Scaffolding the Imagination: An Interview with Toronto writer and journalist, Christine Fischer Guy

In Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing , a series of interviews with David Naimon, Le Guin says about the process of writing, “When I can use prose as I do in writing stories as a direct means or form of thinking, not as a way of saying something I know or believe, not as a vehicle for a message, but as an exploration, a voyage of discovery resulting in something I didn’t know before I wrote it, then I feel that I am using it properly.” Christine Fischer Guy, whose first novel The Umbrella Mender was met with critical acclaim, is no stranger to this “voyage of discovery” through writing. Approaching the blank page as a way to encounter the truth of what a story will be and using research as a way to fuel the imagination, Fischer Guy isn’t afraid of where that might take her, be it scrapping a manuscript to start fresh or diving deep into a family member’s historical materials. She cultivates her own curiosity on subjects that inspire her and presents a rich, living portrait of the characters who people her stories. Because of this, readers find themselves fully engrossed in the story as it organically unfolds.

Picture of Christine Fischer Guy, taken by the author.

The Broadkill Review: You are a journalist, literary critic, short fiction writer, novelist, and you taught at the University of Toronto. How are you able to move across genres and what inspires you to start a particular project?

Christine Fischer Guy: I started writing journalism while I was still an English lit undergrad, contributing small concert reviews as a freelancer for the local newspaper as well as working as a staff member of the university’s student paper, so processing the world that way is familiar and comfortable for me. My MA was in critical theory, so literary criticism became a natural part of my work when I started to read as a fiction writer in my mid-thirties. These writerly occupations feed one other: as an example, it occurred to me during an early draft of my current novel-in-progress that I could write a profile of my character as a way to get to know her, much as I’d write a profile of a real person for a magazine. To look at her through a journalist’s lens was an incredibly useful exercise for me. It gave me a new way to understand my character, but it also serves as a prism through which readers can view her.

I never know where inspiration will come from, but other artists constantly inspire me, so going to readings and seeing plenty of visual art regularly—in other words, being witness to other artists’ rigorous artistic questioning—is crucial to keeping those creative lights on. Listening to you read your creative constraint poem “I Witness My {Da} Father’s Fear That he Can No Longer Take Care Of his {Ma} Bride” at VCCA is a case in point—I felt like my head would explode with creative goodness!

My stories and novels often begin with a character not exactly whispering in my ear but hovering nearby, waiting to be coaxed out of the shadows to tell me a story. A question about something I’ve seen or read can get me started, too: for the current novel, it was the brass sculpture of Glenn Gould outside the CBC headquarters in downtown Toronto. Who was this guy, really, besides an eccentric genius? Once I started reading about him, I couldn’t stop, and the idea for the novel began to emerge. As I write, ongoing research continues to inspire me and acts as scaffolding for my imagination, platforms for creative leaps into the unknown.