Spotlight on Debut Authors
At the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, we love presenting all your CanLit favourites but we are just as delighted to showcase each year’s up and coming new talents. Our 2019 debut authors hail from across Canada, and you’ll have a front row seat to see them at Festival Sunday at the 2019 Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. We’ve interviewed a selection of our featured emerging authors and we invite you to get to know them a little better here!
This One Because of the Dead
Published by Cormorant Books
How do you like to begin a story? What is the ‘way in’?
Typically I begin writing my stories after experiencing a strong feeling. These emotions can include rage, sadness, or revulsion, and my initial drafts take shape under their influence. When I’m writing a story, I’m partly trying to replicate the feeling that sparked the story. Characters emerge slowly, over several drafts. Like several writers (Joan Didion, Flannery O’Connor), I write to understand what I think.
As a debut author, how important is the support of your peers?
Support from my peers is crucial. Several peers have helped me navigate both the editorial process and the marketing process, a world that is entirely new to me. Not only have they answered my frequent questions, but they have reached out with practical support, such as tweeting information about my public readings and publications, and giving me advice on how to promote my book.
Who will enjoy This One Because of the Dead?
Generally, anyone who likes a combination of a strong plot and poetic language, and particularly readers who are interested in moral quandaries and how they manifest in characters’ lives. This One Because of the Dead is a collection of stories about the power of what goes unsaid – of the truths people keep hidden from each other, which guide their relationships and their decisions in unexpected ways.
My work is influenced by a variety of genres, including suspense (Ian Rankin, Sarah Blaedel), short stories (Katherine Mansfield, Annabel Lyon, Richard Ford) and poetry (Jacques Prévert, Sharon Olds, Laura Kasischke); readers who enjoy reading across genres will enjoy my work.
The Chai Factor
Published by HarperCollins Canada
What appeal does the romantic comedy genre hold for you?
I’m a big romance reader because I’ve always preferred character driven stories. I think the romance genre as a whole develops strong characters better than any other. Readers have to understand motivations and deep emotions completely to be able to relate to characters lives getting turned upside-down because of falling in love. It’s inherently an optimistic genre, because even when you think there is no way that the couple can find a way to make a relationship work, they always do. And when you add humour to a swoony love story, it’s absolute magic.
Which character in your book was the most fun to write?
The barbershop quartet! I swear, it was pure genius on my part when I came up with this concept, because it allowed me to create four characters who are so different, who each bring their own quirks and strengths to the group, and who respect and care for each other so much that they are quite literally in sync with each other. I love those four guys so much! I also loved writing the close relationship my main character, Amira, has with her best friend.
Who will enjoy reading The Chai Factor?
I’d like to think that this book is for everyone. But I think the people who will love it the most are romantic comedy readers who love strong-willed, feisty, imperfect women who are not afraid to speak their mind. Also, anyone who loves a good A Capella performance!
The Forbidden Purple City
Published by Goose Lane Editions
Why is your book called The Forbidden Purple City?
The Forbidden Purple City was the Vietnamese emperors’ home and inner sanctum for generations, but it has been destroyed and no one today really knows what it looked like. It is, ultimately, a place situated only in the imagination. The actual locale has been made over by UNESCO and other modern bureaucrats to suit their pre-conceptions of the past, whether or not those pre-conceptions are founded in any reality. For me, the Forbidden Purple City is partly an analogy of any immigrant’s lost homeland – one that is constantly remade by memory and imagination because of its absence.
When planning a story, what comes first for you – the plot or the characters?
I tend to think in terms of characters, and I am drawn to ones who behave in ways that surprise me. It also helps me to think of my characters not in isolation but in relation to each other. We can all be kind, generous, or complete jackasses depending on who we are dealing with under a given circumstance. So, when planning a story, don’t just ask yourself what your character eats for breakfast or what sort of anxiety disorder they have, but ask yourself what are they like when they are stuck in a windstorm with their mother-in-law, or when they bump into an ex at the coffee shop they are working at. And how does the mother-in-law or ex react? The answers are often surprising.
Who will enjoy your book?
Ideally, anyone who is interested in expanding their palate for Canadian stories. Maybe it’s someone who has just moved to this country and wants to feel a little less alone. Maybe it’s someone who believes that she’s read every type of Canadian story out there, but is hoping to be surprised.
War / Torn
Published by Book*Hug
You won the Lambda Award for your first novel, God in Pink (2015). War / Torn is your debut poetry collection. How was the experience of writing a poetry collection different to writing a novel?
I tried to be experimental with both books. With God in Pink, it was written from two different perspectives, Ramy and Sheikh Ammar’s voices have different fonts. The story shifts back and forth between the two narrators, without chapter headings. Fiction has a narrative arch, while poetry is a body of emotions and feelings. To me, poetry is more personal, more vulnerable. When I’m writing poetry, I am conscious of every word and its placement, framed and reframed to elevate the themes and concepts. Each poem is a story of its own, yet they complete one another as a collection.
As an emerging writer, what is the best advice you’ve ever been given to help you improve your work or your outlook?
One of the best pieces of advice I received is that once my work is published, I should move on and not linger on the possibilities of rewriting the work. I could’ve done this or I could’ve done that. Rather than worry about that, I was told to take the constructive criticism as learning opportunities to be a better writer. Hence, I appreciate it so much when I receive constructive criticism on all my works because there is no limit to how much I can grow as an author.
Who should read War/Torn?
War/Torn is for all adults, who appreciate poetry and who want to be transported into a body of conflicting identities, experience the struggle through the poetic narrator’s voice. The book is for anyone that feels different. This book is for anyone who wants to feel, and there are all kinds of feelings in the book.
Published by Goose Lane Editions
The Globe and Mail described your book as “ridiculous – and ridiculously good”. As a debut author, describe the experience of launching your book and hearing the response from readers.
The experience of sending Crow out into the world has been…ridiculously good! Truth be told, I’m still a bit flabbergasted by the response. On a weekly basis, I get emails and messages — even handwritten letters — from readers telling me how the book has moved them. It is making people laugh and cry, which is all I’d ever hoped it would do. It is also inspiring readers to share pieces of their own life stories with me —which then makes me laugh and cry —and I have met some remarkable people. It is a humbling reminder that our stories really do have an impact. Writing can be a lonely experience but launching this book has been a phenomenal opportunity for conversation and connection with others.
What or who was the inspiration for your main character, Stacey Fortune?
Early in the conceptual stages of Crow, the voice of Stacey Fortune came roaring to the forefront of my mind. In many ways, she arrived fully formed, so my job was to listen to what she had to say and how she needed to say it, then put her in situations that would draw out her character and complexities. And while she’s far from autobiographical, there’s a solid chunk of myself embedded in her. I intentionally gave her my birthday, and Stacey Fortune was my “decoy name” in high school – the name I’d plan to give if I didn’t want to use my real name. I tend to think that Stacey Fortune is who I might have become in some parallel world, had the formative elements, trajectories, and decisions in my life been very different.
Who will enjoy reading Crow?
This has been one of the biggest surprises for me: I thought I knew who would enjoy reading this book, but I really had no idea. Essentially, I wrote it for me and my fellow smart-mouthed female Gen Xer Cape Bretoners, so I figured that fairly narrow readership would get a kick out of it. And they do. Women my age who relate to Crow’s voice and experiences love it. But then, I hear from a 70-year-old woman who certainly learned a colourful thing or two from it, but for whom the story still resonated deeply. Or a man who isn’t a voracious fiction reader, but really appreciated the plot, the pacing, and the humour. Or people in other parts of the country who don’t know a ton about Cape Breton, but who see their own community —and the characters who inhabit it — reflected in this book. Crow won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but the book seems to transcend many of the demographic, stylistic, and regional boxes in which I’d mentally placed it. So, who will enjoy reading Crow? Far more people than I thought!