Why I Wrote This Book: Issue #2

Featuring Michael Blouin, Andrew Tolson, Diana Stevan, Joanne Leow, and Jason Smith

Why do your favourite Canadian authors write the books they write? Let’s find out in this exclusive feature here at The Miramichi Reader.

Mike Blouin: It seemed like a reasonable request, something diverting, something to take me away from the two demanding manuscripts that were eating up my time like a Ms. Pac-Man gone wild: three hundred words on “Why I Wrote My This Book”.

Well, I thought, yes… that’s it:

Dying without having done so had ceased to be a viable option.


Now, I thought, only 287 words to go…

The more comprehensive version begins one frosted February morning about eleven years ago as I stepped warily into an early cold shower and the words “I am Billy the Kid” popped into my head. Writers are used to this; ideas, images, and characters elbowing their way into one’s psychic space, pulling up chairs and making themselves at home., putting their feet up on the coffee table and dropping peanut shells on the floor.

I knew right away that it was the title of a book. What I didn’t know was that it would take ten years from that morning to get it to a bookstore shelf, that the project would come to dominate my waking and sleeping, or that it would eventually be invited to land on the moon with SpaceX and NASA in 2024.

I thought, grabbing the soap, that it was a book of experimental poetry, somewhat in the vein of bp Nichol and Michael Ondaatje, both of whom penned early works to do with Billy the Kid. It started out that way – before my characters, six pages in, made it clear that they were in no way going to be associated with experimental poetry, that they were in a novel, and that I’d best just sit down and hold on.

So, I did.

A wise choice. Because dying without having done so had already ceased to be a viable option.

Andrew Tolson: Music can change lives. It changed mine.

Here’s the story: I’m a Canadian drummer who spent the 1980s in London, England playing in bands. Years spent schlepping equipment onto beer-soaked stages, enduring egos and eccentrics, and the highs of raucous, thunderous gigs in front of audiences both big and small.

When I was encouraged to write about my years in London, it became apparent that fiction got to the heart of the story better than fact. My story was interesting to me, but would anyone else care? Could it sustain a full-length book?

Enter Billy Stamp.

My young protagonist gave me license to draw upon my own experiences in the London music scene, creating conflict and characters for Billy to encounter. The freedom of fiction meant I could watch Billy from the side of the stage as he was put through the wringer, rising to challenges, often failing, sometimes redeemed.

When I got deeper into the story, it became clear what I wanted to explore was the transformational power of music. How it changed one fictional boy, and in turn, how it changed me. As Billy’s story unfolded, this idea was the glue that held everything together, the anchor I relied on when Billy spiralled into self-sabotage. He lived for music. Music was his purpose, the one thing that kept his heart thumping like a bass drum.

Don’t just write what you know. Write what you feel. And what I feel about the power of music brought Noisemaker to life.

Noisemaker is published by Moose House Publications.

Diana Stevan: My latest novel was perhaps the most difficult one to write. The recently launched Paper Roses on Stony Mountain, historical and biographical fiction, and the third book of Lukia’s Family Saga series is told in three voices, Lukia’s (my Ukrainian grandmother), Dolly’s (my mother), and Peter’s (my father). My mother was a gifted oral storyteller and I’m thankful I wrote down all her tales. My father, on the other hand, was a private man who didn’t share his wife’s habit of revealing whatever was on her mind. I wanted to tell the truth of what they’d endured, and yet I was mindful there were family secrets. What could I tell and still be respectful to their memory and to the memory of other family members? After consulting with cousins from both sides, I hope I did justice to all. This novel shows their lives on a farm, in the village of Stony Mountain, and in Winnipeg during the last years of the Great Depression and the early years of World War II.

I’m surprised I ended up writing a trilogy. Before I began writing this family saga, I had established myself as a writer of women’s fiction with a good sprinkling of romance. I’d written two novels and a novelette. But then my granddaughter, after hearing some family anecdotes, suggested I write my baba’s story and so I began.

The first novel in the series was Sunflowers Under Fire, which shows Lukia Mazurets and her children fleeing to a refugee camp during the Great War, dealing with the typhus epidemic, the Bolshevik Revolution, the civil wars that followed, and the Polish occupation. I thought I was done, but readers asked for more, so I wrote the sequel, Lilacs in the Dust Bowl, which tells the story of Lukia and her family’s immigration to Manitoba just before the Great Depression began. And when I finished the second, I knew I had to continue to book three, Paper Roses on Stony Mountain. Though part of a trilogy, each book was written as a standalone. For more: visit https://www.dianastevan.com/books/

Joanne Leow: Seas Move Away has had a long genesis of about two decades. Beginning with poems from a capstone project entitled Apatride under the supervision of poet C.D. Wright, the collection was borne out of a desire to understand what the idea of home meant in the context of repeated diasporas and migrations. The poems I was writing over the past 20 years or so did not immediately suggest a coherent collection, but I realized that their breadth and eclecticism were reflections of my autobiography. I wanted to reflect on the intimate relationships that persist across borders and great distances.

But I also wanted to critique the authoritarian and (post)colonial/(neo)colonial laws that made it impossible for me to continue living in the country of my birth. I wanted to understand what it meant to live on a continent and in a country that was based on genocidal policies towards Indigenous peoples and colonial policies of enslavement. Finally, I had numerous poetic revelations about my ongoing academic research into the political, spatial, cultural, literary, and ecological aspects of transnational development. I wrote these latter poems as ways of accessing knowledge and understanding that was not possible in academic writing. I really wanted to understand what it meant to be a lover, mother, daughter, granddaughter, migrant, settler of colour, sojourner, critic, teacher, and scholar in these complicated circumstances. As well, I wanted to explore the violence of the colonial language in which I was educated and from which I continue to make a living.

Jason Smith: I wrote The Closer because I wanted to write a book that could be read and enjoyed by a casual reader. It was important to me that it has a decent plot, and interesting characters, and is generally entertaining while still having the thematic depth generally absent from pulp. My reason for doing so is that your average person avoids reading literature because they don’t want to feel stupid, bored, or both. At the same time, I didn’t want to write a novel that felt good but didn’t at least attempt to deliver something more meaningful since that characteristic is the hallmark of my most profound reading experiences.

On that plane, my writing was fuelled by my experiences as a resident alien in the United States during the 2016 presidential election cycle. I never thought before then that I might see the rise of American fascism, but as soon as I heard 45’s rhetoric, I felt like we were all in for a rude awakening. It all seemed Nietzschean to me: here was the supposed Superman, the person who thought they had the right to step across the line of morality for the sake of their will to power. So I suppose the book is my attempt to make an examination of that archetype. I thought it might be possible to do so without boring my readers to tears.

(Editor’s note: you can read an excerpt of The Closer here.)

Nathaniel G. Moore is a writer, artist and publishing consultant grateful to be living on the unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi'kmaq peoples.