|Richard Warnica appears on our Best of 2021 list for the piece “Rothko at the Inauguration.” You can read it at Hazlitt.|
GCL invited writers on the list to answer a questionnaire to give us further insight into their work. The following are Richard’s answers:
How did you start working on this story?
I got the idea for the piece while covering Donald Trump’s inauguration for the National Post. After many (many) false starts, I sold a much revised pitch to Hazlitt in late spring 2019.
How long did it take to write this piece?
From original idea to publication it was four years and 11 months.
What was the most challenging part of writing it?
Figuring out a structure that would connect the narrative threads, allow the themes to emerge organically, and keep the reader engaged through a pretty long piece.
Do you have a particular writing ritual you follow?
I used to try to write until I was done no matter how long it took. I can’t do that anymore. Now I write in chunks of a few hours at most with walks in between and I try to never work past midnight.
What did you find different about writing during a global pandemic?
That is a very big question! I’m not sure I’ve processed the last two years enough to give a decent answer. I did quit coffee during the pandemic (anxiety, etc.) and I now drink tea instead, lots and lots of tea, so that’s different.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about your subject (or in the case of a personal essay, yourself) during the process?
I spent so long with this piece and the materiel that it’s hard to remember what surprised me at the time. Maybe the fact that after everything, I still love the paintings as much as I do is surprising. You’d think I’d be sick of them by now but I’m really not. They’re still magic to me.
What sort of reaction has your piece received from readers?
I’ve had a lot of really lovely notes, public and private, about the piece. I had no idea how it was going to land so that’s been really gratifying.
For any fellow non-fiction writers reading this, do you have a favourite writing tip to share?
You won’t always have the tools you need to write a story when you start out. So don’t be afraid of feeling lost in the process. Keep pushing and learning and eventually (hopefully?) you’ll figure it out.
What writing projects are you working on currently?
None! I have some ideas for Star stories I’ll work on after Christmas and a book idea I may or may not get back to at some point but for now my slate is clean.
Find Richard on Twitter: @richardwarnica
This Q&A may have been edited for clarity and length.
“There was a time when I had orgasms that had nothing whatsoever to do with fantasies. I had them by accident. I remember having them in gym class all the time. We had to prepare for some Canadian Fitness Exam. We had to take it very seriously. As a child, you are supposed to accept what adults put in front of you and denote as important. There is an element of nonsense in the life of any child. That was why Nonsense Literature is so appealing to children.”
Heather O’Neill – Hazlitt – June 2020
“I am fantastical—and I don’t mean to enrich myself with the positive connotations of such an adjective in naming myself as such, but rather I mean to say that I am one who conjures fantasies, a mesmer of a man, illusionist. My counsellor told me this during one of my sessions this summer, that in order to heal from the mental processes I was undertaking I must learn to ‘tame my illusions.’ To say I survived the year of all my years would be an understatement: 2019 was a ruination for me in all semblances of the noun.”
Joshua Whitehead – Hazlitt – December 2019
“When I quit my full-time job in July, I decided to resituate myself by swimming in as many outdoor public pools as I could physically take. The city of Toronto hosts a constellation of fifty-eight outdoor pools—fifty-seven currently swimmable—so I didn’t lack for water, and being newly unemployed, for time. This wasn’t about discovering the biggest or best in the city. Rather, I was inclined to find a path in them, so that I could feel as if I were, dear lord, going somewhere. As in John Cheever’s short story ‘The Swimmer,’ I assigned myself the task of swimming home, moving through the neighborhoods and communities that, side by side, would bring me back to myself.”
Naomi Skwarna – Hazlitt – August 2019
“After we broke up, I spent 2018 re-learning how to trust myself—my thoughts, my feelings, things that happened right in front of me. If you’ve never been with someone who negates your experience of the world, it’s hard to imagine how it starts. It’s like a brainwashing you agree to. At first, I kept notes like life preservers around me, reading them behind the locked door of the bathroom when I felt reality washing away on his words. Eventually though, worried he’d find them, I shredded them. I deleted the whispered voice memos from my phone because they seemed like evidence he was right. They seemed like the sort of thing a crazy person would keep.”
Amy Kenny – Hazlitt – December 2018
“Midland, Ontario’s third annual butter tart festival had drawn nearly 20,000 people, more than the town’s entire population. I was watching celebrity judges work their way through the homemade category at a local cultural centre, or half-watching them, since competitive baking turns out to be light on spectacle. Volunteers brought leftover pastry chunks out to the audience, each sample amending the standard sugar, syrup, butter, and eggs to follow this year’s “freestyle” theme—we had citrus, raspberry coconut, tarts embellished with pumpkin or pecan, another combining chocolate and peanut like a sturdier Reese’s Cup. Midland’s lone drag queen did her rounds, caramelized by bronzer.”
Chris Randle – Hazlitt – August 2015
“One day in early December, not so many years ago, my nine-year-old daughter caught sight of herself in the mirror at daycare, and noticed her face was bright red. All the kids had red faces, because they’d just come indoors after playing in the snow. But everyone agreed that hers seemed particularly bright. She felt hot, too, but a thermometer revealed she had no fever. She sat by an open window to cool down, and when I picked her up an hour later, she still felt hot and looked red, but she said it was going away. By the time we’d finished dinner, it was gone.”
Alison Motluk – Hazlitt – March 2016