Interview With Christy Ann Conlin

downloadToday, it is my pleasure to welcome Christy Ann Conlin to my blog to talk a bit about her latest book The Memento. Since its release in April, The Memento has received a lot of publicity, and you know me, I love supporting authors–especially local authors! Christy Ann Conlin’s acclaimed first novel, Heave (2002), was a Globe and Mail “Top 100” book, a finalist for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award in 2003 and was shortlisted for the Thomas H. Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award and the Dartmouth Book Award. Heave was also longlisted for the 2011 CBC Canada Reads Novels of the Decade. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals including Best Canadian Stories. Conlin also hosted the popular 2012 CBC summer radio series Fear Itself. The Memento is her first novel in fourteen years. Conlin teaches at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies online Creative Writing program. She lives in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

Before we talk about the book, can you tell us a bit about yourself, and what the writing process is like for you? Do you spend much time in the planning stage or do you jump right in when an idea comes to you and figure things out as you go along? In other words, are you a plotter or a pantster?

A bit about me: I was born and raised in rural Nova Scotia, both in the Annapolis Valley and over on the on-the-road-to-kingsportBay of Fundy. When I finished high school, I left, like many of us Nova Scotians do, ha ha. I traveled and worked all over the world. I did a MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Toronto, and then headed to Northern Ireland, and from there made my way back to Nova Scotia where I’ve been ever since. It took all that wandering and exploring to discover there was no place more exotic than home. I think many writers have this experience, and some are smart enough to know this without having to leave!

My process: I tend to work on stories in my subconscious, while I’m actually writing another one. For example, I’m working on a novel right now, but at the same time, I have a notebook on the go for another novel. Usually it all starts with a character who appears, and if I follow them, they show me the story. When I do sit down to write, it feels like jumping in but there actually has been a huge amount of mental work done in my head. As a result, I go into a story with a very strong sense of character and plot. In the early days of writing I used to skip this mental process so I’d have really fascinating characters and great dialogue and a distinct sense of place but nothing happened. Oh, those stories which lead to…nowhere. But it was how I cut my teeth, so to speak, and learned.

When the book opens we learn about the significance of the mirrors placed outside the front door of houses which I found quite intriguing. I’d never heard of it. Was this something your writer’s mind invented for the book or was it taken from actual mountain folklore? 

It’s a combination of actual folklore and my writer’s mind! My grandmother always had both a chest of drawers and a mirror in her porch. If people came by to drop something off for my grandmother, a present or something they had borrowed, or a letter) they would leave things in the drawers, if they were valuable or private. As a child I would peek and one just never knew what would be in there! And the mirror was something my grandmother told me she would check her hair in, and then she’d laugh in that dry way she had and say that it was good to see if there were any ghosts behind you.

The Memento introduces readers to some memorable characters that you certainly brought to life on the page. Were any of the characters inspired by people in real life?

All of the characters in all of my work are inspired by real people, sometimes nominally and sometimes to a very large degree. That said, it’s often not a specific person, but a specific kind of person.  When you travel and live in different places you begin to see that every town has similar kinds of people. It’s one of the most amazing parts of writing, creating my own fictional characters whose origins come from observing the world around me, the heartaches, the joys, the devastations, and the triumphs, the big ones and small ones.

The embroidery element plays a significant role in The Memento. Can you explain what inspired you to add this to the book? Do you perhaps embroidery yourself?

Yes, I do embroidery and different kinds of needlework. I grew up in 4-H and spent hours and hours by woodstoves and at dining room tables with some master craftswomen and artisans, learning what I call the “lady arts”. We also had a lot of antique embroidery on the walls at home. I was fascinated with the faces, how they looked so different up close, almost grotesque or unfinished, and when you stepped back, they seemed alive. It’s the same thing in impressionistic painting.  I collected framed embroideries and after years of having them surround me while writing, I began to think about how women who did needle work really channeled their experiences and spirits into these works, as any artist does. And so, then Fancy Mosher’s gift with embroidery took on a whole new meaning, of what she was able to depict in her pictorials, in these mementos.

Although Nova Scotia is not specifically mentioned, I found you totally captured the rural aspects of the book and I felt very much at home with the setting.  I actually Googled Lupin Cove Road because I was sure it was an actual place! Was there a reason why you chose not to mention specific name places in the book other than the Bay of Fundy?

Well, I wanted to create the exact experience you are describing for the reader, that the sense of place and setting would be so real and familiar they would be sure it existed. I had so many readers from England tell me my first novel, Heave, reminded them of the seaside villages they grew up in England. (Heave is also set in Lupin Cove).  It does, of course, exist in the story and in our minds, but it’s also one step removed, like a fairy tale. Faulkner did this, with a fictional county in Mississippi, and I really admired how this gave readers a bit of a distance, so they could see a reflection of the world, if you will. I love how the idea of a seaside village and a valley and a grand home and a path in the woods, how these locations resonate with people regardless of where they actually live. It is a way of using regionalism to create universalism.

The one setting which I really drew on specifically is the Tea House and Grampie’s art work. That was all inspired by Maude Lewis and her painted house and her artwork.

Of all the characters in The Memento who is your favourite and why?

I love Jenny, the anti-heroine. She’s so marginalized and outright dismissed, so powerless, and yet she is the only one brave enough to really acknowledge the full horror of what is happening, and to seek justice. Yes, I know, ha ha, her sense of justice is a bit warped, to put it mildly, but she wants more than anyone to restore a sense of moral order, and put the ghosts of the past to rest.  But she can’t do that on her own, and she needs Fancy, with her gift, to help her understand the true nature of what is haunting them.

The book is written in first person which is a very personal point of view that brings an author very close to the character she writes about.  I’m dying to know, are you hiding somewhere inside Fancy Mosher or is she somewhere hiding inside of you?

Honestly, Laura, I think I am hiding in Fancy Mosher, but I am seeing the world through her very unique eyes. It was a privilege to view the world from her unique perspective. I’m not so much like her, even though I would like to be. I always feel my characters are very brave, and I am not so brave. I’m more like Seraphina in Heave. That novel was much more autobiographical.  My grandmother always told me because I had an artistic disposition, a sensitive nature, the spirits would speak to me. My understanding of this is that characters come to me and I write out their stories.

The Memento has been described as a literary ghost story. Are you intrigued by ghosts and most importantly do you believe in them?

I think it’s more magic realism, to be honest, with ghostly elements. It’s very much a genre blending, or even genre defying novel, which merges the old world novels of Jane Austen and the Brontes, L.M. Montgomery, Allistar MacLeod and Ernest Buckler with a hint of Stephen King and Shirley Jackson.

What is your favourite part of the book?

The fire on the beach, and the island scenes.

Are you currently working on a new novel and, if so, you tell us a bit about it?

Yes, I am working on two new novels and a short fiction collection.  One of the novels is called The Flying Squirrel Sermon. It’s about a man who finds a bottle on the beach with a secret message in it, a clue to his sister’s disappearance many years earlier.  The other two books I can’t speak about or I’ll destroy the writing magic!

Is there anything in the book that you have not been asked about but would like readers to know?

The Memento is not at all a traditional ghost story or thriller. It’s a blend of pastoral writing and horror writing, humour and heartache, the historical and the contemporary. The story is really a look at what happens when we marginalize and oppress people based on gender, physical ability and economic circumstances. It’s an exploration of how young and vulnerable women are so easily exploited. In the case of Jenny, she’s physically disabled and pretty much rendered irrelevant because of it. Fancy is discriminated against because of the circumstances of her birth, and because she’s lower class. The ghostly element was my way of looking at the anger and fury which arises from this discrimination, how eventually, those who are mercilessly exploited will rise up.

Thanks so much, Christy Ann. I enjoyed learning more about the book and your writing life. I wish you every success with this book and look forward to your future publications.

The Memento is available at Amazon, Chapters Indigo and in your local independent bookstore or as an ebook.

 

Local Books For Your Winter Reading Pleasure

From time to time I like to give a shout out to some authors and their books. It’s been awhile. Actually, longer than I thought once I got looking back on old posts. Since I do like local (as many of you know) this shout out is for some local books that have recently come onto my radar. I wanted to mention books that I hadn’t previously mentioned on my blog, books that are new to me! From picture books to novels, I really don’t care. A book is a book no matter what age you are. I hope you’ll check some of these books out this winter when you’re curled up by the fire on a cold blustery night.

Explosion Newsie by Jacqueline Halsey.

imagesOn December 6, 1917, two ships collided in the busy wartime harbour of Halifax, Nova Scotia. The resulting explosion was the biggest man-made blast prior to the development of nuclear weapons. It flattened one fifth of the city. Thousands of people were killed that day and thousands more injured or made homeless. One lucky survivor, ten-year-old newsie Macky, has a key job to do — get the news out.

The beautiful and compelling illustrations in this book help tell the story of what it was like to be a working child of ten in the city that day. Macky, an unreliable and fun-loving boy, has to deliver the news to a confused and wrecked city where the only way to know what happened to missing loved ones was to read the local newspaper.

Red Coat Brigade by Vernon Oickleimages (1)

On a warm, beautiful sunny day in June 1782, the women and young children of the village of Chester come together to defend their still-fledgling settlement against the invading and much more well-armed Americans. Armed only with their cunning and imagination, this rag-tag group of settlers pushed back the marauding intruders without the loss of a single life. In this fictional account of those events, veteran author Vernon Oickle weaves facts and legend to tell a story that has become part of Nova Scotia’s heritage and folklore.

 

These Good Hands by Carol Bruneau

downloadSet in the early autumn of 1943, the These Good Hands interweaves the biography of French sculptor Camille Claudel and the story of the nurse who cares for her during the final days of her thirty-year incarceration in France’s Montdevergues Asylum. Biographers have suggested that Claudel survived her long internment by writing letters, few of which left the asylum because of her strict sequestration; in Bruneau’s novel, these letters are reimagined in a series, penned to her younger self, the sculptor, popularly known as Rodin’s tragic mistress. They trace the trajectory of her career in Belle Époque Paris and her descent into the stigmatizing illness that destroyed it. The nurse’s story is revealed in her journal, which describes her labours and the ethical dilemma she eventually confronts. Through her letters, Camille relives the limits of her perseverance, and through her journal, Nurse confronts the limits of hers; these limits include the faith these women have in themselves, in the then-current advances in psychiatric medicine, and in a God whose existence is challenged by the war raging outside the enclosed world of the asylum. In her dying days, Camille teaches the nurse lessons in compassion and, ultimately, in what it means to endure.

Lonely Angels by Heather D. Veinotte

As a medium, Kelsey Gordon has had to deal with people’s distain of her gifts for most of her life. 51RqiF2VF7L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Through her firm, “Gordon’s Agency” she’s been hired by the Mayor’s Task Force of the city of Bridgeview to help find three little girls that have vanished without a trace. As soon as she’s introduced to the very handsome Lieutenant Jake Carson, she feels his contempt for what she stands for and realizes that this assignment will not be an easy one. The murderer must be found, but she knows if she and Jake work together, her heart will be lost to a man who detests what she is. Lieutenant Jake Carson is stunned to learn that his uncle has hired a medium to work on the task force when he knew what his nephew thought of so called psychics. Anyone who declares that they have psychic powers are the lowest life form on the planet, but Jake has no choice but to work with her. To make matters worse, he can’t keep his eyes off of this beautiful, but phony Kelsey Gordon. Time is running out. Kelsey’s life is threatened by the murderer and to complicate the situation they’re fighting the sexual cord that’s pulling them closer.

Random Acts By Valerie Sherrard

download (1)In the haze of a food-induced stupor, Zoey Dalton and her best friends Bean and Jenna make a pledge to begin performing random acts of kindness—anonymously. Their previous track record for altruism is pretty much a flat line, so anything they do to help others is bound to be an improvement.

Or is it?

What if the random acts of kindness are unwanted and misunderstood? What if, instead of spreading joy and good will, the trio’s actions stir up trouble, wreak havoc and maybe even cause bodily harm? That, of course, would be a different story.

This story, in fact.

Scotia Sinker by Alison Delory

download (2)Cameron and Erin take a new adventure in their cardboard box — this time, to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean! In Lunar Lifter, the first story in their adventure-packed series, they used magic markers to transform their box into a spaceship that took them to the moon. Now, when they find their damaged Lunar Lifter on the beach, they use their remaining pens to repair and transform it into a small submarine called Scotia Sinker. Their new adventure pulls them far from home, deep into the ocean’s wild waters where many thrills and threats await. Here, Cameron and Erin need all their bravery, wits and the help of some interesting aquatic friends to outrun a fearsome predator.

 

Just Beneath My Skin by Darren Greer

download (3)In the small town of North River, every day that goes by bleeds into the next. Poverty begets hopelessness, hopelessness breeds violence, violence causes despair. The only way to change fate, a minister tells his son, is to leave. The minister’s son, Jake MacNeil, chooses to ignore his father’s advice. Only when he realizes what has become of his life – working a grueling dead-end job, living with a drunk, friends with a murderer – does he decide to make something of himself. But nothing comes without a cost: in choosing freedom, Jake abandons his own son, Nathan, to the care of the boy’s abusive mother. Years later, a reformed Jake comes back for Nathan, to finally set things right. But in North River, everything comes around again; and when a dangerous figure from the past becomes hell-bent on dragging the new Jake “back down where he belongs”, three generations of MacNeil men must come together to pay the full price of hope. Gritty, unrelenting, yet peppered with Darren Greer’s trademark mix of wit and poignance, Just Beneath My Skin is the work of an author at the height of his game.

Grist by Linda Little

download (4)“This is the story of how you were loved,” Penelope MacLaughlin whispers to her granddaughter. Penelope MacLaughlin marries a miller and gradually discovers he is not as she imagined. Nonetheless she remains determined to make the best of life at the lonely mill up the Gunn Brook as she struggles to build a home around her husband’s eccentricities. His increasing absence leaves Penelope to run the mill herself, providing her with a living but also destroying the people she loves most. Penelope struggles with loss and isolation, and suffers the gradual erosion of her sense of self. A series of betrayals leaves her with nothing but the mill and her determination to save her grandchildren from their disturbed father. While she can prepare her grandsons for independence, her granddaughter is too young and so receives the greater gift: the story that made them all.

Somewhere I Belong by Glenna Jenkins

download (5)In Somewhere I Belong, we meet young P.J. Kavanaugh at North Boston Station. His father has died, the Depression is on, and his mother is moving them back home. They settle in, and P.J. makes new friends. But the P.E.I. winter is harsh, the farm chores endless, and his teacher a drunken bully. He soon wants to go home; the problem is how.

A letter arrives from Aunt Mayme announcing a Babe Ruth charity baseball game in the old neighbourhood. But Ma won’t let him go. P.J is devastated. The weeks pass, then there is an accident on the farm. P.J. becomes a hero and Ma changes her mind. He travels to Boston, sees his friends, watches Babe Ruth hit a home run, and renews his attachment to the place. But his eagerness to return to the Island makes him wonder where he really belongs.

Amazing Grace by Lesley Crewe

download (6)Can you really move forward without putting the past to rest?

Grace Willingdon has everything she needs. For fifteen years she’s lived in a trailer overlooking Bras d’Or Lakes in postcard-perfect Baddeck, Cape Breton, with Fletcher Parsons, a giant teddy bear who’s not even her husband. But Grace’s blissful life is rudely interrupted when her estranged son calls from New York City, worried about his teenaged daughter.

Before she knows it, Grace finds herself the temporary guardian of her self-absorbed, city-slicker granddaughter, Melissa. Trapped between a past she’s been struggling to resolve and a present that keeps her on her toes, Grace decides to finally tell her story. Either the truth will absolve her, or cost her everything.

Crackling with Lesley Crewe’s celebrated wit and humour, Amazing Grace is a heartfelt tale of enduring love and forgiveness, and the deep roots of family.

Hopefully, you’ll get the chance to take some of these books out for a test drive this winter. You might be amazed at how much local talent we have here in the Maritimes. Keep warm and Happy Reading! If you’d like to give a shout out to a local book in the comment section please do. I love promoting local. 

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