Why I Wrote This Book: Issue #18

Featuring Sophia Devi, James O. Weeks, Carmela Circelli, Elana Wolff, and BRIAN VAN NORMAN

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

Sophia Devi, Author of Grit In Her Veins, Grace in Her Soul: Poetry for Bold Women (Friesen Press, 2022)

As a young South Asian girl in Canada, I was influenced and moved by the mesmerizing music of ghazals, a form of classical Indian music. Sitting with my father, I often immersed myself in the heartfelt lyrics of my mother tongue and the soothing harmonies. Later while attending school abroad in New Delhi, I penned my first verses in Hindi. I was away from my loved ones in Canada at the time, so I took to writing, specifically poetry. This quickly became my refuge, a way to release the flood of emotions and thoughts swirling within me. Writing at this time felt raw and organic, becoming the birth of my artistic expression.

Poetry has become my compass for navigating life’s challenges, and my voice for expressing my deepest truths. Today, my passion for poetry remains unwavering. It’s not just an art form; it’s a profound and calming force that nurtures my creativity. My debut book Grit In Her Veins, Grace In Her Soul: Poetry for Bold Women provides an outlet for my soul to express and share this divine gift with others.

My upbringing as a visible minority highlighted the underrepresentation of women of colour in literature. I moved around a lot in my younger years, from Nova Scotia to Ottawa, I noticed the school curriculums predominantly showcased the experiences of my white peers. This realization ignited an interest in diverse voices leading me to read the works of Dr. Maya Angelou and Bell Hooks. They inspired me to discover my voice as an intersectional feminist and facilitate a safe space for women in my community to be seen and heard.

Amid the pandemic, I was able to reflect and reconnect with my poetry. This led to a new burst of creativity where I was simply unable to put my ‘pen’ down, using new inspiration from past experiences to recent world events, allowing me to channel my inner Maya Angelou. The words flowed through me, and I suddenly created a large collection of work – old and new – that led me to publish my first book.

My hope is that my poetry imparts a deeply intimate sense of empathy and shared humanity to my readers. In the first part of my book, I delve into realms of injustice, confronting painful experiences that have stripped women in my life of their strength. Through my verses, I seek to creatively advocate for change and, in doing so, to help restore their dignity.

Publishing my debut book marked a significant accomplishment, while also serving as a cathartic and healing journey for me. I’m grateful to share that my books have found a home in various high school libraries, where they seamlessly integrate into the curriculum and classroom settings, empowering the change-makers of tomorrow. This was a full circle moment for me, and now other young women of colour will be able to identify with a strong feminine voice and experiences that mirror their own.

Sophia Devi is a Toronto poet and a spoken word artist, with a law background whose debut collection Grit In Her Veins, Grace in Her Soul: Poetry for Bold Women was published by FriesenPress in 2022. This book quickly became one of Friesen’s best-sellers, was selected as a staff pick, and was featured by the organization for International Women’s Day for breaking the bias and gender norms. One of Sophia’s biggest achievements is having her poetry book distributed across the Peel District School Board education system. She was featured in a webinar streamed across to all the region’s high schools and shortly after, her book was made available in all high school libraries.

Website: www.sophiadevi.com

James O. Weeks, author of Nodding’s People (Moose House Publishing 2023)

The icy roads, the snow storm, and the truck crash really happened, and yes, the truck driver led us in prayer while his friend yelled across the room through a mouthful of truck-stop mashed potatoes.

When I tried to write the story in the following days, I realized there was no heart to it. I began to edit by creating Dave Nodding as the major character. Nodding was a gentle, very passive individual. To make him stand out, I created caricatures for the other characters, Toby, Hagan, and Mrs. Saks. Gradually, Nodding becomes more confident, and the bizarre behaviour of the others calms down. In the second part of the novel, Nodding emerges as a real character, and the others, who had been outrageous, become fairly normal people.

I created the characters because I thought they were realistic, normal people, who began to care about each other. I wanted to show that normal people, through caring for one another, can grow and prosper together. The characters do care about each other and work together to solve the problems they encounter.

The novel I initially envisioned would have failed because the characters had no depth. The novel I wrote created authentic characters who created a humane and warm world. As one reviewer commented, “Nodding’s People is an ingenious take on the age-old morality tale.”

At the end of the novel, readers feel the characters are friends, and they want to spend more time with them.

James O. Weeks taught English in high schools and community college for forty years. He published articles in professional journals and short genre fiction (Wilderness Tales) while teaching young adults about writing. His work appears in Moose House’s second
collection of short fiction, Blink and You’ll Miss It, and Nodding’s People is his debut novel. Beyond the classroom, Jim has worked as a swimming pool manager, camp counselor, liquor store clerk and deli meat slicer. For twelve years he was a driver and pump operator for a volunteer fire department. Jim and his wife (a fifth generation Nova Scotian) live in Lunenburg, NS.

Carmela Circelli, author of Love and Rain (Guernica Editions, 2023)

Love and Rain started with big emotions. Several years ago, I tumbled ‘crazy’ into love with a man who turned out to be gay. Even after I knew this I couldn’t shake the obsession. It went on for years. How can that even happen? I wondered. What kind of strange beast is love, that it can fixate itself on someone who does not even have the capacity to reciprocate it, at least not in the way you might want? That’s when I decided to write a novel, to see if I could emotionally disentangle my fixation.

Almost immediately the characters started behaving in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Luckily, I was re-reading John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman at the time. Fowles periodically engages in meta discussions about the writing experience: something he said freed up the process for me and allowed my story to unfold as it wanted. ‘You know you’re on the right track,’ he wrote, ‘when your characters start disobeying you.’

And what some of my characters wanted to do was become political radicals. I had set the story during the 60s and 70s in Montreal where I grew up, a time of great political turmoil in Quebec and in Italy, my country of origin. I realized that the events triggered by the FLQ and the Red Brigades had marked my own political awakening. I began thinking that love can attach just as passionately to ideas and ideologies as it does to people – and both can lead to betrayal and disappointment. I decided I wanted to explore what happened to the passionate hope for justice and change that characterized the 60s and 70s. How did we end us up here on this precipice of ecological disaster with income inequality greater than ever? I wondered.

That is how Love and Rain turned out to be a tale both personal and political – not just an exploration of love, but a search for home and belonging, whether that be a person, a place or a cause.      

Carmela Circelli was born in Italy and grew up in Montreal. She holds a PhD in philosophy from York University and has been an adjunct professor at York since 1990. She also works in private practice as a psychotherapist in Toronto.

In 2014 her philosophical memoir Sweet Nothing: An Elemental Case for Taking out Time was published by Quattro Books. Love and Rain is her first novel.

Elana Wolff, Author of Faithfully Seeking Franz (Guernica Editions Nov. 1 2023)

Faithfully Seeking Franz is an irregular quest for dead mentor Prague modernist author Franz Kafka (1883-1924)—in the astonishing body of writing he left, and in places he lived, worked, dreamt, vacationed and convalesced; where he passed and where he was laid to rest. The quest is both a personal search for the writer inside the work and a joint venture of two in the field—E. and M. in pursuit of K.—that unfolds as a kind of paean to triangulation.

The itinerary blends creative nonfiction, travelogue, biography, photographic documentation, and poetic riff. A detective story that stitches together past and present, and locates the mentor’s presence in traces, signs, linkages and coincidence. Written with openness to turns and convergences, and guided by what might be just around the corner, down the road, inside a door, beyond a wall, or veil.  

Kafka entered my life when I was an angsty teen journeying into the world by way of world literature—first by way of his transformational novella The Metamorphosis, then his parabolic punishment novel The Trial. I identified with his anti-heroes, the shifting self, the believable surreal, the theatrical, absurd, ambiguous and oblique. I felt kinship, even before I knew anything of his biography and could reflect on his anxieties, process and vision. I pursued him in his fiction, diaries and correspondence. And when life permitted, I began seeking him in the field, M. my plucky helpmate.

Faithfully Seeking Franz is the fruit of years of questing, of writing through the centre of my life. I wrote to investigate what it is to attend, to embrace the otherness of one’s self and the other, to feel presence in connection, and to attune to faith and trust. And if the latter collapse, as they can; assemble the fragments.

Elana Wolff is the author of eight collections of poetry and a collection of essays on poems. Elana’s writing has been widely published in Canada and internationally and has garnered awards. She has taught English for Academic Purposes at York University in Toronto and at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She currently lives and works in Thornhill, Ontario—the ancestral land of the Haudenosaunee and Huron-Wendat First Nations. Her collection, Swoon, received the 2020 Canadian Jewish Literary Award for Poetry.


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 a 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.