Featuring Lisa de Nikolits, Dawn Promislow, Marianne Jones, JANET SANFORD, ANGELA PARKER-BROWN and Wanda Baxter
Why do your favourite Canadian authors write the books they write? Let’s find out in this exclusive feature here at The Miramichi Reader.
Lisa de Nikolits: Given the chance, how much of your personality would you change? According to my (casual) research, the Big Five factors of personality (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness for experience) are 20-60% heritable.
Temperament, however, doesn’t have a clear pattern of inheritance. Temperament refers to personality traits that determine how we react to the world. The traits of temperament are mostly innate traits that we’re born with, although they can be influenced by our families, the culture into which we’re born or our experiences (raising the good old debate of nature versus nurture).
Internet sources indicate that temperament is something we can’t change. We’re born scorpions or frogs and thus we will obligingly carry our enemies across a river or, in the case of the scorpion, we’ll deliver a lethal blow to the Good Samaritan because, well, that’s just who we are.
In The Rage Room, Sharps Barkley was an angry guy. He liked to smash stuff and he killed a bunch of people. However, driven by remorse, he tried to Command Undo his evil deeds but, bound by his temperament, he made things increasingly worse.
No spoilers but he ended up paying for his crimes and justice was served. And that, I thought, was that. However, I felt bad for the guy! I had to give him another chance. The world he was born into, the world of Materialism, invasive digital advertising and the onslaught of social media (sound familiar?) was conducive to aggravating anger.
What if Sharps was reborn into a new world? Would he be the same angry guy? That’s what I wanted to find out and that’s why I wrote Everything You Dream is Real. What happened to Sharps? You’ll have to read the book!
Dawn Promislow: Wan concerns itself with two overarching subjects: apartheid South Africa, first, where I was born and raised; and second, the place of art, or the obligations, if any, of art, in an authoritarian or unfree society.
The first subject, or setting—South Africa—had been a preoccupation within me for many years, but I deeply feared writing about it. I thought apartheid South Africa was too important and freighted a subject to approach, without being certain I knew what I was doing, and so I feared writing the stories I thought about, endlessly, in my mind. I felt my own perspective as a white South African to be problematic. Problematic, indeed, it was. And is. So it took me a long time (years!) to figure out what to do, or how to do it. And then, one day, I realized, or accepted, what I not only could do, but must do. I would write a novel in the first person, the narrator a white South African woman. I would explore the consciousness of such a person. It was terrifying, yet obvious. And that’s what I did.
The second overriding concern of the novel is the place of art or the artist in an unfree society. Does the artist (any artist, including a novelist) have a particular obligation in such a society? Can art help? Wan explores the dilemmas of an artist, Jacqueline, in 1972 South Africa: her predicament as a morally compromised yet well-meaning (virtue-seeking) person, in an unfree society. The questions surrounding such a predicament are with me always. I don’t have answers to the questions, and neither does Wan. But I hope the novel, in its being, or by its being, and within and through itself, asks the questions, in a particularly vital and vivid way, the way only fiction can.
Marianne Jones: I was drinking my morning coffee one day when a picture appeared to me of a woman working in her garden and looking up to see L.M. Montgomery, deceased author of Anne of Green Gables, watching her.
The image was so compelling that I snatched up my notebook and pen and began writing – yes, as though taking dictation. I had no idea where this was coming from, only that it was the most powerful experience of my writing life. After several pages, the images and dialogue stopped.
At the time, I didn’t know what it was about, only that it was important, and that it was a gift
Over the next two decades, as I pursued that initial picture in my novel Maud and Me, I gave voice to many of the issues I have struggled with in my journey: depression, sexism and the culture shock of coming from a background rich in the arts into the evangelical world.
In my pursuit of the person of L.M. Montgomery, I studied her journals, published 50 years after her death. I learned that Maud, although a successful and famous author, spent her days as a minister’s wife in rural communities, where her ability to make lemon pie was of more importance than her “scribbling.” She struggled with depression which she was forced to conceal behind a cheerful façade before her husband’s congregation. The strain of loneliness, losses and longing for a “kindred spirit” with whom she could be real exacted a heavy cost on her mental and physical health.
In Maud and Me, I envisioned her appearing to Nicole, a disaffected young minister’s wife and painter living in northern Ontario. In their secret visits, they commiserate and laugh together over the frustrations and foibles of church-ianity and their appointed roles in it. Their friendship gives Nicole the courage to search for the God who loves artists and other misfits.
In the movie Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis says, “We read to know we’re not alone.” I would add that we write for the same reason. We send our voices out into the universe to see if anyone will echo back. Judging by the responses from readers of Maud and Me, I have found I’m not alone.
Marianne Jones’s novel Maud and Me (Crossfield, 2021) won the best book of the year award for fiction (and best specialty book) from The Word Guild on Sept. 17 (thewordguild.com/the-word-awards-winners-finalists).
Janet Sanford: Why did I write Memories on the Bounty? The short answer is that a good friend was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
My friend Roy used to love to tell stories about one golden year of his life-the year he was part of the Bounty crew and the filming of Mutiny on the Bounty. As one of the only surviving crew members, he had long hoped that their story would be told.
The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s was a harsh blow to Roy, his family and his friends. Early on, Roy realized that many losses lay ahead for him. He regretted that one of those losses would be his story. That’s when I was seized by the idea that maybe, just maybe, I could save it.
And so began a series of Monday morning meetings as I worked with Roy to capture his story before it slipped away. The more Roy told me, the more I became fascinated by this part of Maritime history. I became a “Bounty hunter” scouring libraries, museums, and public archives for facts that could round out Roy’s story. Soon I was awash in transcripts, books, and research notes. What started out as a little project for Roy’s family and friends became a huge, all-consuming undertaking.
In the end, I went beyond telling Roy’s Bounty story. I told the story of a man struggling against memory loss. I told the story of the privilege and responsibility of carrying forward someone else’s story. I told a tale of adventure, love and loss.
Angela Parker-Brown: I am a fifty-year-old single mom of twin girls who was diagnosed with ALS on June 18, 2018. I recently wrote a book using eye gaze technology, allowing me to write the entire book with my eyes.
It was the encouragement of friends in the Facebook group Angie’s ALS Journey that gave me the courage to write this book Writing With My Eyes; Staying Alive While Dying. It was recently published and released by Pottersfield Press. As a result of this accomplishment, I was presented with a scroll, a certificate of acknowledgement, along with a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee pin, by local M.P. Dr. Stephen Ellis.
I wrote this book for several reasons. One is, no matter the circumstances, to find ways to enjoy life. The other reasons are to spread ALS awareness and to show it is never too late to address childhood trauma, if for nobody but yourself.
Wanda Baxter: In 2005, my partner Randy and I fell in love with and bought an old house in Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia. We were first-time homeowners (read: deer in the headlights), and we knew little about farm steading. A lot of If I had an Old House on the East Coast stems from that first year living here: learning as much as we could, working like DIY fanatics, clearing the house of rumoured ghosts (!), scrambling to manage the gardens and orchard as they came to life in the spring. And I wrote it from the point of view of those starry-eyed, new, old-house owners we were.
I was also inspired by Lizzi Napoli’s If I had a Mas in Provence, a beautiful little book I bought in the south of France many years ago, and still treasure. I was inspired by Napoli’s appreciation of place and simple pleasures, and how she invites her reader in to share her world too.
But the main reason I wrote If I had an Old House on the East Coast is that I kept wondering why this part of the world, and these enduring old houses in our midst, are not appreciated as much as they should be. I wanted there to be a book that shone a light on our old houses and our slower-paced, appreciative way of life – like Lizzy Napoli’s book does about the south of France. I wanted to make something sweet and beautiful (and yes, nostalgic) about where and how we live, and to acknowledge the amount of work, craftsmanship, and mettle that went into constructing these old buildings. I wanted to express gratitude for what we have, and maybe inspire others to appreciate small details of rural living the way Lizzi Napoli inspired me. Finally, I wrote If I had an Old House … because I found just the right artist to collaborate with. I was fortunate to partner with Kat Frick Miller – who shares my love of old houses and gardens and the east coast – and whose graceful watercolours transformed my words and ideas into beauty.