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Anne Giardini, author of Advice for Italian Boys, The Sad Truth About Happiness, and the president of Weyerhauser Corporation, talks with Linda Solomon about conceiving a work, bravery, completion, and her life as a kitchen counter writer. Ms. Giardini is the daughter of the novelist, Carol Shields. With photographs by Yukiko Onley.
Linda: I read that you wrote your last book at the kitchen counter.
Anne: Wherever I have time to write for a few minutes, I take them. My kids are older now so it is easier for me to get sustained amounts of time so I take it when I can. In the evening on the couch or at the kitchen counter. I tend to move my laptop around the house or where I feel most comfortable at the time. I’ve written a number of chapters in hockey arenas or you can sit in the car at a soccer game and write.
Linda: How do you keep the flow going when you have interruptions?
Anne: I start with a framework and then I adhere to it.
Linda: Do you outline?
Anne: I have a picture of the completed book in my brain and so I work with that.
Linda: You’re able to conceptualize the outline and hold it in your brain?
Anne: Well, I often think writing is like making a quilt. Women that who make beautiful quilts start with the quilt in their brain but it’s made piece by piece over time. I start out with the image of the complete quilt and then everything I do fits into that framework.
Linda: I can conceive great works in my mind, but I often find that what comes out on the page as I write falls short of the brilliance I envisioned.
Anne: A novel is only perfect before you put down a single world. I just emailed Miranda Hill, the writer, that I’m starting this third novel of mine and it’s still perfect.
Linda: Because it’s in your head.
Anne: Yes, and it’s still absolutely shining and perfect.
Linda: After you get the first draft done, what then?
Anne: I work with my editors. Harper Collins is a wonderful publishing house and they’ve provided me with superb editors who are very collaborative. It’s good to get someone with a bit of distance to have a look.
Linda: How does Vancouver figure into your life as a writer?
Anne: I set my first novel here very happily. I think Vancouver is a great setting for a book about happiness and unhappiness because of the weather.
Linda: Are you implying there is something inherently unhappy about the weather here? Whatever can you mean?
Anne: It has its moods, don’t you think?
Linda: How about your next book? Will it be set here, too?
Anne: Yes, my third book will be set on the west coast.
Linda: What interests you as a novelist about Vancouver?
Anne: There’s a lot of history here that hasn’t been written about. My second book, Advice for Italian Boys, was set in a suburb north of Toronto and in Italy.
Linda: Did you draw on your family when you wrote that?
Anne: Of course I did: my husband’s Italian Canadian family.
Linda: How do they like it?
Anne: Nobody’s sued me yet and they’re all speaking to me. I’ve loved this Italian Canadian family culture that I’ve married into. It’s wonderful. I’m grateful to them for taking me in.
Linda: What was the best advice you ever got from your mother-in-law?
Anne: She’s very family oriented and she’s old fashioned and she came from a part of Italy where they were very poor A constant refrain from her is, ‘Have you eaten?’ which is a hallmark of societies who have gone through hardship. I thought of this thirteen years ago when I did a sweat lodge in Kamloops.
Linda: What happened in the sweat lodge?
Anne: It was an intense experience, physically difficult, comparable to childbirth, and you are meant to have a reaction to it – healing or an epiphany. I realized in it that nourishing my children was important and shouldn’t be neglected.
This is tied to my mother in law’s advice. You need to feed yourself and your family in many ways. From both of those experiences, I think I’ve taken something very much to heart. The things you need to give yourself and your family and I think you should extend to your friends, you should be intentional about it and pause and think about it.
If you think about how I’ve chosen to live my life, work is essential to me. I need to work and I need to do demanding work and I feed myself by the writing I do and by the reading. But I think you can get stuck into old ways of doing things because you think of yourself as a certain kind of person but I think you should ask yourself every day, have you fed your family, have you eaten?
And the broader question is, have you fed your community? Has your community eaten? That’s important. I’m engaged in a lot of volunteer activities. I get more out of them than what I put into them.
Linda: Is that a guiding principle for you?
Anne: A fundamental one.
Linda: Did that come from your mother?
Anne: Not so much this, although she had a great number of things she would remind us of. One of the things was always be as intelligent as you are.