GCL invited writers on the list to answer a questionnaire to give us further insight into their work. The following are Zander’s answers:
1. How did you start working on this story?
I originally started working on a story about Trump and the steel industry. My background in steel made me something of an authority, I thought, but I wasn’t thinking of the story as a memoir. At some point, I realized Dofasco and my family should be the main focus, and the steel industry and Trump were just the backdrop. So it was quite a flip.
2. How long did it take to write this piece?
I work pretty slowly, mainly because of the amount of research I do for each story. This story was relatively quick. I started in 2016, and was basically finished by 2018. For the reasons I mention in the piece itself, I chose not to publish it until 2019—three years later.
3. What was the most challenging part of writing it?
Just before the story was supposed to come out in 2018, my family suffered a terrible loss. It’s nothing I want to get into here, but I mention it in the postscript. Anyway, if I had been at an earlier stage of the story then, I wouldn’t have gone through with it. I couldn’t focus on anything, let alone writing.
4. What was the most surprising thing you learned about your subject (or in the case of a personal essay, yourself) during the process?
When my brother and I were growing up, our father would tell stories about how we were predestined for success, almost like a divine bloodline. Joshua loved those stories, but they disenchanted me, and I became skeptical not just of the story but of the storyteller. Working on this piece, I started to understand my father better.
5. What sort of reaction has your piece received from readers?
People have been very good about this story. I was honestly expecting some form of criticism, because it happens with every story. But everyone’s been nice, and that’s good feedback to have as I consider doing more of this kind of writing.
6. For any fellow non-fiction writers reading this, do you have a favourite writing tip to share?
Keeping a journal really helps for me. The ultimate goal with writing is to be a good person. The more mature, well-reasoned, and compassionate you are, the more people will want to listen. And I find that writing things down, and paying attention to what happens, develops those qualities.
7. What writing projects are you working on currently?
I’m working on a new investigative series (I did a CBC podcast in 2019 called Uncover: The Cat Lady Case.) I’ve been doing more of that kind of work, though I’m not sure I want to do it forever. I started in creative writing, and I’d like to go back to it at some point. But investigative journalism is keeping me busy, and that’s fine with me.
8. There’s been some discussion recently on the outlook for Canadian non-fiction. How does its future look to you going into 2020?
I think one of the consequences of the war on the press, in the U.S., is that it’s giving a lift to journalism here. I’ve seen new Canadian media companies spring up in the past couple of years—I’m actually working for one right now—and that’s nice to see. Something good has to come from all this awfulness.
Find Zander on Twitter: @ZanderSherman
This Q&A may have been edited for clarity and length.