Lisa de Nikolits's Blog: A Writer's Life

January 5, 2021

The Three B's of 2021

When Covid-19 first hit and we were all sent to work from home, we had no idea what was in store. We all chatted about being given time to reflect, to work in quiet solitude and peace and regroup. We all thought we'd have more time to think.

What ensued was the opposite of peace. WFH turned out to be a frenzy of online activity, learning new skills and adapting to the new norm of muting our mics, rearranging our workspaces and realizing that our office chairs were indeed ergonomic.

Schools shut down, the U.S. election circus upped the madness and 2020 snowballed us all along in various forms of unexpected madness.

This led to the first B of 2021 – burnout. Digital burnout and zoom fatigue brought on by endless hours on our computers, scrambling to surf the waves of communication and keep our heads above water. We all ended up doing way more hours rather than less and it seemed there was no respite.

And then there was the loss. We all experienced a shocking terrible loss and for the Inanna family, it was our Editor-in-Chief, Inanna Publications (19 February, 1958 – 14 December, 2020): Luciana Ricciutelli.

As posted by Inanna Publications: "Luciana was a fierce force for women’s rights and empowerment and social change. She worked tirelessly for Inanna for 28 of our 42-year herstory in her role as Editor-in-Chief. Luciana spearheaded the development of Inanna’s book publishing program in 1996 and the launch of the poetry and fiction series in 2004. She was also key in the editing and production of our feminist journal, Canadian Woman Studies/Les cahiers de la femmes, and had over 30 years experience working with charitable organizations. Over the years, Luciana took leadership roles on boards and committees in and outside of the publishing world to bolster women’s lives, support independent presses, and to help affect positive change in the world.

There are really no words to express this tremendous loss. Luciana was not only a brilliant editor and publisher. She nurtured writers with the same care, encouragement, and concern she did for her family and closest friends. Luciana’s accomplishments are innumerable. And her impact on Inanna Publications is immeasurable. Her greatest wish was for Inanna to grow and continue to thrive far into the future. Our Inanna community meant the world to her. She was one of a kind, and we are so proud to be entrusted to carry on her crucial work and honour her enduring legacy."

I worked with Luciana for over eleven years. She was not only my editor and publisher but my friend, mentor and, as I often told her, my angel. The loss of Luciana has hit hard and I am still trying to process this loss. Which is the second B of 2021. Bereavement.

There were wins in 2020 and topping my list was the publication of The Rage Room, my tenth book, and one of the true loves of my life. Writing has always saved my sanity and pouring my heart and soul into The Rage Room (and the production and promotion thereof) was a real high of 2020.

But what's up next? This leads to the third B of 2021: Book Goals.

I have a book scheduled for 2022 with Inanna, Mad Dog and the Sea Dragon and since I wrote this a few published books ago, I'll need to rewrite it. I see so much progress with my writing from book to book and I know I'll want to resculpt and edit this book substantially.

I also want to write a sequel to The Rage Room. It's buzzing around my head like a noisy fly and I want to see if there's anything there.

Ideas for books are a dime a dozen and this might well end up being no more than that, an idea. But I have to take the time to explore it fully.

I am looking forward to the audio book of The Rage Room as well as doing events related to that book.

But, given the three B's of 2021, I need an action plan. And not so much an action plan as a me-plan. Action sounds too aggressive right now – I'm tired and I'm sad and I feel quite digitally depleted.

To this end, I've drawn up a schedule to help me do all these things but I do plan to do them in a quieter fashion – less social media, more reading, more yoga, more writing, meditating, breathing, walking and yes, reflecting.

I don't know about you but I just can't do the craziness of 2020. We had no idea it was coming and we did the best we could but now, moving forward, I'm really hoping to manage things better.

I won't be doing The Minerva Reader this year (my review site) but I will be posting reviews here on Goodreads.

And dear Reader, the best way you can support authors is by reading their books and posting reviews.

If you visit you can purchase books for 30% off until 15th January with the coupon code Holiday20.

I wish you all a wonderful 2021 and I hope that your me-plans will work out well – we are all in this together and let's move forward with kindness and compassion – and a lot of great books!
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Published on January 05, 2021 06:37

December 4, 2020

Humble Beginnings, Big Dreams

Without doubt, this has been the craziest year, a year that really defies definition. As we near the start of 2021, I find myself reflecting not only on this year but on my life. I always feel as if I should be doing more and achieving more and I keep raising the bar of my life but if I think about it, I’m doing just fine and so I thought I’d share this post with you, to hopefully inspire you to believe that anything is possible, that life can be a thing of magic and adventure, even if that is hard to believe right now.

I was born in South Africa, in Johannesburg to be exact and when I was fourteen, my parents decided we needed to ‘get back the land’. So they moved us to a smallholding out in the middle of nowhere (a smallholding is a small patch of land, seven acres). We didn’t have running water or electricity and we lived in two rooms with concrete floors and corrugated iron ceilings and a window in each room. It was a wonderful, life-changing experience. My sister and I showered at our convent school in the swimming pool changing rooms and I still remember those cold damp floors – there were always puddles of water on the floor and the changing rooms were always freezing even in the middle of summer! Of course, having lived in Canada for over 20 years now, I’m pretty sure my definition of freezing would be quite different these days and I’d most likely find it quite lovely and warm!

My sister and I had a very wonderful upbringing with ponies and a couple of sheep and lots of dogs and cats. It wasn’t luxurious at all but very down-to-earth life and I remember begging my sister to feed my horse in the morning as I hated getting out of bed and mixing horse food in the dark! We lived about an hour out of town and my Mom drove us to work and we always had the radio blasting. It was the 70’s and 80’s and we all loved the same music. That was around the time music videos started and we loved watching them together and singing and dancing.

Having unconventional parents always gave me the courage to do things others might not and my parents have always been extremely supportive of my writing. I was born to write and I always knew I was a writer, it was a given however I truly did not imagine that the road would have been such a long and winding one! English was the only subject at school that I treated with any respect (I was not a good student, often reprimanded for day dreaming.) I got A’s in English and solid C’s for everything else!

I've had insomnia since I can remember so my Mom taught me to read when I was super young (I can’t remember the exact age) and I would sit up reading late into the night while the rest of the family slept. Mom said she couldn’t afford to keep me in books and she asked me to try to read more slowly but I just speeded up!

When I was twelve, I spent a lot of time trying to think of a pseudonym (believing Lisa de Nikolits was too complicated a name) and Elizabeth Deane was my favorite. But then somehow, I just stuck with Lisa de Nikolits which has proved problematic! De Nikolits is a Hungarian name and I love it. It’s very easy to pronounce really – dee nick oh lits – but invariably it gets pretty tangled.

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t write. If there’s one thing I wish, it was that we’d had creative writing programs in South Africa. I studied English Literature and I tried to find writing workshops and whenever I did, the comments were positive but I know my writing journey would been easier if I’d attended any of the writing programs on offer today.

I left South Africa when I was 34 and moved to Sydney, Australia. I never intended to leave South Africa but I’m a magazine designer by trade and my sister told me there were so many magazines in Australia and she was right. And to work for Vogue! It was an amazing experience.

I lived there for two years but decided Australia wasn’t for me and I came to Canada on a whim on a round-the-world ticket and I never made it to the second stop and I’ve been here 20 years now. My entire life has been one blessed adventure after another. I’ve chosen a lot of my adventures like going to the Great Wall of China (and nearly dying of fright taking the one-bar antiquated chair lift across a gorge the size of the Grand Canyon, I kid you not) and indulging my love of abandoned places (which led to the writing of Between The Cracks She Fell).

I really miss the smell of the African dust and the African sky. There’s nothing quite like it. The sky feels so close. I recall remarking (when I came to Canada) that the sky was so far away (an odd thing I know but true!). African sunsets are just amazing and I really hope I can go back one day.

People often ask me if I see writing as a career. I don’t. I see it as a joy, a beloved vocation and my participation isn’t by by choice. I’ve never liked the word career as it sounds so mercenary and planned. You can’t plan writing, or the success of failure thereof. Writing is like a relationship with massive ups and downs. It can be kind one moment and extremely cruel the next. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a negative codependent relationship but really, there’s no choice. I don’t think you choose to be a writer but you can choose whether or not you actually write.
The writing part takes tremendous discipline and focus and you have to have a very thick skin because it can be brutal in terms of rejections and reviews. You also have to be tenacious and have the stamina of a long-distance runner. If you’re in it for a quick turnaround, then it’s the wrong game for you. I try not to look at the bigger picture or wonder how I’m doing. I just focus on the job of writing, the actual slog of crafting sentences and stories and try not to think about the rest. I’m like a blinkered horse in a long distance race – I just try my best to keep moving forward and not worrying about who’s running in front of me or next to me.

My advise to aspiring writers would be to find a reputable mentor or writing program very early on. Even if it takes a bit longer to get to where you want to go, you’ll be more assured of reaching your writing goals. Don’t spend too much time online reading writing advice – write instead! Try to run a blinkered race, in other words, just focus on your work, try not to be daunted by what you see others doing. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other – you get the idea!

But if I think back to my younger self with long geeky braids trotting around on my shortsighted little pony called Lloyd (and he really was shortsighted but so was I and no one knew at the time!), I really can see that life is a place of magic and wonder. To have travelled around the world and had so many adventures and, most importantly, to have published ten books, well, one has to believe that anything is possible. We will get through this time of great trial and the adventures will resume.

In the meantime, I take my hat off to all the parents and the nurses and front line workers. The real heroes in this world aren’t the big screen stars of this world but the people who do shift work and keep our world running, doing two jobs to support their families or look after ill family members and sacrifice so much for their loved ones. If I could, I’d try to give every person the chance to make their dreams come true – it’s a big dream I know but every person has their own unique special talents and I’d try to give them an opportunity to shine. Imagine a world in which we all did what we loved and were recognized for it. It would be such a wonderful, positive experience for everyone.

Let’s get through this time of Covid and try to help make one another’s dreams come true!
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Published on December 04, 2020 12:38

July 25, 2020

Guest Post by Author Lisa Braxton

I'd like to welcome Author Lisa Braxton and her guest post, The Diversity Gap in Publishing.

The Diversity Gap in Publishing.
I am new to the publishing world, my debut novel, The Talking Drum was published at the end of May, and I didn’t have a sense of the publishing landscape in terms of the value placed on works by black versus non-black authors. That is, until the arrival of the hashtag #PublishingPaidMe. The hashtag was created by the fantasy novelist L.L. McKinney to highlight the disparities.

I now know that black authors have been having these conversations for quite some time. The conversations picked up speed and drew more attention from the public in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests throughout the United States and other parts of the world regarding police brutality and racial injustice in general.

As an author who is African American, the threads of conversation under the hashtag drew my interest. I followed the tweets closely. Black and non-black authors disclosed the amounts paid for their book advances. The disparities were stunning.

I researched further and came across the Lee & Low Books Diversity Baseline Survey. Lee & Low is the largest multicultural children’s book publisher in the United States. Their 2019 survey—an update and expansion from the 2015 survey—captured information from a large segment of the publishing landscape with all Big 5 publishers participating, all major review journals, and academic presses and literary agencies.

The survey found that overall, the publishing industry is 76% white, 5% black, 6% Latinx, and 7% Asian. Editorial staffs are 85% white, 1% black, 2% Latinx, and 5% Asian. Marketing and publicity departments are 74% white, 4% black, 5% Latinx, and 8% Asian.

I was particularly interested in the findings about book reviewers, being a book reviewer myself and having had my book reviewed by upwards of 40 reviewers during my book launch. I know the impact reviews can have on book sales and publicity. The survey found that among book reviewers 80% are white, 4% black, 3% Latinx, and 4% Asian.

Needless to say, the people behind the books serve as gatekeepers, who can make a huge difference in determining which stories are amplified and which are shut out. If the people who work in publishing are not a diverse group, how can diverse voices truly be represented in its books? The survey found that 71 % of African American fiction is sold by indie and self-published authors. Sales figures show that these books are selling, there is a market for them, but the Big 5 publishers— Penguin/Random House, Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster, and Macmillan—largely ignore them.

It took me 10 years to get my novel published. I have no idea if biases or prejudice had anything to do with the length of my journey. Along the way I got great feedback from literary agents and editors who helped me make the novel better. When I finally got a contract, it was from a small press in Toronto, a women’s press that has the mission of publishing women of all backgrounds.

I wonder if I’ll face similar challenges with my second novel. If I acquire a literary agent, will the agent be unable to sell my book to a major publisher? Will I be shut out because of race?

In this era in which reading lists are popping up on the internet urging the public to read black authors, buy black books, and support black-owned and operated bookstores, there also needs to be an outcry over the lack of diversity in the publishing world and the pay disparities between black authors and white authors and between black authors and other authors of color. Unless the publishing industry is held accountable, improvements will not be made.

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Published on July 25, 2020 10:17

June 7, 2020

Interview With An Author Featuring Lesley Strutt

A big thank you, dear Reader, for enjoying this Interview With An Author series. I need to step away for a bit to focus on my own writing projects and to prepare for my forthcoming novel, The Rage Room. I truly hope you will pick up a copy of each of the books featured on Interview With An Author and I hope you will enjoy this wonderful interview with Lesley Strutt.

A bit about Lesley Strutt: Lesley Strutt is a prize-winning poet, playwright, essayist, and a blogger, with a PhD in Linguistics from McGill University in Montreal. She is the descendant of William Pittman Lett, a pre-confederation poet who was known as the Bard of Bytown before Bytown was named Ottawa in 1854. In 2002-2003, she sailed a 32-foor Hunter from Lake Ontario to the Turks and Caicos, then spent the winter sailing around all the islands in the Bahamas.

Thank you for joining me today! Tell us about yourself and how you became an author.
I am the descendent of William Pitman Lett, known as the Bard of Bytown. He was the city councillor for Bytown and first city councillor of Ottawa after Bytown was renamed. He wrote obituaries in rhyme for people he felt were worth the effort. It was a great privilege to be written up by him in those days. He is the author of Lett’s Bytown, a history of Bytown written in poetry. So, in some way I feel I was destined to be a writer. However, a more honest influence would have been my mother who loved literature, especially poetry, and passed this love on to me. No other members of our little clan were quite so taken by her recitations and rambles as I was.

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
I was a teenager living in Spain for a short while during Franco’s reign. In those days it was illegal to dance flamenco openly. Poets and artists attacked Franco slyly. I fell in love with Lorca and Machado. I returned to Canada with this buried deep inside me. Then in 2012 my husband and I stayed 2 weeks in Barcelona at an artists’ residence. There, I found myself haunted by the stories of the civil war that still abound. I put aside the manuscript I was working on and dove into the study of the history of our neighbourhood. I discovered that it is the setting of an important Catalan story written by Merce Rodoreda about an ordinary woman enduring the civil war. In 2014 and 2016 my husband and I returned to that same artists’ residence and I followed in the footsteps of Marchado as he trudged over the Pyrenees to the little town of Collioure, France where he died. I visited his grave. I read and reread everything Federico Garcia Lorca wrote, in Spanish and in English. I read Rodoreda in Catalan and English. Eventually that pilgrimage transformed into a narrative long poem that will be published by Inanna.

Tell us about your upcoming novel, The Gift (forthcoming, 2021, Inanna Publications). What inspired you to write this book?
I worked with programs such as Riding for the Disabled when I owned a horse in the UK (1990-1992). For many decades I was an avid sailor, and I helped out with the Able Sail program and the Mobility Cup races in Ottawa. I became very involved in advocating for greater accessibility for people in wheelchairs and started a small non-profit organization called the Mobility Access Awareness Group (MAAG) (2009-2015). We built projects to explore barriers in the built environment and raise awareness among able bodied people about the simple physical challenges of access to buildings if you are confined to a wheelchair. I partnered with students and professors (in the departments of Geography and Communications) at the University of Ottawa providing them with wheelchairs so they could experience these barriers firsthand. I met Rick Hansen who founded one of the most significant foundations in the world for addressing the issues around spinal cord injury. This book may have been brewing in the back of my mind for all these years. I’m no longer in an activist role with the MAAG, but I believe strongly in the importance of making the built environment more accessible to people in wheelchairs, and the best way I know how to do that is to build empathy and to create a desire in people to be more inclusive.

Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in The Gift?
The two main characters are Rose and Ruby, teenaged twin sisters. Rose is quiet, retiring, nerdy, while Ruby is wild, adventurous and irrepressibly expressive. Rose would happily spend all her time reading and visiting the library. She is shy and hardly socializes. Ruby is physically active, sporty, outgoing and extremely social. She demands to be included and her enthusiasm for life makes it easy to love her. Rose’s dream is to be a writer, and Ruby’s is to be an actor.

How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
I chose two characters who were deeply different and put them in a situation where they each react according to their character. The situation is a ski daytrip to Mont Tremblant in Quebec with a group of friends from school. There are rules laid down about where they can go, when they’ll meet up, etc. Of course, Rose follows all the rules, but Ruby escapes the group and goes off alone, hors-piste. Rose, being Ruby’s twin, knows immediately when things go desperately wrong and when the accident occurs that lands Ruby in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. The story unfolds from there – how they each cope with this new reality and evolve as courageous and stunningly beautiful young women.

What did you enjoy most about writing The Gift?
I loved getting to know these characters. This story, which is written as a novella, flowed very quickly onto the page. I write first in pen and then transcribe the pages into the computer, editing as I go. I could hardly keep up with the story – my pen flew across the paper. I was writing up to 5000 words a day sometimes. I’d like to add that the most difficult part of writing this book was living Ruby’s anguish of discovering that she would never walk again. I wrote that section while I myself was in hospital undergoing two stem-cell transplants for bone marrow cancer. I will never walk quite normally again, and I know how hard it was for me to face this. These two strong characters helped me express my anger, fear, and mute despair at being confronted with my new reality.

Thank you Dear Lesley, for this very wonderful and moving interview. Best Wishes with The Gift.
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Published on June 07, 2020 18:18

June 4, 2020

Interview With An Author Featuring Trevor Cole

I have the great pleasure of chatting with Trevor Cole today! I’m such a fan of Trevor’s work and I was thrilled to chat with him about The Whisky King which I recently reviewed on The Minerva Reader: “If a Weegee exhibit walked into a Martin Scorsese film you might well find The Whisky King. Coles’ charismatic writing and wry humour brings this the 1900’s life in Canada with effortless vividness and instantly creates a compelling and fascinating read.

How did you come up with the idea for The Whisky King?
I had lived for a decade in Hamilton, Rocco Perri's adopted home, and I've always been interested in the history of organized crime. But I had never really considered writing a book about any of it until my editor at HarperCollins came to me with the idea of combining the narrative of Rocco Perri, Canada's most famous bootlegger in the 1920s and '30s, with the story of Frank Zaneth, Canada's first undercover Mountie. I liked the idea of balancing the story of a criminal with the story of an upstanding citizen, both of them Italian immigrants at a time when Italians suffered a lot of discrimination.

The Whisky King is a work on non-fiction but you imbue it with wry humour and even, it seems to me, an affection for Rocco Perri. In a world riddled with really bad guys, he admittedly had a lot of charm! Can you comment?
I was initially daunted by the idea of doing a nonfiction book of popular history, and taking on the job of researching archives and capturing events that had happened a hundred years ago or more. But what drove me on was the idea of bringing the story to life as much as I could, using the skills I'd developed as a novelist. I wanted the story to be absolutely true, so I documented everything, especially all of the dialogue. But I also wanted it to really work as a story, one that readers would find hard to put down. I had so much great material to work with, I was committed to making the most of it. And yes, the more I researched Rocco and his time, the more charmed I was by him. Though he was a criminal, he was a better man than many. Many in Hamilton at the time loved him.

You mention all your research, including reading old microfilm documents. A lot of work clearly went into this book – how long did it take you to write, from the idea to the finished product?
I did about six months of intensive research to locate most of the material I needed and become familiar with as much of it as I could. Because I'd never done a book like this before I had to develop my own system for processing thousands of pages of documents, many of which I photographed, one at a time, at different archives. After those six months I started the writing process, but I had to keep digging for things along the way. I had the help of some very good researchers in Hamilton and Ottawa (where the Frank Zaneth documents were kept.)

Can you share one quirky writing habit with us?
I have a funny quirk around my writing posture. Not just the chair I'm sitting in, but what angle I'm sitting at. When I'm writing my novels, I tend to sit in a recliner, using a laptop and leaning back slightly. It feels intimate to me and allows me to get in touch with my characters. When I'm writing non-fiction, and when I'm editing my work, I sit at my desktop, using a more upright stance. It's the stance of work and adherence to facts. And it allowed me to use the two desktop screens I have, one for writing and one for archival documents.

Can you tell us a few of your most favourite recent reads?
I just finished Joe Kertes's new novel, Last Impressions, which I loved, and I am digging into Amanda Leduc's Disfigured, which is partly a memoir and partly a fascinating discussion of how fairy tales depict disability. I also dipped into my library recently and read Graham Greene's The Quiet American. I'm a big Greene fan.

What's next on the cards for you?
I'm at work on a new novel, which is taking me a long time! Every book is different, and this one has become very challenging. But I'm encouraged. Send good thoughts.

I have every faith in your next book and I really look forward to reading it! Thank you, Trevor, for chatting with me today!
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Published on June 04, 2020 18:46

Interview With An Author Featuring Katerina Fretwell

Today I’m delighted to chat with artist and poet Katerina Fretwell.

Welcome, Katerina! Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I love sounds, heard Mr Grunevagan grows rutabagas while I lived in Long Island. Dobbs Alumni Bulletin is profiling me for the Authors Corner and I answered lots ofsimiliar questions in the phone interview.

What is something unique/quirky about you?
I love long-haired cats and my current cat Henry, named after my ancestor Welsh Mystic bard HenryVaughan, is part Maine Coon cat.

Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
I've been to Russia and China!

What are some of your pet peeves?
People who talk on and on and on and ...

Where were you born/grew up at?
Born in New York City, grew up in above mentioned gentleman's farm in Long Island and then in Irvington, New York.

If you knew you'd die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
Cuddling Henry my cat, calling my daughter and friends, eating lobster and dark chocolate.

Who is your hero and why?
Malala for her global push for girls' education.

What kind of world ruler would you be?
Consensual like Audrey MacLaughlin.

What are you passionate about these days?
So many issues: climate crisis, inequality for women and many minorities, corrupt politicians, but we can't lose hope.

What do you do to unwind and relax?
Read mystery stories, i.e. Elizabeth George, Louise Penny ...

How to find time to write as a parent?
I put my daughter in French immersion for 3 hours every afternoon when she was 4. Now French teacher said she's best student he ever had.

Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
Creative, quirky, activist, feminist.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When first two books published by Fiddlehead Poetry in 1977 and 1979.

Do you have a favorite movie?

Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
My poetry book Shaking Hands with the Night, Pendas Productions 2004, re recovery from alcoholism

What inspired you to write We Are Malala?
It was inspired by her autobiography I Am Malala.

Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
Malala and I are both born in Cancer and both have families passionate about education. My grandfather donated Vaughan Memorial Library at Acadia U honouring my father who died at age 38.

Who designed your book covers?
I illustrate all my books and Inanna does great job in reproducing them.

Thank you very much for joining me today Dear Katerina! It was lovely chatting with you! Best Wishes with all your artistic endeavours! Readers, you can find out more about Katerina at
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Published on June 04, 2020 18:34

June 3, 2020

Interview With An Author Featuring Madona Skaff

Today I’m delighted to be chatting to fellow Madame of Mayhem, Madona Skaff, about her newest book, Death by Association. Welcome, Madonna and thank you for chatting with me today!

For those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I live in Ottawa, Ontario, with my family and our rescue Duck Tolling Retriever. When I was very young, people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’d answer without hesitation, ‘An astronaut.’ When Canada started an astronaut program, I applied and made it through the first round of cuts. I have a degree in Biology and after several years working as a biologist, I somehow ended up in mining research. My varied background provides invaluable research for my both my science fiction stories and occasionally creeps into my mysteries.
It feels as though I’ve been writing all my life. I remember my family telling me that I used to entertain the neighbourhood kids with stories.
I suspect it’s possible that I started my writing career when I was in the crib, entertaining my stuffed animals with baby-talk tales.

What inspired you to write Death by Association?
That’s a long story.
I’ve published several short stories, but my dream was to be a novelist. I’ve written several books including mystery, science fiction, thrillers, and even a Star Trek novel. Unfortunately no publisher was interested.
Then, several years ago, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which made me think about the saying, ‘write what you know.’ I have to admit that I never, knowingly, met an alien, or been involved in any major crime or spy rings. Time to try a new approach.
What if I take a physically active person and turn their world upside down? That’s how Naya, my protagonist in “Journey of a Thousand Steps”, was born. She’s a successful computer expert, who runs marathons in her spare time. Then a serious MS attack leaves her barely able to climb a flight of stairs. When her friend is kidnapped, she turns sleuth to find her.
With that book, I thought that Naya’s adventures were over. But then she came across a triple murder that she absolutely had to solve – and that’s the inspiration for, “Death by Association”, my latest book.

Do your characters ever seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story? And tell us why your book is a must-read!
The quick answer is - frequently hijacked.
When I get a story idea, I give one or two characters a scene that I replay in my head, until they start to feel alive. Then, I sit down to write everything that they say and do. Occasionally we need to have a discussion about the direction of the scene. Usually they let me win, but once in a while...
I was working on a novel, where the entire plot depended on one character being alone to finish his act of sabotage. Unfortunately, another character refused to leave the room. If I couldn’t come up with a good reason for Nosey Norris to leave, the book would be over before it had started. Taking control of my panic, I realized that I could just have someone phone him and ask that he ‘give them a hand with something.’ In the aftermath of the explosion, there wouldn’t be time to worry about the reason, (which wasn’t relevant to the plot). So simple.
You also asked, why is my novel a “Must read”? Death by Association starts out routinely enough. Then a few acts of kindness on Naya’s part further entangles her in the mystery. But it isn’t all doom and gloom. There are several light moments to help reduce the tension. Also, for those that have read the first book, a few of your favourite characters return.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I have to say, when I discovered the identity of the killer.
I always have a clear vision of the beginning and a vague idea of the end. Writing the middle and discovering all those little twists and turns to reach the end, is my favourite part of any first draft. Unfortunately it didn’t go smoothly for this book.
When I started writing the first draft, everything was fine. But a few thousand words in, the story wasn’t flowing well. I made a major plot change, threw out a couple thousand words and kept going. At 60,000 words, I realized that I’d written myself into a corner. There were only two possible killers. One, was the suspect arrested by the police. The other, a painful cliché.
I couldn’t find a way out of that corner. Then my daughter came up with the obvious answer: change the first victim. Of course! The first victim drives the entire plot. I changed victim # 1, then took out about 20,000 words, and I started rewriting. Now I needed a new killer. As I wrote, I was eyeing the different suspects. Finally, I knew who it was and I started planting evidence.
But then another character made an innocent comment and - Aha! They did it! Now, I had my killer and the motive!
Just one of many exciting moments from my first drafts.

What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
I do a lot of on-line research to get the facts, but nothing beats talking to an actual expert. If you identify yourself as an author doing research, most are very willing to help you out.
If possible I visit the location that a scene or story is set in, to get a feel for the atmosphere. For example, in “Journey of a Thousand Steps”, I followed the last several kilometers of the Ottawa marathon course. I made notes and took countless pictures, to capture tiny details.
When I travel, not only do I take the usual touristy photos, I also take some really obscure ones. Such as that basement window of the rundown warehouse, in the alley behind the trendy shopping district.
Thanks to my job in mining research, I’ve had the opportunity to go places where the average person can’t. I’ve gone underground in different types of mines. Some were large enough to drive into, others accessed by climbing down a ladder. I also spent 2 weeks at a mining camp in northern Saskatchewan which became the inspiration for the short story “First Impressions” (The Whole-She Bang 2). I did have to transfer the setting to northern BC to a gold mine, and transform the black bears to brown ones, but the imagery and atmosphere is unchanged.

And final question, do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
Definitely with music. I grew up in a noisy household. I had much younger siblings that ran around the house chasing the dog and a mother that ran after them yelling, ‘Keep quiet, your sister’s studying!’ I had to use music to block out the noise. Thanks to that early training, I’m very good at blocking out the world around me and concentrating on my fictional reality. But there are still those erratic noises that show up, The music helps to keep me in that nether world embracing my characters and their lives.
The type of music depends on what I’m writing. For subsequent drafts or when I’m working on the final draft, I prefer folk music with a calm rhythm, for example by Chris de Burgh, Stan Rogers.
For first drafts though, rock works best.

Thank you so much, Madona, for chatting with me today! Readers, here’s where you can find out more about Death by Association.
Twitter @MadonaSkaff
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Published on June 03, 2020 17:49

June 1, 2020

Interview With An Author Featuring David Albertyn

Today I am chatting with David Albertyn who is as talented as his smile is wide. I thoroughly enjoyed his novel Undercard and I’d like to congratulate him on his USA launch of the novel!

Do you have a favorite movie?
I don’t think I can pick just one favourite movie, but I do think that Dr. Strangelove is one of my all-time favourites, and especially right now during the coronavirus, it is as relevant as ever. Not only is it brilliant on a surface level, in terms of aesthetics, acting, and entertainment, but it deals with so many issues that are front and centre for us right now: toxic masculinity, conspiracy theories, xenophobia, and severe short-sightedness and callousness in the face of existential crises (nuclear war in the film, but everything argued is applicable to present-day crises like the environment and the current pandemic).

What inspired you to write this book?
In my novel Undercard, I wanted to write about the issue of inequality in an urban setting, looking at it from a variety of angles, and at the same time, I wanted to write the grittiest, most viscerally intense book I possibly could, not just in terms of the characters and the plot but in the actual prose itself, in the entire aesthetic of the novel. Boxing is featured in this thriller, and I wanted the language, the style, the cadence of the sentences, to almost feel like punches landing.

Where did you come up with the names in the story?
My book, Undercard, has four main characters, but one of them, Antoine Deco, is the catalyst for the story. His name has a bit of back story. I really liked Javier Bardem’s performance as the character Anton Chigurh in the film No Country for Old Men. I then read the book by Cormac McCarthy, and in homage to that character, I named a side character in a story I was working on at the time Antoine Garcia. I steadily grew to love this character, who was taciturn and sullen but proficient and pragmatic, a hunter, and though I killed him off quite quickly, I thought, one day I’m going to write a story about this character. When I started Undercard, I didn’t want to use the exact same name, so I paired Antoine with Deco, which I took from a Brazilian soccer player who later played for Portugal and took on the name for his jersey. Watching this soccer player, I thought, Deco is such a cool name, I’d like to use that in a story. And that’s how I arrived at Antoine Deco.

Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
A lot of my characters come to me as I write. While often the central characters I’ve thought about a lot before I begin writing a story, a lot emerge during the writing, and some of them grow into central characters when they originally existed only to serve a menial function, like pass along a piece of information to the protagonist. I feel like that is one of the best experiences in writing, finding these characters you had no idea about and watching them grow with every draft.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I think the goal is to attempt both, to explore your originality while recognizing what readers are looking for. I think when I started out, I tried to write purely what I would want to read. Then I tried to write purely what I thought people were looking for. My breakthrough came with Undercard when I tried to do both: meet the things I was looking for in a story and meet what both the publishing industry and readers are looking for in a story. And you never stop learning about what readers are looking for, and of course it’s constantly changing what readers are looking for, as I believe it changes what you as the writer want to express and want to explore. So I think trying to be true to yourself and valuing the interests of readers is the path to creating one’s best work.

Do you believe in writer’s block?
I actually don’t believe in writer’s block. I don’t believe that our writing comes from outside of us, or only comes from inside of us at certain times. I don’t believe that we should be waiting for our writing to come to us. I believe that writing flows from putting the effort in. That it might be stilted when we first sit down to write, but with regular sessions, digging deep to create sentences, whether they are strong or not, the words start to come naturally. If we don’t make the attempts, we don’t trigger that flow of words. However, I do believe that at times one is just too exhausted to put in good work, in the same way that sometimes one is too exhausted to exercise. And in those times I feel it is best to rest and recuperate, and when the mind is fresher, return to the page.

Thank you David, for chatting with me today and best wishes for Undercard USA!
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Published on June 01, 2020 20:28

May 31, 2020

Personal Essay on The Profundity of Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood.

I’m sure I’m not alone in noticing how these Covid times have stirred up so many memories and feelings of the past. I’ve lain awake many a night, walking down the streets of my childhood with my sister, with the hot African sunshine a benevolent comfort on our shoulders. The images flash scattershot, a flickering slideshow of the journey of my life. Are these puzzles pieces of a map that will tell me how I got from there to here? But as I try to make sense of them, they slip away.

I’m sure I’m not alone in yearning for a neat and tidy account of my life. I want to sort it all out and try to make sense of things that happened and the choices I made. In retrospect, there were fewer choices than I’d believed and more reactions. I believed, then, that I controlled the rudder of my life but instead, the current swept me along and while I don’t regret anything, I just wish it had been a more tidy affair, more like a ballet than a whirling dance on a zig-zagging path.

Which perhaps explains why I love Cat’s Eye so much. For one thing, there are the tactile experiences that I miss so much.

I have a new book coming out in fall, The Rage Room, in which we live live a plastic world controlled by consumerism and ruled by rage.

I’ve come to understand, by reading Cat’s Eye, that part of writing The Rage Room came from my precoccupation with the sterile nature of our current digital and computerized world. How I miss the smells of wood and furniture polish and wax and wool. Instead we have sleek Steve Jobs scentless polished glass and steel, white and black.

But too, in Cat’s Eye, comes the wonderful richness of a world so redolent of my past with regard to familial relationships, school friends and disturbed and disturbing childhood memories.

I recalled, before reading this book, a moment when I was sitting in a tree house (we lived out in the countryside, nothing fancy, a rustic affair) and I recalled hitting my sister’s fingers when she tried to climb up the ladder to join me. I wanted to be alone. This was just one of the memories that came unbidden as I tried to fall asleep in Covid times while my mind spun through a Kodachrome rolodex of vivid and unsettling flasbhacks.

I emailed my sister and apologized for being so awful but she had no memory of it at all and found it funny. “Why would you do that?” she asked. Why indeed? Because people, children, little girls, are cruel.

Which is why reading Cat’s Eye was such a relief. How comforting to hang out with Elaine and Cordelia and be part of their world vividly as any memory of mine. And to watch their live unfold untidy too, shaped by the memories of the childhood lives.

Not to mention the obvious fact that the writing is so utterly exquisite. This book makes me want to try harder as a writer, to dig deeper and reconsider my attention to words. As I read this book I kept thinking that I’ll never be able to write like this but it would be a worthwhile life’s goal to try.

In a time of Covid this book has helped me feel grounded within myself and my untidy life, I felt calmed in this untidy unpredictable time, validated somehow by so many shared struggles that were so brilliantly expressed. Life is so untidy and I somehow felt as if that was my fault – that I was a failed librarian in the catalogue of my experiences but Cat’s Eye showed me I am not alone.
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Published on May 31, 2020 07:36

May 24, 2020

Interview With An Author Featuring April Ford

Today I have the great pleasure of chatting with April Ford about their newly-released novel Carousel, which I simply cannot wait to read.

About April Ford:
April Ford’s story collection, The Poor Children, published in 2015, was shortlisted for the international Scott Prize for a debut short story collection, and their story “Project Fumarase” was among the winning pieces featured in the 2016 Pushcart Prize anthology. April received their B.A. in Creative Writing and Professional Writing from Concordia University (Montreal, Quebec), and their M.F.A. in Fiction from Queens University of Charlotte (Charlotte, North Carolina). They spent time at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts as a Robert Johnson Fellow, and at Ucross Foundation as a Writer in Residence. From 2010–2017, they taught French and creative writing at State University of New York at Oneonta. Their writing has appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Grain, New Madrid, Ploughshares, Beecher’s, Atticus Review, SAND, Santa Fe Literary Review, and Gargoyle. They live in Montreal.

Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I’ve always loved storytelling, but I became a writer more or less by process of elimination. That is, after my dream of becoming a serial killer profiler didn’t pan out, followed by some half-hearted attempts at entirely-unsuitable-for-me careers, I decided to enroll in a creative writing program and see where it brought me . . . and that was 18 years ago.

Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
Mercurial, gregarious introvert, she/they.

Do you think Carousel would make a good movie?
Of course! In fact, two important characters in the novel are likened to real-life actors. Who, you ask? If you read my novel, I promise you’ll find out ;)

What inspired you to write this book?
Unhappiness with my personal life, plus my generally restless nature. I started writing Carousel to escape the guilt I felt for wanting to leave a marriage that, to outsiders, seemed super-ideal. It was ideal, just not for me, and I was afraid to tell my partner. Every day for six years—the time it took me to write Carousel—I woke up with a resolve to feel good about my situation, appreciate what I had, make it work. When I finally wrote the ending of the novel, which I had been avoiding for over a year (because of “writer’s block,” “inability to concentrate,” et cetera, et cetera), I knew another ending, in my off-page life, was inevitable.

How did you come up with the title of your first novel?
I knew before I wrote the first line—I knew it in my gut. I knew, too, that I would make references to the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical in my novel. A few early readers told me I couldn’t do this, use the title of such a famous work even if I nodded to it, but I was entirely unreceptive to their warnings, because my gut, heart, and mind were made up. I told myself that if ever I received an offer of publication, I would be open to what the editor might have to say about the title. As it turns out, my publisher had nothing to say except to call my Carousel a “beautiful novel.”

What is your favorite part of this book and why?
The dream sequence (which is toward the end). As a young writer in an undergraduate creative writing program, I recall being told that dreams and flashbacks should be avoided at all costs. Years later, as a graduate student of fiction, I recall a similar warning winding its way through workshop groups. Sure, these techniques can be limiting and redundant when it comes to creating dimensional characters and plots with momentum, but they can also be just what you need to deliver key details or a set particular mood. For a story to have scope, it needs access to past and future, reality and surreality. I took full advantage of the “do not do’s” when I was working on Carousel. A lot of the time, my intuition was spot-on—one of the perks of spending 6 years on a project, I suppose! And then there were times when I got so tangled up in technique that I had to step away from the manuscript-in-progress for days, weeks, even months. The scene that nearly drove me to abandon Carousel entirely is where Margo (the narrator) sees her mother for the first time in decades. I was a mess because of that scene: my inability to execute it the way I saw it in my mind’s eye made me question why I was a writer at all. When I finally made it to the dream sequence, I had all the information I needed to make the scene work, and it was some of the most thrilling writing I’ve ever done, pulling more than two hundred pages of story into a character’s fevered psyche that lasts only a couple of pages.

Best Wishes for Carousel and thank you for chatting with me today! Readers, for more about April Ford, please check out
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Published on May 24, 2020 06:14

A Writer's Life

Lisa de Nikolits
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