Best of 2021 Q&A: Richard Warnica

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.

Can Canada Ward Off a Populist Surge?

“On a hot day in early September, Maxime Bernier stood in line at a Booster Juice waiting for a smoothie. Bernier, who is 56 years old, looks tall in person. He has graying brown hair that flops to the right across his forehead, in an aging prep-school kind of way. In the student union building, at Ontario’s Western University, he didn’t look out of place. He might have been a business professor. He might have been someone’s dad. He didn’t, in other words, look much like what he is: Canada’s patient zero for the kind of right-wing populism—shouty, nativist and outside the mainstream—that has remade politics all over the Western world.”

Richard Warnica – Politico Magazine – October 2019

The Story of Yonge Street

Jake Edmiston, Richard Warnica – National Post – April 2018