Why I Wrote This Book: Issue #7

Featuring Brian Van Norman, K. S. Covert, Finnian Burnett and Alex Jones

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

Brian Van Norman, author of Rage Against the Machine: Manifesto (Guernica 2021)

With two highly acclaimed novels currently on the market: AGAINST THE MACHINE: LUDDITES (1812) and AGAINST THE MACHINE: MANIFESTO (2012) both standalone novels, yet parts one and two of my trilogy on the theme of human/machine interface over 600 years. The Sunday Times called it “A UNIQUE ENDEAVOUR…” 

Through my extensive travels I observed with alarm how the Earth is in climate crisis. I saw some transformations in person and read extensively to discover the potential results of this calamity: desertification, flooding, and human tribalism. Through my earlier research of artificial intelligence and cognitive robotics I learned the concept of artificial consciousness, also known as machine consciousness.  I learned too of the human fear of being replaced by androids. I hoped to bring readers an approximation of what could happen to Earth in a mere 200 years.

I knew I was going to push borders. Accustomed to historical fiction (LUDDITES) and contemporary literary style (MANIFESTO), I’d never written speculative fiction and discovered it required even more research and concentration than other genres I’ve employed.

To understand this style and genre, I read every book of speculative fiction I could find, gradually discovering a voice through a mix of other authors’ styles.  Yet I wanted something different.  I wanted to write a trilogy with three stand alone novels to be read without having to ‘catch up’ by reading the others.  With AGAINST THE MACHINE: EVOLUTION (2212) I believe I have accomplished what I set out to do 8 years ago.

K. S. Covert, Author of The Petting Zoos (Dundurn Press, May 2022)

I could say I wrote The Petting Zoos because writing is what I do, but that’s not entirely true. I frequently deprive myself of the joy of writing. That’s because often when I start to write for myself, Imposter Syndrome wraps itself around me and whispers persuasively in my ear that I’m not really up to the task and I should leave it to more talented people.

The better question is why I kept coming back to the story despite Imposter Syndrome’s gentle ministrations. I did it because I knew in my bones that I’d had a good idea. For me good ideas, the ones with legs to make it to the end of the story, are rarer than rare.

A colleague’s chance comment gave me the idea of petting zoos for humans. I’d been thinking a lot about isolation, and humans’ need for connection, and our tactile nature, and what it might feel like to know – at any age – that you’d never be touched in love again. I wondered what a person who’d come to that realization might do about it.

I’d also been thinking about all of the accoutrements of maintaining a place in the social order. Toni Morrison says, “you wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” Who would we be, how would we live, if some great cataclysm upended society? What would we lose—and what would we choose to keep?

I kept coming back to the story despite my fears, despite a lot of false starts, because its possibilities intrigued me. I wrote this book because even over years of writer’s block, I never stopped thinking about it. I was seized by it. My good idea wouldn’t let me go.

Photo credit is Stephen Thorne/Thornefoto. I’m @ksc1502 on Instagram.

Finnian Burnett, Author of The Clothes Make the Man (Ad Hoc Fiction Oct 2022)

The Clothes Make the Man stemmed from one short story I wrote during a workshop. We were to take something we didn’t want to talk about in our lives and write a fictional character around it. I chose to write about gender identity and my own body struggles. The story spawned a main character, Arthur, who lives at the intersection of his trans masculine identity and life in a super-fat, female body.

I put the story away for several months, unsure whether I wanted to put it out in the world. Finally, a close friend suggested Arthur’s story would do well in the novella-in-flash format—that is, a collection of stand-alone stories that all center on the same theme.

The rest of the stories came in irregular bursts of inspiration, but after the first several, I set out to specifically write about turning points in Arthur’s life. This collection is quite personal to me. Trans voices are important, and while I think trans stories are getting more attention, fatness is a subject that is often overlooked, particularly with a fat main character who doesn’t lose weight to ultimately find happiness. (Or at least hopefulness.)

While I wanted to be authentic in talking about Arthur’s body dysphoria, the bigotry he faces from the outside world, and other struggles, I also wanted him to experience joy, to face things with a gentle and wise sense of self. And I wanted him to have a stalwart friend, so I gave him Professor Greer, a man who is unequivocally team Arthur throughout the story.

It’s heartwarming to me how many people find something to relate to in Arthur—even if they aren’t dealing with the exact same issues, Arthur’s journey to self-acceptance resonates with people who have taken those steps themselves.

Alex Jones, author of The Night Class (David A. Jones Dec 2022)

THE NIGHT CLASS is a coming of age drama, the story of Samantha (Sam) Bower, a young university teaching assistant, who is studying hard to make a career for herself as a psychologist, while also struggling to overcome the trauma of a childhood of abuse and abandonment, and navigating a journey of self-discovery. The main story is set within the current social context of recent Residential School revelations and Canada’s need for addressing Truth and Reconciliation with its Indigenous Peoples. The secondary story is a love/hate relationship between two of the story’s main characters: Hunter, a young Indigenous student, and Terri, a middle-age Caucasian woman who has returned to university as an adult student.

Sam’s journey of self-discovery is turned upside-down when she discovers that her real father is Indigenous, at the same time that she has been tasked with trying to keep a racially mixed team of eight undergraduate students from self-destructing as they attempt to satisfactorily complete a controversial, assigned team project on Truth and Reconciliation. While the stakes for her students are whether they pass or fail the course, the stakes for Sam are much greater. She has been struggling with her grades in grad school, has yet to decide on a thesis project, and her career goal of teaching at a university may be in jeopardy if she fails to successfully mentor her students. The team members’ individual personality quirks soon cause tempers to flare and racial tension and emotions to boil over, creating a perfect storm of dysfunction that threatens to derail both the team and Sam’s mental health.

THE NIGHT CLASS isn’t just the story of Sam’s coming-of-age journey: it is also a political commentary about the lack of progress to date in the Truth and Reconciliation process between Canada’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. The story is a layer of different metaphors for the racial mix of Canadian society, the Truth and Reconciliation process in Canada, the complicated relationship between Canada’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, and the coming-of-age identity crisis that non-Indigenous Canadians are facing as they grieve their loss of innocence in the wake of the residential school fallout.