Canadian author Zsuzsi Gartner talks about the writing process

Book opened on white surface

On Feb. 1, Canadian writer Zsuzsi Gartner joined the Canadian Writers in Person series at York to talk about her novel The Beguiling (Penguin Random House 2021) and the writing process. York University teaching assistant Dana Patrascu-Kingsley sent the following report to YFile.

Cover of The Beguiling by Zsuzsi Gartner
Cover of The Beguiling

In her presentation, Zsuzsi Gartner talked to the audience about the importance of allowing their writing to go into various directions and exploring new things. “Certain things just insert themselves when you’re working on something where you’re allowing it, where you can scoop all these things happening that interest you,” observed Gartner. “And you kind of just meld them in, they fit in, and you can kind of change what you’re obsessed with and work that into the book.”

Gartner’s novel The Beguiling takes the reader on numerous journeys, as the protagonist, Lucy, hears the “confessions” of various people she encounters, and learns more about herself and the world. The writer said that many of the things that made their way into the book were not part of her initial plan. “I had never set out to write about motherhood, or the body, or dogs – and those things all emerged as I was working on the book, as it started to come together,” said Gartner. “The way I write, I don’t write anything from start to finish, even a short story. My method, if I have one, is like a patchwork quilt, or like one of those papier mâché reliefs of an island with the volcano, and you just keep adding things to it, and there are different contours – that tends to be how I create fiction.”

In most of the stories she has written, Gartner has had an idea about the ending first. “I come up with the ending at the very beginning or very early on. I come up with the actual wording of the last paragraph and my job is to earn that ending I want, and to connect the beginning to the end.”

The writing process can vary though, and The Beguiling came to be after many rewrites, and moved towards a different ending from what Gartner first envisioned. This is in keeping with the author’s idea that when writing fiction, one has to be open to re-writing and to allowing for anything to happen, for any material to make its way into the book.