be happening here. I'm interested in questions like: What is love? What is intimacy? What is at risk when you fall in love? It is such a strange idea that people fall in love. It is infinitely interesting. There is never an easy answer.

by fellow Newfoundlander Abroad Susanne Hiller for the National Post