Category Archives: Interviews

Debra komar

The Debra Komar Interview

To date, award-winning Canadian author and retired forensic anthropologist Debra Komar has written four books dealing with historic crimes committed in Canada: The Ballad of Jacob Peck, The Lynching of Peter Wheeler, The Bastard of Fort Stikine and most recently, Black River Road (to be released in September 2016). All are published by Goose Lane Editions. The four books are notable for Ms. Komar’s authoritative, forthright style of writing, covering the historical time period of the case, presenting the facts and pursuing lines of medico-legal reasoning from a present-day perspective.

“Maybe it’s telling that my favourite book is In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.”

I was very happy when Ms. Komar agreed to accommodate my request for an exclusive interview for the Miramichi Reader.

Miramichi Reader: Tell us a little about your background, education, employment, etc.
Debra Komar: I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, went to the med school at Queen’s (M.S. in Anatomy and Cellular Biology) then did my PhD at the University of Alberta.  I completed my training at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Edmonton.  Working for organizations such as the United Nations, Physicians for Human Rights, the US Department of Justice and others, I served as a forensic investigator specializing in genocide and mass death.  I was deployed to Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Darfur, Cambodia and East Timor, where I exhumed mass graves, did autopsies, and identified victims.  I have testified at the international court in The Hague, as well as across North America.  I was also a tenured professor at the University of New Mexico and the state forensic anthropologist at the Office of the Medical Investigator for most of my career.

MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people who may have influenced you to become a writer.
DK: Maybe it’s telling that my favourite book is In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.  I am also influenced by the mix of storytelling and research that you see in books by Erik Larson and Charlotte Gray.

MR: Your previous book, The Bastard of Fort Stikine was frequently shortlisted for various awards, and won many, including the 2016 Canadian Authors Award for Canadian History. Did the national attention for the book surprise you? Has fame changed Debra Komar?
DK: You have a very liberal definition of fame!  I was happy the book received as much attention as it did.  I chalk much of that up to the enduring interest many Canadians have with the Hudson’s Bay Company and the idea of solving murders committed so long ago.

MR: Let’s talk about your latest book, Black River Road (BRR) your fourth book of historic Canadian crimes. How did you discover this particular case? What made you choose it over any other possible case?
DK: I always begin with the question I am asking, which in this case revolved around the capacity to kill.  I wanted to look at whether everyone is capable of murder and whether character should be treated as evidence in a court of a law.  Once I have my question, I go back through Canadian court cases until I find a case that allows me to answer that question.  In the case of Black River Road, I knew I had what I needed when I realized that Munroe’s trial allowed the introduction of “character as evidence” for the first time in a Canadian court.

MR: Do you plan on writing any more historical crime books like BRR, or are you working on something different? Any plans to write a work of fiction?
DK: My agent is currently selling my next non-fiction book, which deals with a massacre I investigated in Bosnia.  I have written one novel, which remains mercifully unread by the public, and am not certain I will try another.  I prefer non-fiction.

MR: In the acknowledgements in the back of BRR, you mention “the most ludicrous episode of your professional career:” the 2004 criminal investigation into the death of Billy the Kid. Could you elaborate on that case, and how did it become the “genesis of where you are now” as you put it?

Billy the Kid

DK: Ah, Billy the Kid.  In 2004, then-New-Mexico-Governor Bill Richardson decided he wanted to be the first Hispanic presidential candidate, but he was not well-known in the US.  To bolster his profile, he announced that New Mexico was reopening the criminal investigation into the death of BTK.  Because I was the forensic anthropologist at the ME’s office, it fell to me to investigate.  I was given an unlimited budget and the full powers of my office to do what was essentially a historical investigation.  Richardson had announced we would be exhuming Billy’s body from his grave in Fort Sumner, a very popular tourist attraction in NM.  He wanted that done because both Texas and Arizona also claim to have the final resting place of BTK and both of those states also have multi-million dollar tourism built around it.  Richardson wanted to “prove” NM had the “real” grave, thus forcing Texas and Arizona to dismantle their tourism programs relating to BTK.  It didn’t work out that way.  After months of investigation and scientific testing, I had a very uncomfortable conversation with the Governor’s office, informing them that the body of Billy the Kid is not in the Fort Sumner grave (it is empty) and it hadn’t been there since three days after he died in 1880.  The investigation was nothing but ridiculously expensive political boondoggle, but it made me think about the use of forensic science to answer historical questions.  That’s how I came to do the book series that includes Black River Road.

MR:  I know from following your profile at Goodreads that you are a voracious reader. I also enjoy your concise reviews of the books you read. How do you choose which books you will read? Do you have a favourite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?
DK: I have been an obsessive reader since I was a kid.  During the decades I spent in academia, I had to restrict my reading to scholarly works.  When I retired and began writing for the general public, I started reading anything I could get my hands on.  While I love non-fiction, I have also expanded my reading into fictional works of many genres.  Reading is the best thing I have found to help my writing.  Looking at other works and determining what is good and bad is the first step to learning how to edit yourself.  One of my favourite books lately has been How Music Works by David Byrne.  It’s the sort of thing I would not have picked up before, but absolutely loved it.

MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be?
DK: I have been thinking seriously about writing a biography of John Radclive, aka “Radcliffe,” Canada’s first professional hangman.  He is a fascinating, colourful character who was an eye-witness to much of this country’s legal history.  He was a notorious drinker who often sold the clothing and artifacts from his hangings.  He died under mysterious circumstances in a Toronto hotel room.  A very strange and curious man.

MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing?
DK: Reading, cooking, and art history are my big loves.  I also freely admit to an obsession with the show The Walking Dead. Call it an occupational hazard, but I just love that show (and Daryl Dixon).

MR: Finally, what is your Kryptonite?
DK: Baked goods and ice cream.  Can’t keep either in the house.  They are my undoing every time.

This article has been Digiproved © 2016 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Gerry Boyle Interview

Gerry Boyle is a crime novelist based in Maine. Boyle is the author of a dozen novels, including the acclaimed Jack McMorrow mystery series, featuring ex-New York Times reporter Jack McMorrow and his social worker wife Roxanne Masterson. Boyle recently published the 11th Jack McMorrow novel, Straw Man.

“I’m a huge fan of Hammett and Chandler. I love the succinctness and power of their prose and characterizations.”

A former newspaper reporter and columnist, Boyle came to Maine from Rhode Island to attend Colby College. After graduation, he went on to work in Manhattan, but soon realized his heart was in the rural reaches of his adopted state, and so he returned, taking a job at a local newspaper, which he calls “the best training ground ever” for mystery writers. Boyle’s reporting centred on crime scenes and courtrooms, and those dramatic experiences became the fodder for his gritty, authentic, fiction. Boyle plies his trade from his home in a small village on a lake in central Maine, where he lives with his wife, Mary. When he isn’t writing fiction, Boyle serves as the editor of Colby Magazine.

Miramichi Reader: Gerry, please tell us about your background, education, employment, etc.

Gerry Boyle: I grew up in Rhode Island in a house full of books. My dad worked for the Post Office and my mother worked in the home. They were great readers and influenced me to love writing and eventually to become a writer. My dad read mystery novels and introduced me to Dick Francis. I attended Colby College in Maine, studied literature and creative writing. My resume includes jobs as a roofer and a postman but, most importantly, working as a newspaper reporter and columnist. I did that in Maine for 18 years. Now I’m editor of the Colby College alumni magazine and I write books.

MR: Let’s talk about some of the books or authors or other people who may have influenced you to become a writer.

GB:  I had good professors in college who taught me to love and respect good writing, though I wasn’t thinking crime fiction at that time. The late Robert B. Parker of Spenser fame was both an influence and a big help early in my career. He recommended me to his agent, the late Helen Brann, and I remained her client for most of my books. My biggest influence in terms of my writing was John D. MacDonald, whose Travis McGee novels are wonderful. MacDonald is a great story-teller and student of human behaviour. And he loved boats, an interest we share.

MR: Straw Man is the latest Jack McMorrow mystery. In my review of it and it’s predecessor, Once Burned, I noted that your writing style was reminiscent of Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op stories: told in the first person, tough, sparse dialog and our man Jack McMorrow, like the Continental Op is not afraid to take some chances and doesn’t back down from confrontations. Am I imagining things? Are you a fan of the hard-boiled detective stories of the 40s and 50s?

GB: I’m a huge fan of Hammett and Raymond Chandler. I love the succinctness and power of their prose and characterizations. I like writers whose prose is unadorned but still has the power to stop you in mid-paragraph with a perfect phrase or word or line of dialogue. Also, the chivalric element of those novels is something I have adopted, I suppose. McMorrow, Spenser, McGee, Marlowe. It’s a lineage.

MR: How has Jack McMorrow ‘grown’ over the years? Has he become more dimensional for you with each book published?

GB: Very much so. McMorrow and I have travelled the same stretches of rural Maine, run into the same people, some good, some bad, most somewhere in between. Over the years we’ve grown up together, and as he layers on experiences he become more complex. The early McMorrow of Deadline and Bloodline is a different person from the McMorrow of Once Burned and Straw Man. He has a wife and child. He’s learned from his battles. He’s scarred a bit, emotionally and physically. In that way, he’s just like the rest of us.

Fassbender as McMorrow?

MR: If they were to make a movie based on the Jack McMorrow Mysteries, who do you see as playing the main characters (Jack, Roxanne, Clair)?

GB: I’m a big fan of the work of these three actors: Michael Fassbender, Jessica Chastain, and Ed Harris. I think they’d be great for the parts.

MR:  Do you have a favourite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?

GB: I have a few crime novels on my shelf that I pick up and reread. MacDonald’s The Deep Blue Goodbye, Chandler’s The Big Sleep, Maj Sowall’s and Per Wahloo’s The Fire that Disappeared. Ken Bruen’s Vixen. But I’ll also pick up The Commitments by Roddy Doyle, Thoreau’s The Maine Woods, and move down the shelf.

MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be?

GB: I’m fascinated by gifted musicians. I’d love to write about Jimi Hendrix.

MR: What are you working on now?

GB: Two novels, one in progress and one nearly complete. I’m well into a Brandon Blake novel called Port City Killshot. And I’m finishing a crime novel set in Ireland. That’s a collaboration with my daughter, Emily Westbrooks, who lives in Dublin. They have some very mean streets in the Old Sod. More to come on both.

You can see all Gerry’s novels and more at his Islandport Press author page: http://www.islandportpress.com/gerry-boyle.html


This article has been Digiproved © 2016 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Trudi Johnson Interview

Trudi Johnson was born and grew up in St. John’s, Newfoundland though her family’s roots are in Bonavista Bay. Currently, she is an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at Memorial University, where she enjoys teaching pre-service teachers and researches effective teaching and teacher efficacy. Trudi lives in St. John’s with her husband, Albert.

“One of the nicest compliments I have received about From a Good Home is from a reviewer who said every reader will meet someone they know in this book.”


Her first book, From a Good Home, a St. John’s Family Saga, was recently published by Flanker Press. It takes us back to 1935 when a girl named Hannah moves to St. John’s to work “in-service” (as a domestic) for a wealthy family, the Sinclairs. A small indiscretion between her and Charles, the master of the house has repercussions down through the years, and as much as the secret is tried to be kept, it is upon Charles’ death in 1995 that the truth gradually trickles out. The story deftly deals with the emotions between Hannah and her daughter Jeanne as well as the other Sinclair family members as they come to grips with a shocking revelation that threatens to ruin their good name in St. John’s society and leave the family divided.

I very much enjoyed reading From a Good Home, and gave it 4 out of 5 stars at Goodreads.

Trudi kindly agreed to take a few moments to respond to some questions I had for her.

Miramichi Reader: Tell us about your background, education, employment, etc.
Trudi Johnson: I was born and grew up in St. John’s, a city that was much smaller and class-oriented at the time of my youth. Both of my parents came from the small Newfoundland community of Greenspond, Bonavista Bay where I often enjoyed summer vacations.
I attended Memorial University and graduated as a high school teacher. I taught in White Bay and in Labrador City for ten years before I returned to university to complete a PhD in Newfoundland Legal History focusing on property and inheritance law. I worked as a publisher of a journal on educational technology in the 1990s. I currently hold the position of Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education where I teach pre-service teachers. Until this novel, my writing was exclusively academic.

MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that influenced you to become a writer.
TJ: As a child, I loved to read. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have at least one book in progress. My Grade 7 English teacher once told me that I was destined to write novels. She didn’t explain why, just that I would, and I have never forgotten her words. As a teenager I was drawn to British novels and made a personal commitment to read as many of the classics as I could during my summers. When I came across the series, The Forsythe Saga by John Galsworthy, I became determined that someday I would write a series based on several generations of a family. I enjoy mysteries and novels about families and relationships.

MR:  Do you have a favourite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?
TJ: My love of history  drew me to Mary Wesley’s books, especially my favourite, The Camomile Lawn. In recent years, my favourite writer has been Canada’s Louise Penny.

MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be?
TJ: If I could write biographies, it would be about people who are typically hidden from history, rather than those who make headlines. These are people who commit to their community and display heroics in ways that often go unnoticed.

MR: What are you working on now?
TJ: During the summer of 2016, I am writing a sequel to From a Good Home. It picks up about three months after the first one ended and explores the relationship between the mother and daughter who found each other after almost sixty years. The sequel, entitled All Good Intentions, brings a new character into the lives the Sinclair and Steffensen families, representing another hidden aspect of our history and having a lasting impact on the lives of the characters.

MR: There seems to be a plethora of new titles constantly streaming out of Newfoundland & Labrador. Why do you think Newfoundland is such a hotbed of writers? What is special about Newfoundland for you?
TJ: I think that Newfoundland has a rich culture of story telling, originally in the oral tradition and more recently in print. Our collective humour in large measure hinges on our ability to tell stories. Friends encourage me to write novels that above all, have characters that they’d like to meet. One of the nicest compliments I have received about From a Good Home is from a reviewer who said every reader will meet someone they know in this book.
Newfoundland is special for me because it is small in terms of population and we all seem to be connected to each other, by our past and by our present. We take each day as it comes, the weather and the economic ups and downs, along with the peaceful surroundings and the friendliness of the people. We have gained a reputation for being charitable and determined. And as one of my characters comments, “we live in hope.” That’s not such a bad reputation to have in the midst of a culture of fear that seems to have permeated the world.

MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing?
TJ: When I am not writing, I have my teaching that I truly love. It is time-consuming but well worth the effort. I wrote From a Good Home as a distraction while I was writing my doctoral dissertation on women and law in Newfoundland history. In my spare time, I am an avid baseball and hockey fan, I try to coax flowers to grow in my small garden, and I travel around Canada and the United States with my husband. Writing is not work for me and it is stress-free. I take my characters with me wherever I go. While my book is set in Newfoundland, I think it has a universal theme. I am interested in how people face their everyday challenges and are affected by their past. Ultimately, I want my reader to smile.

Note: Trudi  Johnson will be in New Brunswick August 5th (Chapters Moncton) and 6th (Chapters Fredericton), signing copies of From a Good Home.

This article has been Digiproved © 2016 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Gary Collins Interview

Newfoundland author Gary Collins has written a total of ten books now; one of his most recent was Left to Die (2014 Flanker Press), the compelling account of the SS Newfoundland sealing disaster of 1914 in which 78 of 132 men stranded on the ice died. He is also the co-author (along with his granddaughter Maggie Rose Parsons) of What Colour is the Ocean? Gary took some time away from his various pursuits to answer a few questions for the Miramichi Reader.

“My greatest pleasure is to sit at the table by the moonlit window, pen in hand; wine burnished by lamplight, the kettle on the stove at my back humming softly to the tune of the night. The naked page – never feared – awaits.”

Miramichi Reader: Tell us about some of the books or authors (or others) that influenced you to become a writer.

Gary Collins: Reading the old ‘Classic’ comic books is my first recollection of wanting to know about things beyond the hills of our village. I read everything from the milk can labels – there was no fresh milk – to my mother’s Family Herald magazines. In my teens I read Thomas Hardy, anything by Steinbeck and Nicholas Monsarrat.

I began writing eulogies for family and friends, spent a few years doing feature articles for the NL Herald. It led to manuscripts and books.

My influence to write comes from my parents kitchen and the old story tellers who gathered there on winter nights. They told of great Black bears who stole loaves of bread from beneath their tired bunks. And of storms at sea under sail, so vivid I could feel the sting of it on my young skin. I remember the hush of the lamplight softening their ruggedness; the blue smoke from their ‘Target’ cigarettes being drawn upwards to the seam in the ceiling stovepipe. It is a wondrous memory to draw from. I have always tried to write stories as well as they told them. Their wonderful art of orally telling stories is dying.

MR: Do you have a favourite book (or books), one that you like to revisit from time to time?

GC: I never tire of reading Conrad’s ‘The Secret Sharer’, Montserrat’s ‘Master Mariner’ and Adele Wiseman’s ‘The Sacrifice’. I read Wilbur Smith and Michael Crummy among many others. I read several books at a time in separate rooms.

MR: Which of your many books do you consider favourites, or best representative of your body of work?

GC: My favorite book to write was Mattie Mitchell–Newfoundland’s Greatest Frontiersman. My entire life has been a love for the outdoors. To me, wilderness is a state of mind. You do not need angry mother Grizzlies chasing you to be there. It can be found beyond any fence or Alder bed, lining any highway, by anyone. You have only to let it be there.

MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, what person(s) would you like to do a book on?

GC: I would love to follow the trail of the last Beothuk male Indian who lived on our island. The fear and absolute dismay of having no one. What a sad gloaming that must have been. It is on my list!

MR: What is next? Are you working on something now?

GC: I have just sent to my publisher Flanker Press a new manuscript. It will be published this Fall. It is called ‘Desperation’. It involves a ship wrecked in the winter of 1867 on an island, bleak and barren, off our coast. The shipwreck was only the start of the crews horrors. It ended with cannibalism! And terrible death to all.

MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing?

GC: I have two log cabins, built by own hand – without nails – with chainsaw and axe. One is near the highway, the other reached only by canoe or snowmobile. My greatest pleasure is to sit at the table by the moonlit window, at either of them, pen in hand; wine burnished by lamplight, the kettle on the stove at my back humming softly to the tune of the night. The naked page – never feared – awaits.

I love boating, on the open sea, canoeing on pond and river, hunting, travel, playing guitar and family events.


 

You can browse all of Gary Collin’s titles at his Flanker Press page: https://www.flankerpress.com/author/gary-collins/

His Facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/garycollinsauthor/

This article has been Digiproved © 2016-2019 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Michelle Butler Hallett Interview

St. John’s Newfoundland writer Michelle Butler Hallett is the author of This Marlowe (2016, Goose Lane Editions), an excellent historical fiction novel set in Elizabethan England. Now, it was my intention to interview her about the writing of the novel, doing the research for it and such, but there already exists several YouTube videos of Michelle explaining just about everything one would want to know about writing and researching for This Marlowe, so I gave up on that idea; Goose Lane had beat me to the punch.

Here’s one of Michelle explaining the process of writing This Marlowe:

I then learned from Kathleen Peacock, Goose Lane Edition’s publicist, that Michelle is an honorary Miramichier! Now there’s something I would like to know more about! So I wrote Michelle and she agreed to tell the story, which makes for interesting reading:

1989, Ottawa. My boyfriend (later husband), David Hallett, joins me at Carleton University, and we settle in.  David is  pursuing his MA and wants to focus on Canlit, on fiction. He’s thinking about Robertson Davies. His supervisor doesn’t care for Davies’ work and suggests instead a novelist from New Brunswick. I got my hackles up, expecting this Ontario professor to then ask us if we know the guy, New Brunswick and Newfoundland being so close together, ah ha ha. The prof is nowhere near that stupid. In fact, he’s smart as hell, twigging right away to David Hallett’s likely response to these novels from the guy in New Brunswick: surprise, empathy, and recognition. Over the next two years, David Hallett completes his MA thesis, focusing on the novels but also collecting and commenting on a collection of appalling book reviews which expose the reviewers’ prejudices and ignorance, which paint an image of the novelist in question as some backwoods savant. The reviews were meant to put one David Adams Richards back in his perceived place — they failed, naturally — but these reviews also stung us. So much hatred for Atlantic Canada, hatred and blame? So much regionalism? So many toxic presumptions from academic minds supposedly trained to think outside such folly?

Heh.

Around this time a prominent national journalist suggests Newfoundland be towed out to sea and sunk.

2001, Mount Pearl. My husband and I are back in Newfoundland, and we now have two young children, one of them an infant. Apart from a short story in 1994, I’ve published nothing, and I’m in some despair. Have I deluded myself? I knew since the age of seven I wanted to write fiction, and by 2001, aged thirty, I’d hoped to be further along. After a difficult pregnancy, I’ve slipped into a post partum depression — not that I recognize that. I’ve been working full-time except when on maternity leave, working through sickness and writing bad fiction and terrible drama, since 1995. My husband David is also struggling: a freshly minted PhD, he can only get adjunct work. I spy an ad in the Globe and Mail books section for the Humber School for Writers, for a correspondence course: established writers for mentors, close attention to your manuscript. I take the risk. I get matched with David Adams Richards. My husband finds this coincidence fascinating;  years later he’ll write an entry for the CanadianEnyclopedia.ca on DAR. I learn a lot. DAR is kind and encouraging — and also blunt about my weaknesses. I respect this. I consider his advice and even take some of it.

Some of it.

I never said I was smart.

2004. I enter and win a  short novel-writing competition run by the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick. (In 2004, the comp was open to anyone in Canada. It’s now kept to NB residents only.) The prize is named after David Adams Richards. I’m invited to the WFNB AGM in Miramichi. (I get a speeding ticket on the drive from Dieppe to Miramichi. This is what comes of being excited, driving a rented Jeep when you’re accustomed to a five-speed Sentra, and playing the Tragically Hip really loud.) Several Miramichiers reach out to me, make sure I’m looked after, fed, on and on … and, listening to voices, studying the signs of a resource-based economy and the economic tyrannies that might spring from it, I feel at home.  I didn’t expect that.

2007. I’m invited to give a workshop at the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick’s AGM, once again held in Miramichi. I stay and visit with friends I made in 2004, make new friends, and really enjoy my time there. I give a reading and a workshop. I get to meet DAR and thank him, and then badger him into signing some books for my husband and a friend. I attend the WFNB awards dinner … and there, to my surprise and delight, hear Dorinda Glover pronounce me a Daughter of the River, an honourary Miramichier. I wept: happy tears.

I’ve promised myself a return to the river almost every year since, this time with my husband and children. I’ve failed them: money, time, illness. Trees and water, though, trees and water: I’ll get there.

We hope you do, Michelle!

You can learn more about Michelle’s other writings here on her blog: https://mbutlerhallett.wordpress.com/

Her Facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/michellebutlerhallettwriter/

 

This article has been Digiproved © 2016 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Meet a Publicist: Kathleen Peacock

As a book reviewer, I deal with the publicity manager (or publicist), who then sends me titles to review. I have dealt with Kathleen Peacock many times in the past year. She works for Goose Lane Editions (GLE) and I thought it would be interesting to interview her so as to better understand the role of a publicist in a large publishing firm. Let’s meet Kathleen:

Miramichi Reader: Tell us a little of your background: where you are from, education, how you came to be at GLE.

Kathleen Peacock: I grew up in northern New Brunswick and left after high school to study graphic design. While working in the IT industry, I decided to pursue a career in writing. After publishing three novels with HarperCollins, I decided I wanted to see what publishing looked like from the other side. Goose Lane Editions was looking for a publicity manager and it seemed like a great way to combine my previous experience in marketing with my experience as a writer.

MR: Many people likely do not give much consideration to the publisher when choosing reading material. What makes GLE unique in the Canadian market? What should folks know about GLE?

KP: Many people aren’t aware of this, but Goose Lane Editions is Canada’s oldest independent publisher. For over six decades, Goose Lane has published award-winning, critically acclaimed fiction, non-fiction, and art books. We believe strongly in nurturing talent. Several of Canada’s best authors have started their careers with Goose Lane—something everyone here is incredibly proud of.

MR: What does being a publicist entail? What is your typical workday like?

KP: As Goose Lane’s publicity manager, I bring attention to award-winning current, future, and past titles through media relations, social media, literary festivals, author tours, and special events.

A typical day includes pitching authors to literary festivals, booking media, and coordinating travel—with time built-in for social media and advertising campaigns. Because of my background, I also collaborate on jacket copy, catalogue content, etc.

MR: During your tenure at GLE, what books stand out most in your mind, and what are some 2016 titles that particularly excite you?

KP: I’m not supposed to have favorites, but two that have really resonated with me, personally, were Will Starling (http://gooselane.com/books.php?ean=9780864926470) by Ian Weir and All the Gold Hurts My Mouth (http://gooselane.com/books.php?ean=9780864928863) by Katherine Leyton. Weir’s novel is so dark and twisty and features murder and deeds most foul. As someone who writes supernatural mysteries, it was wonderful to sink into that book. All the Gold Hurts My Mouth feels like the feminist battle cry I’ve been waiting for. It’s edgy, funny, and throws down pop culture references with flair.

MR: Finally, how do you like to spend your downtime?

KP: When I’m not writing, I like to binge-watch. I just finished watching Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell.


Goose Lane Editions is located in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

This article has been Digiproved © 2016 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Chuck Bowie Interview

Chuck Bowie is the New Brunswick author of three novels, all in the “Sean Donovan: Thief for Hire” series. He has just released Book Three: “Steal it All“. Chuck took a few moments to answer my questions about his influences, where and when his Sean Donovan character was born, and how Book Four is coming along.

Miramichi Reader: Tell us about your background, education, employment, etc. 

My name is Chuck Bowie. I was born in what used to be Chatham, NB, and as an ‘air force brat’, I’d moved nineteen times by the time I was twenty-one. I left home at age sixteen and went to UNB at age eighteen. These unusual circumstances helped form and inform me. I have a Science degree—Biology—and did a bit of research as a technician before going into banking. After five years of moving around as a banker, I joined the Public Service and stuck at it for thirty years.

Over the years, I coached sports, taught music and raised a family, all the while learning things and people-watching. In the past fifteen years, I’ve improved as a cook, and learned the difference between plonk and wine (although I still drink a bit of both, truth be known!) I’ve written since I was fourteen.

MR: Tell us about your Sean Donovan character. Is he a composite of people you have known, or is he entirely fictitious? Where did you get the idea for “Thief for Hire”?

I will be careful here, in explaining Donovan. I wrote the character several years before I saw an image of Allan Hawco, from The Republic of Doyle. At that point, I was shocked to find that, to me, Donovan looks like Mr. Hawco. And when I was learning how to write more professionally, Donovan had some of my character traits and spoke a bit like me. He does NOT resemble me in any way, now, although I have shared several of my experiences with him. My editors saw to that! Finally, Donovan isn’t a composite of anyone I have ever met.

The idea of T4H came to me when I was working in Romania. I had received an assignment to work in Bucharest for just over a month. Very early on in that month, I awoke in a luxury hotel to the sound of dogs and orphans playing in the early morning light. I asked myself, ‘What if I found myself in a strange country, with no conscience and the desire to make money? What might that be like?’ I began writing Book One immediately.

Trailer for Book One, Three Wrongs:

MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that influenced you to become a writer.

When I was in Grade nine, my English Arts teacher gave me a grade of B for an essay I thought was well beyond anything I’d ever written to that point. I’ve tried since then to earn an ‘A’ on everything I write. When I was in Grade ten, My English Arts teacher, Doug Underhill became my inspiration. He was witty, well-spoken, well-read, and he challenged me to write, regardless of my ill-conceived notion that small-town kids couldn’t grow up to be writers. This inspiration, of course, was reinforced by the fact that I grew up in the same town as David Adams Richards, perhaps the greatest writer New Brunswick has produced.

Nowadays, I receive tiny gifts of inspiration from the writers around me. Miramichi’s Valerie Sherrard is an amazing, successful, local author who’s carved out an award-winning career without leaving the Miramichi. That’s pretty cool.

MR: Do you have a favourite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?

I have three favourite books I revisit, actually, and for different reasons. The first is The Old Man And The Sea, which is barely a hundred pages long. I read it for the spare, wondrous words he used to convey universal truths about life, suffering, perseverance and courage. Another favourite book is by the travel literature writer, Bill Bryson. His book, A Brief History of Nearly Everything is a brilliant recounting of our understanding of, well, everything. He explains The Big Bang Theory in a page and a half. He waltzes through evolution, cellular biology, genetics, stars…everything, explaining them succinctly, beautifully and with great humour. I swear, I literally felt smarter upon reading it the first time. And for the pure fun of reading a well-written mystery, I’ll grab a Nero Wolfe detective novel. Rex Stout was wonderful.

MR: You have just released Book #3: Steal It All, in the Thief for Hire series. Are there more to come, or are looking in other directions for your next release?

I should be coy, in responding to this question. I’m two-thirds of the way through Book Four: The Body On The Underwater Road. This is the first novel with any scenes set in New Brunswick, and I cannot wait to finish it, to see how it ends! After this one, I’m going to write a fifth novel in the series, for sure, but after that, I don’t know. My publisher is encouraging me to write a dozen more Donovan tales! We’ll see.

In the meantime, though, a new series has popped into my head. It’s another thriller series, this time with a female protagonist. I’m trying to hold off on it, since I haven’t finished with Donovan, but it’s challenging, writing one series while dreaming of another. Honestly, I don’t know how folks can date more than one person at a time! But I digress.

As far as another direction, I do have a work of speculative fiction on the back burner. I know what I want to do with it, but can’t find the time. As Honoré de Balzac said, to his buddies in the tavern two hundred years ago: “Guys, I just finished a really good novel. It’s got all sorts of redeeming features to it, the characters are great and the story pulls you along. Now, all I have to do is write it.”

I feel that way, ha!


Chuck Bowie writes out of Fredericton, except when he travels or hangs out at his camp in Oak Point on Miramichi Bay. You can learn more about him from his website:

http://chuckbowie.ca

or by following him on Twitter:

@BowieChuck

His novels can be found on Amazon, at Chapters or directly from his publisher: Muse It Up Publications

This article has been Digiproved © 2016 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Sheryl Gordon Interview

Moncton, New Brunswick native Sheryl Gordon has curated a very interesting book that defies categorization. It is entitled A ReWORDing Life: Finding Meaning in the Wor(l)d and it is an accretion of words and their meanings contributed from over 1,000 Canadians from all walks of life. It is all dedicated to raising awareness of (and funds for) Alzheimer’s disease as well as other disorders of the brain that fall under the dementia umbrella. The author’s own mother was a victim of this terrible disease; losing ‘the words’ that were so important to her, eventually forgetting to the point where familiar, everyday objects became ‘the thing’ (or la chose since her mother was Acadian).

The book itself is a veritable cache of various words in the English language (and some like tabla rasa that the English-speaking world has freely adopted) all encased in a brief sentence or two by authors, musicians, and other professionals to help us make sense of a particular word. Some words you may know, and others may be unfamiliar to you. The idea is to broaden your awareness of the language, giving you words that will stay with for the rest of your life and not get snatched away unmercifully by a disease like dementia.

The book contains eight heartfelt, emotional essays penned by Ms. Gordon (all begin with letters making up the word “dementia”) that help us to understand “how perplexing and ephemeral life can be”. In addition, a full 50% of the profit from each book’s sale goes toward funding for dementia research.


I recently managed to get a few moments of Sheryl’s time to answer a few questions, which she was only too happy to comply with.

Miramichi Reader: Sheryl, please tell me a little about your background, career and so forth.

Sheryl Gordon: After graduating from Dalhousie university (BA in French), I taught ESL in Japan for four years (Osaka and Tokyo). When I came back to Canada, I took an intense IT program in Ottawa called ITI and then ended up working as an instructional designer/technical trainer/technical writer. These jobs married my teaching and IT skills. I didn’t know it at the time, but having taught Word and Excel – something I wasn’t necessarily passionate about at times – did help me manage A Rewording Life (contacts, words, sentences, etc.).

“I’m the quintessential right-brained thinker.”

MR: When did the initial idea of the ARL Project ‘hit’ you?

SG: As the E for Epiphany essay in the book states, it ‘hit’ me in Mexico, on a yoga retreat. It was 2008 and I was in between jobs. It would take me many years to realize I should act on it.

MR: As far as you know, has anything like this been done before?

SG: To my knowledge, no.

MR: Since you self-published this book, fill us in a little regarding the entire process of getting your project published.

SG: I attended a book fair last year here in Toronto and Blurb – a self-publishing company – was the main sponsor. They had a few panels on self-publishing so I attended them. I heard Terry Fallis speak, who mentioned that he initially self-published. He laid out the pros and cons in a simple manner. I then took a 2 day course on publishing and they highlighted both models (publishing vs. self-publishing). Because my project was unique, traditional publishers weren’t receptive to the idea. Because I wanted to raise money for the Alzheimer Society of Canada, it made more sense to self-publish. A traditional publisher takes 90 percent of the royalties, leaving the author with a mere 10 percent. Because I have an IT background, I believed I could figure it out. So I did. I initially wanted to use Blurb but they specialize in picture books (they’re owned by Kodak). When I found out that I couldn’t promote a paperback on amazon if I went with them, I had to find another company. Long story short, I chose createspace/amazon.

MR: I assume you have informed the Alzheimer Society Canada regarding the ARL Project. Did you receive any positive response?

SG: Yes, they are aware of my project. As you can appreciate, there are many people who have written books and they can’t promote everyone’s project. That said, because I’m trying to raise money for them, they are trying to help me get the word out, so to speak. J They have promoted my project via their social media channels. The Alzheimer Society of Toronto is writing an article about my project as we speak. I unfortunately don’t know the date it will be released. I, of course, can engage is self-promotion as much as I wish and I know this is something that most – if not all – authors do to give their works a fighting chance at succeeding when they hit the shelves of bookstores around the world. Social media is one of the most effective ways of doing this; some authors have a truly enviable amount of Facebook, Twitter, and instagram followers – someone like me can only dream of having the same audience as Stephen King, for example. I know some people who have used growth services to help give their Instagram accounts a little boost so that they can strengthen their presence and reach online organically. A healthier follower count can do wonders for one’s reputation.

MR: What’s next for you?

SG: I’ll be looking for work – I’m hoping this book will act as a springboard of sorts. While IT was challenging, it wasn’t a very creative environment and I’m the quintessential right-brained thinker so I’m hoping to find something that aligns more with that. Something I’m more passionate about. I don’t know what role or title that is yet, though.

MR: Downtime: what do you do when you’re not writing?

SG: I love to read, cycle, and spend time with family and friends. And eat.

Thanks Sheryl!

A ReWording Life website: http://www.arewordinglife.com/
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ARewordingLife/

 

This article has been Digiproved © 2015 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Rick Revelle Interview

Editor’s note: there is a more recent interview with Rick Revelle here.

It was by sheer happenstance that I came across Rick Revelle and his two historical novels: I am Algonquin and Algonquin Springs (2013 and 2015, Dundurn Press). I was in Kingston (Ontario) visiting family when an article in that day’s edition of the Kingston Whig-Standard about a man who had written some “books about Indians” was brought to my attention. Intrigued, I read the article and was quite impressed at the meticulous research Mr Revelle had performed to in order to make his novels about early First Nations people as realistic as possible. I have now read both books and enjoyed them immensely.


Let’s now meet the author:

Miramichi Reader: Rick, please tell me a little about your background, how you became to be a writer, etc.

Rick Revelle: I retired from Nortel at 50 years old, (never bought a share) and started to play golf every day, some days better than others. I have walked the lengths of the Rideau Trail, the Cataraqui Trail, working presently on hiking the K&P Trail plus many shorter trails. My experiences in the woods are related in my books. I am also an avid canoeist and again the canoe stories are my encounters on the water, for the most part, not all but a lot of it. During my working years I was a fastball coach and won 3 Ontario Championships and I have coached at 3 Canadian Championships winning 1 silver medal. I also have my black belt in judo for the past 30 years.

“My books are Historical Fiction; the characters are fictional, but the language and the way they live are non-fiction.”

Rick Revelle
 I became a writer I guess you could say at the professional stage at age 58 and became published at age 60 with my first book I Am Algonquin. All self-taught, on the computer and in my writing. I know what I like to read and that is what I in turn like to write about. The reason I wrote the Algonquin Quest Series is that while searching for some books to read about my Algonquin heritage (The author is a member of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation) I soon realized nothing about this Native group had ever been written, fiction or non-fiction. So I took it upon myself to research everything I could find about my roots and to put it in a novel, which in turn became the second novel and now is becoming a third novel. I tell everyone my books are Historical Fiction; the characters are fictional, but the language and the way they live are non-fiction.

MR: The two Algonquin Quest books were fantastic to read, even for a ‘mature’ reader like myself. I was especially impressed by the choreography of the action scenes in both novels. Did these just flow out of your pen, or do you do a visual mock-up of the scene to help you plan it? Also, did you visit any of the actual sites in the book? It seems like you were there when the battle(s) were going on.

RR: I would say that I have visited about half the sites my battles take place to get the feel of the surroundings. When unable to visit the area I do extensive research on the internet. For the action scenes, I have to admit I have a vivid imagination. I envision the whole scene and put myself right there. I then stand in the middle and look around and write about everything I am seeing. I imagine the noise, the smells and the overall tenseness of the situation. Once into this scene everything just erupts from my keyboard. I try to make the battles as realistic as I can without getting too horrific. Readers many times have mentioned the graphicness of the violence. I reply that it is indicative of the era using blunt force weapons and crudely pointed weapons. Wounds were broken bones, concussions, and punctures. Death came violently.

MR: The panther companion of Mitigomij was an inspired idea. Does that come from an Algonquin legend?

Rick Revelle

RR: As a kid watching movies I was always drawn to the hero with a sidekick, more so with the hero who had an animal as a companion. Mitigomij is based on the legend of Michabo the Trickster Hare who was a shape shifter. His panther is Gichi-Anamè-bizhow the Fabulous Underwater Panther, both of them Algonquin Legends.

MR: In between the two books, six years have passed in the timeline. Why not just pick up where Book One left off?

RR: Great question! I wanted the characters to progress from the last battle which was devastating for all involved. I needed some of the children to grow up and I also needed Wàbananang, Mahingan’s wife to evolve into the story and I thought the best way to do this was by creating a back story for her and bringing her to the present. I wanted things to happen without having to do a detailed story of everyone, so I just plopped them down 6 years later. My upcoming third novel Algonquin Sunset takes place 12 years later. Again some of the characters have to grow up and mature to fit into the next plot and evolution of the Series.

MR: In Book Two, the Mi’kmaq, Innu and Maliseet are introduced, and the focus is diverted from Mahingan and the Algonquin nation for a time. While it makes for a great story (and a great climax) did you feel compelled in some way to tell the story of other First Nation peoples?

RR: I had taken it as far as I wanted to with the Algonquin nation at that time and I really wanted to do research on the Mi’Kmaq nation, plus my whole plot line for this novel was introducing Glooscap. Glooscap is a Mi’Kmaq legend and he originated in the Land of Granite (Newfoundland). So I had to get everything started in the east and work it all together. The thunderstorm enabled me to describe an event that all three of the groups could experience at the same time and I could create this ending of three forces colliding with an act of nature. Unknown to the reader until the end many of the characters knew each other from the past. Of course, if you know the Legend of Glooscap you certainly know who Winpe is.

MR: Do you foresee that by Book Ten (if there will be a Book Ten) that Europeans will appear in the book to Mahingan’s great grandchildren?

RR: If I ever wrote a “contact” novel the Jesuits would be killed off in the first paragraph. But I guess we never say never?

MR: What response have you received from First Nations people to your novels?

RR: First Nation people have enjoyed my novels. The largest school board in Manitoba, the Frontier Board used I Am Algonquin in their curriculum and it went over very well. So well, that on January 22, 2016, I will be travelling to Winnipeg to be the Keynote Speaker at their Teachers Conference. If you noticed the notes from the people in the front of Algonquin Spring; they are from Native Elders and young Natives. I sent these people manuscripts to read and these were their responses, which pleased me.

MR: You often visit schools sharing your aboriginal knowledge with the younger generation. What kind of reception do you get?

RR: The teachers have told me that the kids love the books and the presentations. I bring weapons from the era in, plus sage, sweet grass, and cedar. I do not smudge. I also have huge maps mounted that I show them where everything takes place. I tell the teachers I am a travelling museum and exhibit!

MR: Downtime: what do you do when you’re not writing?

RR: I love to read, I golf 4 or 5 days a week in the summer and canoe the others. In the fall and winter, I hike. I like watching high school basketball and I have season tickets for the Queen’s University Men’s and Women’s hockey teams. I work 7 days a month for Foster Grant International. I have 22 store accounts that I look after for them. Actually, I guess I don’t do much of anything of any consequence, semi-retired and living the life.

You can read more about Rick’s first two novels here.

Thanks, Rick!



This article has been Digiproved © 2015-2017 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Valerie Sherrard Interview

Miramichi New Brunswick author Valerie Sherrard has written more than a dozen novels for young people, including Counting Back from Nine, which was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award and The Glory Wind. Her work has also been shortlisted for numerous Canadian awards, including the Ann Connor Brimer, Red Maple, and Snow Willow Awards. Valerie’s most recent novel is Random Acts.

Miramichi Reader: Valerie, please tell us a bit of your background.

Valerie Sherrard: My father was in the Canadian Air Force (back before they were combined under one umbrella) and so we moved a good deal. While he was from Miramichi, I was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and spent my younger years in Belleville, Ontario and then Lahr, West Germany. We settled back in Miramichi when I was fourteen and, aside from a few years away as a young adult, this has been my home ever since.

“The thing I’m most proud of is when a story works the way I want it to, when the characters come alive and the finished product is at least close to what I hoped it would be.”

Valerie Sherrard

MR: I am always interested as to when and how the inspiration to be a writer comes about. Tell us your experience.

VS: It was in Lahr that a teacher, Mr. Lower, singled me out and told me I could be a writer someday. I can’t imagine what he saw of any value in anything I might have written at that age, but he encouraged and praised me and inspired the first thoughts of someday writing books. I’d always been a good reader, but it had not occurred to me that I might also be a writer.
I wrote my first book (many years later) and sent it off to a handful of Canadian publishers, and three of them asked for the full manuscript. At that time, I thought back to my teacher, and I was able to locate him. I contacted him and we formed a friendship between then and his passing a few years ago. My fourth Shelby Belgarden mystery, called Hiding in Plain Sight, is dedicated to that teacher.

MR: When did you get your first big break in publishing?

VS: I was very fortunate in that, once I got serious about writing, and found the genre that was right for me, my very first manuscript got the interest of a publisher that signed it, and subsequently went on to publish more than a dozen of my books for young adults. Since then, I have worked with five different publishers and am always looking for additional homes for my work. I have expanded to stories for all ages of children, as well as different styles and genres. For example, my GG nominated title (Counting Back from Nine) was a free verse novel. Really, as is true for many full-time writers – it’s not so much a matter of getting a big break, as just working steadily and doing your best to produce good work.

MR: Talk about your husband Brent Sherrard (who is an author as well).

VS: It’s interesting that both Brent and I are writers. When we first met we were both unpublished but shared an interest in writing. I got serious about it first but he was working on stories long before he was first published. He kept writing new stories, and I think he had a half a dozen finished novels written before I talked him into submitting one to publishers. He got an offer not long after that, and he’s now had three novels for teens published, but he continues to write a lot more than he submits. If he’s not happy with a story he’ll let it sit and go back to it later – usually after he’s written another whole novel at least! My philosophy is quite different – once a draft is done, I want it off my desk. I figure an editor will see and discuss revisions.

MR: What literary accomplishment you are most proud of?

VS: It’s nice to have your work recognized and awards are nice – I’m always pleased with nominations and awards, but the thing I’m most proud of is when a story works the way I want it to, when the characters come alive and the finished product is at least close to what I hoped it would be.

MR: The Young Adult genre: why the focus on it (as opposed to adult lit)?

VS: They tell you to write what you know, so starting with the young adult genre was a natural fit for me. I worked as the Executive Director of a group home for young people for a dozen years, and besides raising my own children, I fostered approximately 70 teenagers in my home over a decade and a half or so. Young people had been a huge part of my life and so when I began to write, it was stories for and about them that I wanted to tell. It feels like the right choice for me.

MR: Thanks for your time Valerie!

This article has been Digiproved © 2015 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Like Any Other Monday by Binnie Brennan Review|Interview

Like Any Other Monday (2014, Gaspereau Press) is Halifax author Binnie Brennan’s first novel, and it is an impressive one. From the moment you handle the book, you know that you are in for something special. Gaspereau Press has done a beautiful job of printing and binding this softcover book. It even comes with its own embossed paper dust jacket. Even if the pages inside were totally blank, you would still have a handsome softcover to display.

The Story

Fortunately, the 200+ pages inside are not blank, but filled with a wondrous, meticulously researched story set in a time period that has practically been forgotten: the American Vaudeville era. The vaudeville era arose in post-Civil War America (as well as in Canada) in the late 1880s and lasted to about 1930, when moving pictures began their rise to popularity.

“On any given show night, tens of thousands of performers took to the vaudeville stages working two, three, even five or more shows a day, six days a week.”

Such was the case in 1916 with The Three Pascoes, a father-mother-son team. The son, Billy – like his father- is a master of slapstick comedy: pratfalls, flips, kicks and spins and being generally thrown about the stage by his father to peals of laughter from the delighted audience. However, his father’s increased drinking has threatened the popular headlining act. Immediately after the last show, Billy packs up and along with his mother Myra head to Muskoka to regroup and decide what to do about the act.

While in Muskoka, Billy and his mother learn about The Hart Sisters act that has had to stop performing due to one of the sisters becoming pregnant. Billy’s mother wants him to team up with Lucinda to create a new act and get back on the road. However, Lucinda is strictly a singer, and at first Billy doesn’t see the potential in working with a singer, but they, along with Lucinda’s sister Norma come up with a routine that they feel audiences will enjoy: Lucinda will sing (and be the ‘straight man’) while Billy acts the lovesick fool all around her. With Billy’s mother Myra in tow as chaperone, they go back on the road as Pascoe & Hart and refine the act to the point where they eventually become well-known across the vaudeville stages of North America.

On the surface, Like Any Other Monday may appear like a love story, but it is so much deeper than that. Billy and Lucinda, while working together out of sheer necessity, have no intentions of becoming more than that. However, after months of travelling together, doing the same act multiple times per day, several days per week, a romantic relationship emerges. Each has seen the other at their most vulnerable (chapter eight, “Diving” relates a chance encounter between Billy and Lucinda while in Muskoka that is very emotionally charged) so there is more than a working friendship there. What happens next is up to the reader to discover. I promised Ms. Brennan that I would not give out any spoilers (not that I would anyway!) so that is all I will say for the story itself! I enjoyed reading every page of it and have awarded it with a 2015 “Very Best!” Book Award for fiction.

The Binnie Brennan Interview

The author graciously agreed to an interview in which she reveals the basis for the Like any Other Monday’s (LAOM) setting, her literary influences and much more.

Miramichi Reader: Like Any Other Monday is loosely based on the life of vaudeville and early silver screen legend Buster Keaton. Where did the idea come from?

Binnie Brennan: Writing a fictional portrait of Buster Keaton took me by surprise, really. I hadn’t entertained the thought of writing historical or biographical fiction at all, but after reading Marina Endicott’s novel The Little Shadows I found myself immersed in the vaudeville era. From there came a three-year research odyssey on the early life of Buster Keaton, during which I wrote essays, prose-poetry inspired by Keaton’s short films, fictional vignettes about his childhood performances on the vaudeville stage, and finally a short story about two un-named vaudevillians breaking in a new act. I made a research trip to the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills, California, where I had access to all manner of Buster Keaton’s papers, diaries, autograph books, and photo albums from his vaudeville years; a treasure-trove, really inspiring. Shortly afterwards I had another look at the short story I’d written, and decided to expand on it. From there came the novel. (That short story is now Chapter 13, by the way.)

MR: You have incorporated some interesting literary devices such as in your chapter changes, like “Snapshots” and the various newspaper reviews and theatre bills which I thought lent some authenticity to the book. Did you ‘invent’ the other acts on the bill as well as the newspaper columns?

BB: It made sense to include the “Snapshots”, reviews, and theatre bills as chapters in their own right. They gave a vaudevillian feel to the book, but also (I hope) they served to move the story along. Certainly the Snapshots contained within themselves a story arc. Most of the names on the various bills were actual vaudevillians I’d read about, although I fiddled with them to shape the programs to Billy and Lucinda’s needs.

One of the reasons why I wrote the book was to remind people today of these great performers who did so much to shape popular entertainment as we know it. I wonder how many readers know that Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Bob Hope had their beginnings in vaudeville; Charlie Chaplin, too. And they were the superstars. Between 1885-1925, every night across North America at least 40,000 performers took to the vaudeville stage, and most of them are now lost to history. By including their names in my story, I hope to keep them around just a little bit longer.

MR: Let’s talk about the backstage experiences in LAOM: the way you describe them, one can almost sense the commotion, the smells, and the pre-show excitement. Is this something you have taken from your own experiences as a performer with Symphony Nova Scotia?

BB: Yes, very much so. That sense of waiting in the wings and preparing to go onstage comes directly from my own experience, the mind-games and rituals that help performers along. Usually backstage during symphony concerts there is an ordered sense of calm, as we are blessed with really fine stage managers who keep things running smoothly and efficiently. But there is most definitely a heightened sense of awareness and focus among the musicians as we get ready to go on.

I’ve often been asked if I’d ever write a story about playing in an orchestra, and my answer is always a resounding “no” – too close to my own experience, and it’s something I’ve been doing for so long I wouldn’t find it particularly interesting to write about. But I was interested in writing about performance, which I think is what most people are curious to know about, anyway. The world of vaudeville, the era, and the performance demands fascinated me, particularly the life offstage.

MR: This book felt like a movie that could have been made in the golden age of Hollywood. I don’t think that there have been any movies dealing with that time period have there? Perhaps you have started something!

BB: First of all, let me say thank you for picking up on the cinematic “feel” of the book. I’ve watched a lot of silent movies over the past few years – not just Buster Keaton’s, but many of his contemporaries’ movies from the ‘teens and ‘twenties, such as Roscoe Arbuckle, Harold Lloyd, Harry Langdon, and Charlie Chaplin, all of them enormously popular comedians of the silent era. I guess the shape and feel of a silent movie rubbed off on me, and my novel seemed ideal for that style of storytelling. I’ve learned, especially from Keaton, a lot about streamlining and minimalism, which is something I’ve always tried to achieve in my writing.

There haven’t been many movies made recently to do with the vaudeville era – a couple of Houdini bio-pics, and of course there was the silent movie “The Artist,” which was set in the late 1920s, and won the Academy Award in 2011. Over time there have been some great ones, notably “Cabaret” and “Singin’ in the Rain,” both of which take place later in time than does Like Any Other Monday, which is set in 1917. I like to think the time is right for a revival in interest in the vaudeville era, and if my book helps that along, then I feel I’ve done my job.

MR: It seems like you have the best of both worlds: music and writing. How do you find time to practise for the symphony and write too?

BB: I’m fortunate to be able to pursue two of my favourite creative endeavours. I’ve been a musician for as long as I’ve been an avid reader and maker-upper of stories, and to be able to carry them both through my professional life is a real gift.

It isn’t always easy to do both at once, so I just try to keep organized and a few steps ahead of myself. In the case of Like Any Other Monday, I wrote the first draft during an intensely busy time at work, smack in the middle of “Nutcracker” season. There was no stopping it, and I didn’t particularly want to stop it, but something had to give. In this case it was sleep.

MR: Tell us about some writers that inspired or influenced you.

BB: Margaret Laurence and Alistair MacLeod have been enormous influences on me. I started reading Laurence’s fiction when I was twelve years old; she was the first author to show me that you could write about ordinary people and render their lives extraordinary through great writing. MacLeod came along later. He was truly one of the great storytellers, and I had the immense good fortune to have him as a mentor through the Humber School for Writers.

MR: Who are some of your favourite composers? Other than classical music, do you enjoy other genres as well?

BB: How much time do we have? I find it impossible to narrow it down, but usually my favourite classical composer is whoever I’m listening to at the time. As for other genres, my first choice for listening is usually jazz. I feel very much at home with it.

MR: How about your favourite filmmakers? And favourite movie?

BB: Buster Keaton, hands-down. I wonder how many people today know that not only was he a superstar film comedian of the silent era, but he was also the director, chief gag-writer, and stunt man for all the films he made between 1920-1928 at the Buster Keaton Studios. Keaton was a technical wizard and a master stunt-man, and he brought about some of the most innovative and influential camera and stunt techniques of the era; and his sensitive eye for direction and pared-down storytelling have influenced filmmakers ever since. As an actor, Buster’s style was understated and natural, and his comedy was dry and unsentimental, which is my personal preference.

Choosing a favourite movie of his is like choosing a favourite piece of music – nearly impossible. Usually it’s whatever I’m watching at the time, but of Keaton’s short films, I would say “One Week” and “The Scarecrow,” and of his feature films, “Sherlock, Jr” and “The General.”

MR: What is next? Are you working on something new at the moment?

BB: A couple of things: I have a novel out being considered – nothing to do with the vaudeville era or Buster Keaton; it’s set in the 1960s during the Thalidomide crisis. And I’m writing something new, to do with family stories (not mine – pure fiction) and the reality of thwarted ambition that so many of our foremothers (and fathers) have had to face. I thought it might be another short story, but it’s just crossed the 90-page mark, which is rather long. It’s a long way from being finished, still in its infancy.

Thanks, Binnie!


Binnie Brennan is the author of three books of fiction, Like Any Other Monday (Gaspereau Press), A Certain Grace and Harbour View (both Quattro Books).

Co-winner of the 2009 Quattro Books’ Ken Klonsky Novella Contest, Binnie has also been published in several literary journals. Her novella, Harbour View, was published in the fall of 2009; in 2010 it was shortlisted for an Atlantic Book Award and longlisted for a ReLit Award. Her short story collection, A Certain Grace, was published in 2012. Binnie is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers, where she was mentored by M.G. Vassanji and Alistair MacLeod.

In 2007 Binnie’s story A Spider’s Tale was adapted for the stage in Halifax, where it received critical and popular acclaim. Since 1989 Binnie has enjoyed a career playing the viola with Symphony Nova Scotia. She lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Links for Binnie Brennan:
Facebook
Website

This article has been Digiproved © 2015 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Danila Botha Interview

Danila Botha is a rising young author who was born in South Africa, but now resides in Toronto. She recently released her first novel “Too Much on the Inside” (2015, Quattro) which was reviewed here. I called it: “….an impressive first novel from this young, energetic author”.

Her energy, love of life and reading are evident in the interview that follows.

Miramichi Reader: Danila, some of the characters in Too Much on the Inside come from South Africa, Israel and Nova Scotia, all places that you have spent time in. Is there a little bit of ‘you’ in each character? What makes them so real?

Danila Botha: That’s a great question. First of all, I’m glad that you think they seem so real. That’s a really nice thing to hear. It’s funny: I was trying so hard to make the voices sound different and authentic (especially getting the dialogue right) that I tried hard not to make them sound like me! And their life experiences are very different to mine (which made the writing and research processes really interesting).

But you’re right, of course, South Africa, Israel and Nova Scotia are places I’ve spent time in, and some of the characters observations about things I’m sure are ‘me.’

There’s a little bit of my taste in all of the characters (in taste in music, from what Marlize and Nicki listen to, to Dez’s t-shirts, to Dez and Nicki’s takes on feminism, Nicki’s love of graffiti and Etgar Keret, Lukas’ girlfriends love of eighties kitsch, etc) There’s also ‘me’ in their deep love of Queen St, and of Toronto (and in Marlize’s love of Obs in Cape Town, and Camps Bay and in Nicki’s love of Florentine in Tel Aviv) I think probably in terms of the characters themselves, the thing that is most ‘me’ about them is their complete belief in love and in the importance of trying, regardless of the consequences.

MR: One of the things I really found fresh about Too Much on the Inside was the way in which you told the story, with no chapters, but with each character heading up a narrative. In my review, I mentioned that, as a reader, I felt like a psychiatrist or, at times like a priest hearing confession. How did you come to develop that style of writing?

DB: I really like these questions!  It’s such an interesting thing to hear, that you felt like a priest or a psychiatrist! I’m really glad it felt so intimate and so real.

I was very much influenced by two books in terms of the style and format of Too Much on the Inside. One was the South African writer K Sello Duiker’s book The Quiet Violence of Dreams, and the other was Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad. The Quiet Violence of Dreams was set in Cape Town, and had a huge, rotating cast of first person narrators. I was struck by how incredibly authentic and real the character’s voices were- and how fearless he was with both the novel format and the subject matter (I highly recommend the book, it’s fantastic, as well his first book, Thirteen Cents) Jennifer Egan’s writing is always precise, nuanced and wonderful. I loved her format for the Goon Squad (and it was reassuring to know that it was done so beautifully by the time I was halfway through writing this book).

I try to always write from a place of empathy and from being able to imagine how it would feel to experience certain things- but even more so- how the characters would be able to go on afterwards. That was the main thing I was trying to explore.

MR: Tell us about your time in Canada, both in Halifax and now in Toronto. What did you find different about Canada? Did you like living on the east coast?

DB: I moved to Toronto when I was much younger, with my family. I always loved the multicultural aspects of Toronto, and always wanted to write about that (from the food to festivals, to friends who were born and have lived everywhere) I also love the artist communities and music scenes and the writing community here. In a lot of ways, I feel like Toronto, and even Queen Street itself was the fifth character in Too Much on the Inside. The mix of grit and glitter is something I still really love.

I really loved living in Halifax. I loved how clean the air was, how amazing it was to be surrounded by the ocean, how friendly the people were. I also loved the writing and arts scenes, and how supportive people are of their local community. It’s a wonderful place, too. I’m excited to be reading there and in New Brunswick in August.(2015)

MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors that influenced you to become a writer.

DB: I really love talking about this. There are so many. (MR: Warning! She’s not kidding!)

The first book I remember being moved deeply by was Rian Malan’s My Traitor’s Heart, when I was about thirteen. It’s a beautifully written memoir about his deeply mixed feelings about being South African. It’s honest on so many levels.  I remember discussing it with my dad, and when he described the book as subversive, I suddenly had a new understanding of what a book could be.

My late grandfather bought me tons of my books, including the poet Rene Bohnen’s Spoorsny (absolutely beautiful) and JM Coetzee’s Disgrace, and Youth. In both cases, I remember studying his style and being incredibly impressed by how precise the language was.

In high school, my English teacher told me that I would love J.D Salinger’s the Catcher in the Rye. I couldn’t believe that a book written in the fifties could feel so contemporary and relevant. Later, in my early twenties, I read Franny and Zooey, and something really clicked. It was early on in the book, when Franny says “I wish I had the courage to be an absolute nobody” I thought wow, I really want to write so I can express and explore these kinds of things.

I also remember feeling that way the first time I read Bukowski, specifically his collection of poetry Love is a Dog From Hell. I used to have a t-shirt with a picture of Bukowksi that said “These words I write keep me from total madness”

When I was studying Creative Writing at York, I was lucky enough to get to hear amazing writers come and read to my class. Camilla Gibb was one of them.  Her first two books, Mouthing the Words and The Petty Details of So and So’s Life are an incredible blend of tragedy and humour and sophisticated writing.

Heather O’Neill is a huge influence. I read her first collection of poetry, Two Eyes Are You Sleeping, and an amazing short story of hers (still my favourite) called I Know Angelo. I remember a huge mental shift happening – like, I can do this! I can find my voice as a writer. I was just dazzled by her talent, her imagery, her sense of humour the beauty and the grittiness and honesty (and I still am) The Girl Who Was Saturday Night is one of the best books I have ever read. Her new collection of short stories the Daydreams of Angels is pretty spectacular too)

Zoe Whittall is another significant influence. Zoe’s first book is a collection of poetry called The Best Ten Minutes of Your Life. It had this freshness, this openness, this honesty, and this humour about it too. She’s so talented. I love all of her collections of poetry (the Emily Valentine poems has one of my favourite poems of all time in it) and I love her novels. Both Bottle Rocket Hearts and Holding Still for As Long As Possible are wonderful.

Lynn Crosbie’s book Liar is absolutely incredible. It’s so achingly beautiful and sad and fearless and incredibly vulnerable and insightful. It’s the best book about a relationship falling apart that I have ever read (and the fact that it’s written as a very long poem, but is a novel… her mastery of the form is unbelievable) I love that all of her books are fearless like that- from Queen Rat to VillainElle to her novels. Her latest novel, Where Did you Sleep Last Night, is amazing too.

On the subject of relationships, I really love Hanif Kureishi’s writing. I love his novel Intimacy, and his short story collection Love in a Blue Time. I also love the way Russell Smith writes, especially in Girl Crazy and Confidence. Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her is another favourite.

Michael Christie’s short story collection The Beggar’s Garden was just amazing. I read it just after my first book came out. His physical descriptions of the grit of Vancouver’s east downtown, mixed with deep emotion and humanity. They’re just so beautifully written.

I also love Rawi Hage’s Cockroach and De Niro’s Game.

David Bezmosgis’s collection Natasha and other stories is amazing. I love his descriptions of life at Bathurst and Steeles. Also, Neil Smith’s collection Bang Crunch (and his new book Boo.)

I also really love Allison Pick’s Far to Go– her images are so poetic and beautiful.

I’ve always loved Israeli writing. I remember discussing Amos Oz with my aunt in Israel as a teenager. I love Etgar Keret’s writing so much I referenced it in Too Much on the Inside (Nicki is reading one of his short stories when she goes to meet Alon at the end of the book) I also love Eshkol Nevo, especially his novel Homesick, and I love Zeruya Shalev’s novel Love Life.

There’s more I could add but I should probably stop here! 🙂

MR: That’s quite a list! It is evident that you love to read. I also want to ask: are there any up and coming authors that impress you?

DB: There are many amazing up and coming authors I like.

Richard Rosenbaum, who has published a great novella last year with Quattro and a book of non-fiction has his first novel coming out next year. It’s amazing- it reminds me of the House of Leaves. I can’t wait to read it again 🙂

Jess Taylor has her first collection of short stories coming out in the fall, and I can’t wait to read it.  I just read that Ashley Elizabeth Best has her first collection of poetry coming out, which is exciting. And she’s more than up and coming but I’m really excited for Lisa de Nikolits’ new novel Between the Cracks She Fell. Oh, also really looking forward to Liz Worth’s new collection of poetry, and Jowita Bydlowska’s new book, her first novel, next spring. I really love the way she writes.

MR: Finally, what is next for Danila Botha? Another novel? A book of short stories?

DB: Both! I have a collection of short stories, called For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known, that will be published in Fall 2016. I’m very excited about it.

I’m currently working on a new novel. I’ve been writing and thinking and researching for the last year. I can’t tell you too much yet (because through the writing and editing process things can change so much that it may no longer be true by the time it’s out) but I’m really enjoying writing it.

I want to work on a graphic novel after that. And possibly, a first collection of poetry.

Thanks Danila!

Danila’s website: http://danilabotha.com/
Her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/danilabothawriter

This article has been Digiproved © 2015 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Raymond Fraser Interview

Raymond Fraser is a Canadian author of novels, biographies as well as poetry. In 2012 he was made a member of the Order of New Brunswick for his contributions to literature and New Brunswick’s cultural life. He has also received the Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for High Achievement in the Arts for English Language Literary Arts. His most recent novel is Seasons of Discontent (reviewed here). Ray presently lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He recently agreed to take some time out from writing to answer some questions for The Miramichi Reader.

Miramichi Reader: Tell us about some of the books or authors that influenced you to become a writer.

Ray Fraser: That would have to go back pretty far. I guess you’d have to start with the Uncle Remus’s tales of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox and so on by Joel Chandler Harris, and the various animal stories by Thornton W Burgess; those and other children’s books that were read to me as a wee lad. And Alice In Wonderland and Lassie Come Home. It would be a long list by the time I got to the end of it. In a book of mine called When The World Was Flat I wrote a piece titled “My Ten Favourite Books” which turned out to be not ten but over a hundred. And that wasn’t mentioning my favourites when I was a young fellow and read the whole Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series, as well as whatever other boys’ books I could find. There was a small library at the grade school I attended, St Michael’s, and I must have read everything in there that was of interest to a boy. Then there were books my sisters had at home, like Heidi and Black Beauty and Swiss Family Robinson. And some of my father’s, like a story collection by Damon Runyon. And countless comic books (funny-books as we called them). And I listened to stories on the radio (I loved stories whether spoken or written), weekly shows like the Damon Runyon Theatre, Bold Venture, The Shadow, Amos ‘n Andy, The Great Gildersleeve, Our Miss Brooks, the Lone Ranger . . . In my mid-to-late teenage years I read John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce and Sinclair Lewis and Erskine Caldwell and John Dos Passos and James Farrell and Somerset Maugham; everything I could lay my hands on. At that time books weren’t that readily available in Chatham [New Brunswick], so a lot of lending among friends went on. The only public library was in the Old Manse in Newcastle [across the river from Chatham] and I hitchhiked there quite a lot for a supply. But to answer the question, it wasn’t any particular book or books that inspired me to take up writing. It was an evolving thing, beginning with the first child’s book I had read to me and on from there.

MR: Do you use the Public Library System?

RF: I do, if they have what I’m looking for. I don’t read as much each day as I used to (I spend far more time writing than reading), so if I borrow a thick book I generally have to renew it several times.

MR: Do you have a favourite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?

RF: I don’t normally re-read books, unless after a great deal of time has passed. The only exceptions were Alice In Wonderland and Huckleberry Finn. There was a time in my teens when I read Huckleberry Finn once a year for three or four years. I tried it again recently, but I’m afraid I wore it out, because it rather let me down this last time, probably because I was too familiar with it. Sometimes just a second reading doesn’t pay off, for example Samuel Butler’s The Way of All Flesh. I listed it in the aforementioned “Favourite Books” essay, but then I picked it up last year and tried it and found it bloody awful. I can’t believe I ever liked it. I think I must have died and been born again and am now a different person from what I was then.

MR: Do you have an eReader? If so, what are your thoughts regarding them? (Pros/cons)

RF: A year or so ago I bought an e-tablet, if that’s the word for it, mainly if not entirely because I wanted the camera it contained so I could take pictures and copy them to my computer. However, there were some old classic books I wanted to read or re-read but couldn’t find in the normal way, but which were available for free as e-books on the internet, so I grabbed a bunch. I tried reading one in a coffee house but couldn’t see the print for the overhead lights reflecting on the screen, and so decided it wasn’t for me. But then we had a power outage and I discovered there are no reflections from lights when there are no lights on. I started reading (re-reading) Dostoyevsky’s “The Possessed” to help get the time in, and got a good start on it, and next day went to the Fredericton Library (see question 2) for a real copy which I finished after several renewals. Then one day I ran out of paper books to read, and with nothing to lose tried an e-book over lunch at home. It was daytime, but without overhead or back-lighting and away from all windows the screen worked fine, with no reflections. In fact it was more convenient for reading while eating than a real book, since I didn’t have to clamp the pages back with a clothes pin or similar device every time I turned a page but just gave the screen a swipe with my little finger. But for all that, I’m still loyal to the old-time books, I take a real book out in the evenings to read while having a tea, and I’d never want to see them replaced, not the good ones, above all not the ones I’ve written.

MR: It is well-known that Pierre Berton used a typewriter right up until the end, refusing to switch over to a computer. What about you? Did you find the transition to a PC easy? (I assume you use one for writing).

RF: I had no trouble there, a computer keyboard and a typewriter keyboard aren’t much different; you hit the keys of the former less hard than the latter is all. The computer itself took some learning, but I bought a book on the amazing WordPerfect 5.1 (it was in 1991) and soon caught on. As a way of practising I wrote some stories, including a partial first draft of my short novel Repentance Vale.

MR: Are there any up and coming authors that impress you?

None I know of, but that means nothing, since I haven’t been keeping up with them. There are far too many people writing (and publishing books) these days to have the time to check them out. I’m sure in one way it’s no different from any other era, in that very few will have exceptional talent. It would be nice to know some do, but you’d have to sift through tens of thousands to find them. My old friend Henry Miller (well, I talked to him once, in 1969) when I mentioned there were lot more people writing at that time than in the forties and fifties, replied, “Too many!” I wonder what he’d think today! There might be more people writing in Fredericton now than there were in all of Canada back then. It’s right up there with golf as a thriving recreation.

Right now I’m reading “The Forty-Five” by Alexander Dumas (very good), and Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes” (largely uneventful, but picking up towards the end), authors who are a bit past the up-and-comer stage. Of the unnoticed, I enjoy Robert Markland Smith’s work, but he’s 67 so maybe he doesn’t qualify either.

MR: What’s the worst thing a critic or a reviewer ever said about one of your books?

RF: It goes without saying that no critic worth his salt has ever said anything bad about my books. As for the others, the comments they made stemmed either from malicious envy, petty ambition, or pure stupidity; or a combination of these. It’s not wise to keep that kind of rot fouling up the atmosphere of your mind, so the thing to do – and what I do – is kick it down the stairs and forget about it.

MR: You have done two biographies so far (The Fighting Fisherman: The Life of Yvon Durelle and Todd Matchett: Confessions of a Young Criminal); do you plan to do any others?

RF: No more biographies. I have neither the time nor the inclination. I’m already, in my novels and stories, writing about the people I want to write about, and think them quite as interesting as the famous or infamous of the world. That’s only my impartial opinion, of course, but since it’s impartial it’s entirely reliable.

This article has been Digiproved © 2015-2018 James FisherSome Rights Reserved