Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The questions I'd rather answer

Share |

Might as well put this out there right from the start: things might get a little heavy during my time here at Open Book Toronto. That’s just how it goes with me sometimes.

Writers always have to answer the question, “what’s your book about?” Everyone has a different approach to this answer. For me, the answer that’s given often depends on who’s asking and how long I feel like talking about my writing.

Sometimes I don’t feel like talking about it much at all. There are days (a lot of them, actually) when I’d rather talk about what I watched on TV last night. And sometimes I wish people would ask, "where did the idea come from?" Or, "how did you get started on a book?" The process is always a lot more fun and interesting to talk about than a plot summary. It’s also a better way to build a connection with the person you’re talking to.

A few years ago, when my first chapbook, Eleven: Eleven was released, I started veering away from the “what’s it about?” question when I realized its characteristics – part long poem, part prose, part autobiography, part hallucination – made it a pretty tough story to sum up on demand. Instead, I started telling people that’s largely based on old journal entries.

I started keeping journals when I was in Grade 7, and still do. About five years ago, I started looking at how they’d all piled up in my bedroom and wondered if I should keep them. (I used to have a much more tenuous relationship with my past. I once threw out 200 photographs in a Coffee Time garbage can because I didn’t want any reminders left over from a certain relationship.)

When I started reading through my old journals, I realized there was a lot of stuff that I’d completely forgotten about, and a lot of it was very strange. I remembered a lot of the important things but had forgotten about things like occult flirtations and ghosts an ex-boyfriend used to see.

I’d always remembered my past as something unhappy, but when I looked through those old journals I was still surprised by what I found in them, even though they were all about me:

“I didn’t cut myself because I wanted to die. I didn’t feel suicidal at all. Unfortunately, very few saw it that way.”

“During those three weeks my heart was constantly filled with a feeling of pure dread.”

“All I can think about is suicide.”

Those are all little lines I wrote in 1995, when I was 13. At first, I was going to select certain passages and then respond to them with pieces of poetry, fiction, and plain comment, working towards a hybrid of confessional and creative writing.

Instead, those lines above, along with many others, became the basis for Eleven: Eleven, woven into a story instead of stacked on top of it. The narrator became a character who sees suicide as a parasite, something that festers, that you can’t shake. This is a direct reflection of how I felt about it at the time, having thought about suicide, even though I didn’t want to, on an almost daily basis for over 13 years.

The nameless narrator has a friend, Maxine, who may or may not even be real; at first, I’d thought about Maxine as the personification of suicide, an apparition who could act as the narrator’s guide.

But I don’t explain all that when someone asks what Eleven: Eleven is about. Instead, I talk about the source of the story, the things I uncovered about myself and about some of my friends when I started to delve back into my past.

When I started working on my new book, Amphetamine Heart, I took a similar approach, again using journaling as the foundation for my poetry. But this time around, these writings grew out of present journals, not past, making it a much more current reflection of where my head has most recently been.

In my next post, I’ll talk about how that process came about, and how journaling was the reason Amphetamine Heart even came into existence.

What past experiences do you draw from in your writing?

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

Liz Worth 2011

Liz Worth is the Toronto-based author of Amphetamine Heart (Guernica Editions, 2011), Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond 1977-1981 (Bongo Beat/ECW, 2011) and Eleven: Eleven (Trainwreck Press, 2008), a shot of surreal punk fiction.

Go to Liz Worth 2011’s Author Page