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.
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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
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
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
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
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