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The best advice author Miriam Toews ever received: ‘Let’s move in a love direction’

Miriam Toews

Tonia Cowan/The Globe and Mail

Miriam Toews needs little by way of introduction. She's a Governor-General's award-winning writer with seven books to her name, including, most recently, the acclaimed All My Puny Sorrows, which takes on, with Toews's carefully pitched humour and depth, the topic of suicide.

Why did you write your new book?

I tried to dance it out but my editor was like, What are you doing? Please sit down.

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Whose sentences are your favourite, and why?

These days, Julien Gracq's, from a book written over thirty years ago called Reading Writing. Here's a sample:

"A writer's almost carnal weakness for words (otherwise he wouldn't be a writer), for their corpulence or stature, their weight of round fruits falling one by one from the tree, or on the contrary for their virtue of changing "their absence into delight," of gradually fading in favour of their broadened wake, can sometimes gradually transform over a lifetime without disavowal. When I started writing, what I wanted first and foremost was the vibratory quivering, the violin bow over the imagination. Later, much later, I often preferred the succulence of compact words, rich in dentals and fricatives, that the ear could snatch one by one, like a dog catching pieces of raw meat: in a way, like going from word-as-mood to word-as-food, the path that leads prose from the precincts of the Fall of the House of Usher to those of Knowing the East."

What's the best advice you've ever received?

Let's move in a love direction.

Which historical period do you wish you'd lived through, and why?

Paleolithic. Nice times sitting around fires, nomadic (I like to travel), and pre-language (I could quit my job and grunt at the stars).

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Would you rather be successful during your lifetime and then forgotten or legendary after death?

I'm suspicious of this question. It sounds like flattery or an ambush. I don't even know what successful means. We're all failures. Look at the world. We're all complicit. And legendary? That's not real. When a person becomes a legend the very thing that makes them human and knowable is killed off, so it's like being killed over and over and over again, for all eternity.

What agreed-upon classic do you despise?

The Fountainhead.

Which fictional character do you wish you'd created?

Pippi Longstocking. She holds such dignified sadness, missing her sea captain father and at the same time she's the strongest, funnest girl in the world! She's a wise child who lives alone. Well, with a horse (which she can lift over her head) and she holds out profound hope and makes life hilarious and cool for her timid friends.

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Which fictional character do you wish you were?

Rosalind, in As You Like It. For very similar reasons. She so brilliantly and exuberantly wants the world to be a more honest, loving place.

What question do you wish people would ask about your work (that they don't ask)?

Can I interest you in a double martini?

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