5 Things I Learned From MG Vassanji

I have been reading THE BOOK OF SECRETS and last night went to a reading by the author, MG Vassanji . To a packed room he read the title story from his book of short stories called WHEN SHE WAS QUEEN. I listened attentively as a writer and here are some of the things I learned.

1. Open a novel or memoir with a family mystery and the questions surrounding it; this can lead into your back story. In the story Vassanji read, the role of ‘gambling’ is revealed in the opening line; then the story unravels into back story, characters and plot.

2. The importance of linkages: “I recall a man….” leads to description of his father; “how trivial events can change your life” leads to another story. Then from India, he switches into the present: “as I walk with my mother along Don Mills Road” and talks about his mother who, in turn, reveals more bits about his father.

3. A particular setting e.g. The Rose Hotel in India offers a great opportunity to describe all the interesting characters who were regulars there.

4. Advice to writers: start with a little piece of your story: a character, a setting, whatever you have and write. Then, revise, revise, revise!

5. His first novel was based on memories; in THE BOOK OF SECRETS he used a diary as a device to tell the story. Each of his books is different, non-fiction harder than fiction. It’s hard for the author to remember how he wrote them; he just moves on to his next project. As an established and two time Giller winning author, even Vassanji worries about losing his gift for writing.


Mary said...

Thanks for this new information on a successful Canadian author. As a result of your recall, I went to the library today and picked up, When She Was Queen and, The Assassin's Song by Vassanji. It's not easy to win the coveted Canadian Giller prize - and he has won it twice. Worthy of consideration.

Ruth Zaryski Jackson said...

Yes Vassanji is a master storeyteller worthy of attention. I think you will like the short stories. Haven't read The Assassin's Song. The Book of Secrets is very good. Thanks for your comment, Mary.