Lisa Moore answers The Telegram's 20 Questions

Josh Pennell
Published on December 2, 2013
Author Lisa Moore outside designer Barry Buckle’s new clothing store Collectz in downtown St. John’s. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

Lisa Moore’s newest novel “Caught” came out in June and recently won the $25,000 Engel/Findley Award at the Writers’ Trust Awards in Toronto.

“It’s the story of a couple of Newfoundland guys in the late ’70s who decide to smuggle the largest amount of pot ever smuggled into Canada,” she says. “It’s really about freedom.”

Moore has been receiving accolades since she first started getting published. She broke onto the literary scene with two books of short stories — “Degrees of Nakedness” and “Open” — both of which were highly praised. “Open” was nominated for the Giller Prize, as was her first novel “Alligator.”

“I think novels are made from episodes and the episodes can be sometimes likened to the shape of a short story,” says Moore.

Moore says it’s the moments while writing a novel, when she’s actually in the book itself, that make the weeks and months and years of writing a novel worthwhile. When she, like the reader later on, gets to know the characters intimately.

“You come to know them. They do act. They keep doing things in the novel. More and more I’m realizing it’s our actions that form us. We are what we do in a lot of ways.”

“Caught” is Moore’s third novel.

What is your full name?

Lisa Doreen Moore. It’s my godmother, Doreen Brown, who’s the lifelong friend of my mother. And a woman with a great sense of humour.

What is your first memory of writing something?

I know an elderly man came to our house when I was a little girl and for some reason he agreed to bake a cake with me. And I wrote him a thank-you letter for that.

Does your past success with writing affect you now when you sit down to write?

Every time you sit down to write a book, you want it to be the best book it can possibly be. That’s the same no matter how many books you’ve written. And also there seems to be the same amount of risk or possibility of failure because every single book is new. And you’re starting out in completely new terrain.

What makes a good story in your opinion?

There has to be a marriage of plot and character. You want the reader to ask, “What happened next?” but you also want them to ask, “What happened next to whom?”

What kind of a setting do you write

in most?

I move all over the place and I can write anywhere. I write in cafés and on airplanes when I happen to be on one. Airplanes are particularly good because you can’t get up and leave. Or do the laundry. I write in my kitchen. I enjoy writing anywhere.

Don’t people recognize you and ask

what you’re working on when you write

in cafés?

Nobody has ever asked. My husband says that the expressions on my face change as I’m writing. Sometimes I look angry or sometimes I look happy. Maybe they’re concerned about my mental health and keep a distance.

What are the benefits and difficulties

that come with trying to establish

yourself as a writer in this province

as opposed to elsewhere?

I think there probably aren’t very many now. When I was just beginning to write I took a creative writing course at Memorial University with Larry Matthews. He told all of us to send our stories out to literary journals and he was an incredible influence on me but also on a lot of people. He was a great critic of our writing. But he encouraged us to send our stories out to a wider audience and I think that was a really great thing to do and a big help in terms of making connections with other people who were writing across the country.

If you were an animal

which one would you be?

I’d be a cheetah because they’re so fast. And very elegant looking and they’re kind of polka-dotted, which I like. Also a rat. Because I think that a rat running through the floorboards of houses all over the city could easily pick up great stories.

What are you afraid of?

Rats. I am terrified of rats. I saw one the other night crossing a street and it had that slinking look and slithering movement like liquid as it bounced through my headlights.

What has been the scariest moment

in your life?

When I was giving birth there was a moment where it looked like ... curtains. It didn’t last long. There was a bit of an emergency but in that brief moment I thought I was dying and I was also bringing a new baby into the world and that was a terrifying moment.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

We own a house around the bay. It’s an old house and doesn’t have running water. There’s a bedroom in that house on the second floor that has rippled glass because the glass is so old and up against that window a crab apple tree rubs its branches. When the sun is going down the light in that room is coming through the leaves and you can see the shadows of the leaves and it’s amber. Particularly in the early, early fall or end of summer. And that I think is my favourite place to be in the world at that time.

If you had a life motto, what would it be?

Be wild.

What is the greatest lesson in writing you’ve learned so far?

I’d say humility. It’s really important to be open to criticism. To accept your flaws and to push through them.

Who is one person alive or dead who you would like to spend the day with?

Picasso. Not because of the way he treated the women in his life. And not because he’s my favourite artist. But because he was constantly inventing. He just must have every morning been making art and he made so many different kinds and he used so much different media. Whatever he wanted to create he was able and ready and willing and alive to it. I would just like to spend a day watching him do that.

Does popular writing change much in your opinion or will good writing always be considered good writing?

Popular writing is not always good writing but sometimes it is. I think there are some essential, fundamental things about writing that people always love and that doesn’t change. People want drama. They want to be emotionally wrestled with. They want to see the world in new ways.

Do you learn more about writing from reading a well-written book or a poorly written book?

I think bad books are all the same, pretty much. They’re usually all bad in the same way. There are fewer types of bad books than there are types of good books. I think a good book is unique. I learn more from reading good writing.

What seasons do you like best and least?

I really like early autumn. I like when it begins to get dark. I like that mystery and atmosphere that goes with that. Especially in downtown St. John’s. I don’t like the season that around here we call April. Sometimes we call it March but mostly we call it April.

What do you like most about writing?

I love those moments where I’m really, really deeply lost in it. People could be in the house yelling out to me and I won’t hear them. Those moments are a small fraction of the hours spent trying to write a novel, but when they come they create such an incredible feeling of elation that they make all the drudgery worthwhile.

What is something you would still love

to do or accomplish?

I want to write a big, giant, wild, totally mesmerizing, fantastic novel. The kind of novel I’m imagining, it’s probably impossible. Wanting is enough. Trying for it is enough.

What is one of your favourite places

to shop in St. John’s?

One of my new favourite stores is Barry Buckle’s Collectz. I needed a green gown for this CBC fundraiser. A formal gown. So I took this old Giller Prize dress to Barry Buckle to redesign. He did this incredible job and made this ultra-modern but still formal gorgeous looking dress. (In fact, it’s the dress Lisa Moore is wearing in her 20 questions photo).