Why I Wrote This Book: Issue #16

Featuring Steven Mayoff, Jerrod Edson, Cait Gordon, and Melia McClure

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

Steven Mayoff, author of The Island Gospel According to Samson Grief (Radiant Press, October 17, 2023)

My upcoming novel The Island Gospel According to Samson Grief is about a reclusive painter who is instructed by figments of his imagination to build PEI’s first synagogue at the behest of a deity known as the Supreme One in order to make PEI the new Promised Land.

After living in Montreal for 22 years and Toronto for 17 years, my move to rural PEI in May 2001 gave me the illusion of feeling well hidden from the world. Jump ahead a few months and my girlfriend and I were ready to celebrate our second anniversary of being together on September 11th. Instead, we spent the day watching TV and listening to the radio as the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York unfolded. I suddenly understood that the world was going to find me no matter where I went.

When I became aware that PEI has no synagogue, I also discovered that there is a small but significant Jewish population on the Island, a portion of which communicate by e-newsletter to organize celebrating holidays at each other’s houses. Although I identify as Jewish, I’m not what you’d call religious. I hadn’t been inside a synagogue for decades, so the lack of one in my new home had no impact on me personally. And yet I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

What sealed the deal was Donald Trump becoming president. Right-wing evangelicals vocally espoused that this was God’s doing. If that was true, to what end? Burn everything to the ground to make way for a better world to rise from the ashes? If it could happen there, why not in Canada? As Alastair MacLeod said to a group of us in his fiction workshop: we write about what is bothering us. The narrative twists and turns for my novel became clearer. I started writing.

Jerrod Edson, author of The Boulevard (Galleon Books, May 15 2023)

The idea for The Boulevard (Galleon Books, 2023) had been brewing since 2000-2001. While at Carleton University, I worked at Chapters, and during the Indigo takeover, new CEO Heather Reisman was coming to visit our store. My manager was in a panic for about a week, trying to get the store looking perfect for Heather’s visit. During that time, I was perusing a Far Side desk calendar and came across a cartoon with Satan in Hell, arguing with a repairman, and I had one of those lightbulb moments: What if God visited Hell and Satan was in a panic to get Hell looking perfect? I knew it was a good idea for a novel, but I also knew I wasn’t ready to write it; I’d just published my first novel and was smart enough to know I didn’t yet have the skill for such a big story. For years I made notes and worked out ideas, eventually making Hemingway and Van Gogh the focus, before finally sitting down to a first draft around 2014. When Lee Thompson told me he was taking his literary journal to a full press, I asked if he was interested in reading the manuscript. I knew Lee to be trustworthy, and a fine editor, and I couldn’t resist the chance to be with a New Brunswick press. He accepted it before he finished reading it. Eighteen months later, it became Galleon’s first-ever book.

Cait Gordon, Author of Season One: Iris and the Crew Tear Through Space (Renaissance Press, Sept. 15, 2023)

I’m Cait (like Kat) Gordon, and my new book release is Season One: Iris and the Crew Tear Through Space! It stars a science vessel crew who are disabled, Deaf, Blind, neurodivergent, non-vocally-speaking or selectively speaking, and/or they manage mental illness. The galactic network they belong to celebrates bodyminds so much that accessibility and accommodations are the norm. So, they can be who they are on their accessible ship and have all the PEW-PEW-PEW adventures! I wrote this book because I was fed up with the eugenics-based messaging during the pandemic and as a disabled and autistic author, I needed to dive into a world where folks like me can take centre stage and not be “othered.” The world-building was influenced by the concepts of universal design and the social model of disability. But it’s a fun episodic ride for anyone to enjoy!

Amanda Leduc, author of The Centaur’s Wife and Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space said this about my book: “Readers, get ready—for the gleekin’ ride of your life! Iris and the Crew Tear Through Space is an exuberant romp that ditches all the stale clichés of sci-fi in favour of what’s fresh, exciting, and truly possible. Here is a tale that shows when it comes to accessibility, not even the sky is the limit. Buckle up and enjoy!”

Melia McClure, Author of All the World’s a Wonder

As Shakespeare famously proclaimed, “All the world’s a stage…” This is true for the world of the mind, a theatre peopled with wild characters and rife with all-consuming dramas. The task of the artist is to transform the marvels of the mental stage into a show for the “players” of the broader world.
How might one bring to literary life the mad vagaries of the creative process? How could a novel best capture its mysticism, its theatrics, its sorrows and joys? And what if the imagination were magic, an actual haunting which opens the artist to people, stories, and realms beyond this world as we know it? These questions were bubbling on the brain as I began writing All the World’s a Wonder.

My first novel, The Delphi Room, married screenplay with prose to view human drama through a filmic lens. This time around, I wanted to shift focus to the theatre, to turn the novel form into a sort of live-performance theatre piece with the reader as front-row audience.

Enter the Playwright. But not just any playwright—a woman whose onstage successes conceal a magical and devastating creative process: To create, she must surrender body and mind—she must be possessed by her characters.
The gestation of art is a mystical journey; to say that an artist is “using their imagination” doesn’t begin to unfurl the connection to unknown forces that creation demands. In terms of a writer’s journey, I was taken with the idea that the pain of an untold story and the drive to tell that tale are not only borne by the writer but by the players of their inner theatre. In the case of my Playwright, she is at the mercy of characters—or muses, as she calls them—who step into her body to ensure they receive the salvation of storytelling.
Of course, such a bizarre and invasive creative process would, in the temporal world, be viewed as illness. Enter the Doctor. Except that in this case, the Playwright is not really “ill,” per se, and the Doctor has his own demons aplenty. The power dynamic is knocked awry when it comes to light that the Playwright knows things about her supposed healer which she could not possibly know through normal means, and assumptions about who is healing who are shattered.
If all the world is a stage and all the men and women merely players, it is intriguing to explore how deep deception can go when you peel away the mask and the costume: The role of the Doctor is key to that exploration.

Enter Maxine. The Playwright’s latest muse and a young stage actress of charming and formidable gumption, she has a Jazz Age tragedy to tell.

Broadway of the 1920s is lush territory for a novel. The bright lights of this vaunted boulevard earned it the moniker “Great White Way,” and in the heady days of the ’20s, young women from far afield were drawn to the burning promise of success and dubbed “Broadway butterflies.” Fueled by the fallout of Prohibition and the changing social mores of the times, Manhattan’s theatre world was a thrilling and dangerous place. The 1925 American silent comedy film A Broadway Butterfly took a lighthearted look at a small-town girl determined to make it on the stage. But the reality for many women with big dreams was far more sinister.    

Talented, tenacious, and tender dreamers like Maxine arrived in Manhattan to find the glow of the marquee belied a shadowy reality. Aspiring stage upstarts were marked as prey. The term “sugar daddy” was coined in the early 1920s, and, as Maxine comes to learn, a wealthy “sponsor” was a way to tread shark-infested waters. As she also comes to realize, blackmail was a popular pastime in the underworld of the day. Her journey asks the question: How hard will you fight for what you know you must have?

For the luckier aspiring thespians, a minor turn on the Broadway stage and a dollop of disappointment were the extent of their claim to bright lights. But for others, genuine tragedy waited in the wings. In 1923 and 1924 respectively, two Broadway butterflies were murdered in their lavish sugar daddy-supplied apartments. The killers were never found. Although I was well into writing Maxine’s story when I discovered these forgotten tragedies, I came to feel that the hopeful spirits of two Jazz Age dreamers had hovered over my narrative all along.

Which brings me back to the Playwright. What if the creative process, the way characters strut the stage of the imagination, were not imagination but magica haunting? How would the artist cope with muses who possess you, body and mind, and use your credit card? What if the creative process were a ghostly hostage-taking? What if you knew shocking truths about your own psych doctor, not because of speculation or intuition, but because a character in your next play emailed you from beyond the grave?

The Doctor is the earthly suffering counterpoint to the Playwright’s wild truth-telling, muse-fuelled mystical gauntlet—a man so laden with masks that his true identity is known only to himself. Haunted by the ghost of lost love, his journey asks the question: What remains when hideous deception falls away?
The Playwright, too, is haunted by lost love, but in contrast, her journey asks the question: What would happen if the ghosts of your creative process consumed so much of your life that you fell in love with one, without realizing you weren’t being held, but possessed?

 All the World’s a Wonder is a dream book. The dream of one’s art, the dream of immortal love, the dream of the marquee.  

“All the world’s a stage…” And in the bright lights from above, there is magic, there is mystery, there is wonder.

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