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Junction Reads

A Prose Reading Series.

JUNE READINGS

It is that time of year again, when we at Junction Reads both celebrate – and sadly wave goodbye to – another fantastic season of readings. Why do I celebrate? Because summer is about escaping life and falling into stories with thoughtless abandon and sometimes (honesty alert) when I read a book for Junction Reads, I worry the thoughts and ideas that pop into my head are not as smart and insightful as I hope. I want our writerly conversations to bring out the best of the books and I worry that my fawning over the fabulous writing, crying about heartbreaking characterizations or my getting lost inside one perfect sentence won’t make for a great literary conversation.

I am sad because I really love thinking deeply about a story, and its voice, characters or plotting, and digging into the how and why a book came to be. When I think about my summer reading list in the Fall, I always forget what I read because I dive into my summer reads heart first and head last.

Our final two events of the season will bring both my fears and hopes together. Firstly, because I get to speak with an author about her debut novel, which is always so damn exciting, and then I get to speak with an expert about writing and publishing in Canada.


On June 4, Brooke Lockyer joins us with her debut novel, BURR, from Nightwood Editions.

“A ’90s-era Southern Ontario Gothic about holding on to the dead, voiced with plaintive urgency and macabre sensuality. In the small town of Burr, Ontario, thirteen-year-old Jane yearns to reunite with her recently deceased father and fantasizes about tunnelling through the earth to his coffin. This leads her to bond with local eccentric Ernest, who is still reeling from the long-ago drowning of his little sister. Jane’s mother, Meredith, escapes into wildness, enacting the past on the abandoned bed that she finds in the middle of the forest, until her daughter’s disappearance spurs her into action. The voice of the town conveys the suspicions and subliminal fears of a rural community—a chorus of whispers that reaches a fever pitch when Jane and Ernest disappear from Burr together. Throughout, the novel is haunted by Henry, a former wrestler who once stood on his bed in the middle of the night, holding up the weight of the ceiling in his sleeping hands. Mixing realism and the fantastic, Brooke Lockyer’s debut novel investigates the nature of grief and longing that reach beyond the grave.”

Register here.


On June 11, Patricia Westerhof joins us for something a little different. Both a reading and workshop, we’ll talk about her latest book, THE CANADIAN GUIDE TO CREATIVE WRITING AND PUBLISHING, from Dundurn Press.

“How do you get your writing published in Canada? What are the industry standards for publishable work and how do you reach them? This lively, practical guide shows you how to think more creatively, cultivate a strong writing voice, and make your sentences powerful. It explains the elements of style and offers writing prompts to help you apply what you learn. It gives strategies for finding critique partners and beta readers and for getting useful feedback before you send your drafts to agents or editors. The chapters are packed with up-to-date information about the publishing industry, including how to find an agent, how to submit manuscripts to literary journals, how to query independent presses, and how to apply for writing grants.” Patricia will answer all your questions and share directions and her road map to Canadian Publishing landscape.

Register here.


Follow us here and on our socials for information about next season. And head on over to our YouTube channel and become a subscriber. Please! We will be sharing details about our (hopefully) in-person schedule and our continuing online presence with interviews from Canadian authors across the Turtle Island.

A torrent of beautiful language!

If you’re a writer, you’re going to want to read Nicholas Herring’s debut novel, SOME HELLISH!

You know that I always write my reviews from a writerly perspective, so when I say you MUST read this book, I’m usually talking to my writer friends, but today, it’s going to be different. If you’ve ever struggled with mental health, addiction, love, grief and all those human emotions that make us question what it is to be alive, then you need to read SOME HELLISH.

Readers and writers, both, should join us at Junction Reads on Sunday April 16 at 5:00pm ET. Register on EventBrite and PWYC. All proceeds go to the author. You may also win a copy from its publisher, Goose Lane Editions.

In Nicholas Herring’s literary debut, he offers us a fictitious Herring, who has sawed a hole in the floor of his home ­– his wife’s grandfather’s home – for no apparent reason. He and his best buddy Gerry string along, from drink to drink (shine to shine), smoking pot and hash, popping pills and acid, and thinking about nothing more than the lobsters, the boat, the upcoming season, and the relationships they’ve lost and want. As they prepare for the season, we meet dozens of characters, some important, some who simply exist. They are as much the setting in the novel as the trees, the houses, the rigs, and signposts. They are ARE this novel. The reader knows from the opening pages, the hole in the floor isn’t the only shitty thing that’s going to happen in this novel. When Herring falls overboard and disappears, both he and Gerry are faced with the big questions, and this time they cannot drown them out with shine or more pills.

SOME HELLISH is not just a novel that asks what it means to think, to live, to be human, but it demands we look at those who are struggling with empathy and love. To live a daily grind in the storm and crises of human existence, like grief, divorce, lovelessness, fruitless labour, is a difficult life and to do it with addiction and mental illness is near impossible. In this novel, Nicholas Herring offers us two men, whose friendship is a potent reminder that in this life, we only need to love, and be loved by, one other human being to understand its true meaning.

“Gerry was as faithful a friend as he could be to a person such as he (Herring), and that it was precisely this faith in him that had him here, biting his lip at three-thirty in the morning, trying to be patient and genial. Strangely enough, prior to this little scene (finding Gerry’s fake teeth in a washing machine), he had never thought of Gerry as a friend. But now, the notion took a hold on him. He swallowed hard, yoked by the sense that something had opened in him, given him a kind of admittance. Yes, he was running on a drunken sleep, which was no sleep at all, that had been divided by the need of another, but somehow or another he felt quite awake.”

Nicholas Herring, SOME HELLISH

For my writer friends. Holy smokes. If you want to be impressed by the beauty of Herring’s tone and voice, and the torrential lyricism and figurative language, you must read this novel. I have got sticky notes in dozens of places, and I’ve even circled in pen (argh) some of the most moving passages!

“The Island this muted and humble sleep of land. To behold it so stirred something in a person, soothed you. You could feel yourself grow. The sky and the earth and the waters, and whatever lay within each of us these tiers. Man was in constant communication with these things, and out here, to be reminded of this was lovely, reassuring. This acknowledgement was like an embrace that you could relish even as you outgrew its influence. Everything, all things, were fermenting.”

Nicholas Herring, SOME HELLISH

SOME HELLISH was winner of the 2022 Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Award. “Nicholas Herring is a carpenter and writer whose work has appeared in The Ex-Puritan and The Fiddlehead. He graduated from St. Jerome’s University with an honours degree in English Literature and attended the University of Toronto where he completed an MA in Creative Writing. Herring lives in Murray Harbour, PEI.”

Dayle Furlong is coming to Junction Reads!

A review of Lake Effect and other stories by Dayle Furlong.

Join us for a reading and conversation, Sunday March 26 at 5:00pm ET. Register through EventBrite and you might win a copy of the collection from Cormorant Books.

The very first story in LAKE EFFECT from Dayle Furlong opens with a blockage that “had been disregarded as trash: a cluster of plastic bags, a few water bottles, and what looked like a discarded red jacket, swollen with water, caught in a bushel of cattails.” It is a bloated body, perhaps the missing stepson of the narrator in Tributaries, or another of the boys that keep disappearing in Thunder Bay.

Opening with this story, a reader gets the sense this collection isn’t going to be a light-hearted romp through the small towns surrounding the great lakes, but the opening story isn’t about murder, nor is it about the suspected swim coach. Tributaries is about love and its heartbreaking loss, and perhaps, more importantly, it is about being loved.  

The twelve stories in LAKE EFFECT are about people in places and situations that demand our attention. A chubby woman in a boring marriage obsesses over her younger, hotter next door neighbour while his wife has an affair; a man falls in love with an Iranian woman despite the anti-Muslim hate filling his small town; a woman steals a diamond ring when she discovers her gambling addicted husband has once again threatened their livelihood; a young woman finds the father she thinks abandoned her only to learn the truth her mother tried to hide, and a young ex-heroin-addict sits in jail awaiting news on the fate of a moms and babies program whose end would mean the removal of her son from her care.

These stories ask us to imagine what we might do, who we might be in similar situations. After spending a bit of time with all of Furlong’s characters, I am still wondering about the woman who married a man and moved to Paris at the drop of a hat. I’m still thinking about the ex-wife of the hot next-door neighbour and wondering if she thinks she’s the good guy in her story. And to be honest, I’m now thinking about opening a hot dog stand when I retire.

LAKE EFFECT is a collection filled with maudlin characters you can’t feel sorry for, because they don’t feel sorry for themselves. They get on with it. With precision and an incredible grasp of lyrical and metaphorical language, Dayle Furlong offers up the most glorious people, places and situations. When I read, that he’d curled up like a salted leech, I threw my head back in awe. When I followed Aurora, in Ebb, on her obsessively detailed walk home, I counted the steps with her, I also wanted to know the total number of spilled sugar granules that caught her attention. And when Candace, in What Follows the Falls, finds her new best friend Amy curled up on her daughter’s bed with one of her baby onesies stuffed down her shirt, I cringed. Furlong’s attention to the physical and emotional details is impressive and her accurate portrayals of family, friendships, loneliness, and loss is what will bring me back to her prose again and again.

In LAKE EFFECT, love feels a lot like drowning. If the water doesn’t kill you, you have three choices: dive back in, only go in up to your knees or avoid it altogether.

“Dayle Furlong is the author of the novel Saltwater Cowboys, a 2015 Toronto Public Library Dewey Diva Pick, and a collection of poetry entitled Open Slowly. Her short fiction has appeared in The Great Lakes ReviewThe Puritan, and The Saturday Evening Post. Her fiction has been awarded an Award of Merit from the Summer Literary Seminars international literary competition and was a finalist for the 2018 Curt Johnson Prose Awards in the USA. She is a graduate of the Humber College School for Writers and has a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.”

You can purchase a copy of LAKE EFFECT from your local bookstore. Find your closest location through the publisher, Cormorant Books.

Battling the winter blues, one book at a time…

February makes a bridge and March breaks it.

Georges Hebert

We have a few more readings before we call the season over. Still online and still accessible to everyone with a computer or tablet, we are excited to share details, if only to give you something to look forward to in the bleakest of times.

Check back, as we may have more events and news of future in-person events.

On Thursday February 16, join us on Instagram for a live chat with Denise Davy at 7:00pm EST. We are still hosting our The First Thirty events on our @JunctionReads page, so check us out.

From Wolsak and Wynn: “Margaret Jacobson was a sweet-natured young girl who played the accordion and had dreams of becoming a teacher until she had a psychotic break in her teens, which sent her down a much darker path. Her Name Was Margaret traces Margaret’s life from her childhood to her death as a homeless woman on the streets of Hamilton, Ontario. With meticulous research and deep compassion author Denise Davy analyzed over eight hundred pages of medical records and conducted interviews with Margaret’s friends and family, as well as those who worked in psychiatric care, to create this compelling portrait of a woman abandoned by society.”

February 26: We get to sit and chat about historical fiction, specifically war fiction in THE GUNSMITH’S DAUGHTER, with Margaret Sweatman. From Goose Lane Editions.

“1971. Lilac Welsh lives an isolated life with her parents at Rough Rock on the Winnipeg River. Her father, Kal, stern and controlling, has built his wealth by designing powerful guns and ammunition. He’s on the cusp of producing a .50 calibre assault rifle that can shoot down an airplane with a single bullet, when a young stranger named Gavin appears at their door, wanting to meet him before enlisting for the war in Vietnam. Gavin’s arrival sparks an emotional explosion in Lilac’s home and inspires her to begin her own life as a journalist, reporting on the war that’s making her family rich.”

Register on Eventbrite.

On March 26, I get to chat with Dayle Furlong about her beautiful collection of stories, LAKE EFFECT from Cormorant Books.

The humanitarian crisis in Thunder Bay is seen from the perspective of a police officer whose stepson is missing; fearing he will be found, like so many others, in the McIntyre River, his mother’s grief causes an insurmountable rift. Crumbling buildings, high rent and condo developments in Toronto are playfully satirized. A young mother waits inside a Chicago-area prison to find out if funding for the Prison-Mother Baby program will continue. A man drives from Traverse City, Michigan in the midst of a lake effect storm to transport his Iranian-Canadian girlfriend across the border illegally. A Canadian mother befriends an American woman, employed at Target, whose desperation for a baby leads her to seek the advice of spiritualists in Lily Dale, New York.

Register on EventBrite.

On April 16, Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust award-winning author Nicholas Herring joins us to chat about his novel, SOME HELLISH, from Goose Lane Editions.

“Herring is a hapless lobster fisher lost in an unexceptional life, bored of thinking the same old thoughts. One December day, following a hunch, he cuts a hole in the living room floor and installs a hoist, altering the course of everything in his life. His wife Euna leaves with their children. He buries the family dog in a frozen grave on Christmas Eve. He and his friend Gerry crash his truck into a field, only to be rescued by a passing group of Tibetan monks.” Everything changes when Herring is lost at sea for days.

Register on EventBrite.

All of our events – except The First Thirty – are pay what you can. Please consider a paid ticket if you can, as ALL proceeds go to the authors.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel to watch videos of past events.

As one door opens… let the books fall through.

January is named for the Roman god Janus, who presides over the doorways of time. With two faces, he looks both forward and back. It is a month of beginnings and endings, both a time to imagine a new year and reflect on what we’ve left behind. I can’t see anyone hoping for a worse year, so as we all conceive our resolutions to make 2023 better, or at least as good as the last, let’s talk about how books always make things better.

On January 1st, I logged on to my public library account and put five books on hold because just the anticipation of reading a new book makes me feel good, even if I am hold #1000 with only 30 copies across the entire library system. I was also gifted four new books and I can’t tell you how exciting it is to know that underneath the paper existed more characters to meet and more worlds to explore. I also wrapped two books for my husband knowing I will get to read them, too. If only Janus was able to expand time, I’d be able to read ALL the books. For now, the anticipation is good enough to make January a month where I will be looking forward.

January at Junction Reads and The First Thirty will certainly help.

On Sunday January 15 at 5:00pm, we welcome Paul Sunga, with his latest novel, Because of Nothing At All from Goose Lane Editions.

Because of Nothing At All is an engrossing tense, evocative novel about capitalism and power. It is a necessary read in our current world.

“Near the Kenya-Sudan border, a team of international health program evaluators are abducted and force marched under a desert moon. Their pasts and presents — and those of their abductors — unravel before them. An orphan named Money is one of 66 too hungry to sleep. A rich public health doctor is gradually losing his points of attachment. A driver tastes the river of wealth through the vehicles he’s provided. Some escape; others are recaptured; a few are held at ransom. All are lured into schemes that often lead to unexpected results.”

Register on EventBrite and join us on Zoom for a reading and conversation.


On Thursday January 19 at 7:00pm EST, grab your phone and join me for a quick and fun chat on Instagram Live with Nicholas Herring. The First Thirty is our new series where I sit with authors and reflect on their latest work through a writerly lens. How does one craft those first thirty pages or the first thirty words and compel a reader to keep going?

Some Hellish is Herring’s debut novel and it’s getting some attention.

About the novel: “Herring is a hapless lobster fisher lost in an unexceptional life, bored of thinking the same old thoughts. One December day, following a hunch, he cuts a hole in the living room floor and installs a hoist, altering the course of everything in his life. His wife Euna leaves with their children. He buries the family dog in a frozen grave on Christmas Eve. He and his friend Gerry crash his truck into a field, only to be rescued by a passing group of Tibetan monks.

During the spring lobster season, Herring and Gerry find themselves caught in a storm front. Herring falls overboard miles from the harbour, is lost at sea for days, and assumed to be drowned. And then, he is found, miraculously, alive. Having come so near to death, he is forced to confront the things he fears the most: love, friendship, belief, and himself.

Some Hellish is a story about anguish and salvation, the quiet grace and patience of transformation, the powers of addiction and fear, the plausibility of forgiveness, and the immense capacity of friendship and of love.”

Follow @junctionreads on Instagram for more details and join us there. Also, follow us @thefirstthirty so we can get more followers and host our new series there.


On January 29, Dan K Woo joins us at Junction Reads for a conversation about, and reading from, his collection of short stories, Taobao from Wolsak and Wynn.

“In twelve spare, fable-like short stories Dan K. Woo introduces us to a fascinating cast of characters from different regions of China. From rural villages to bustling cities, Woo deftly charts the paths of young people searching for love, meaning and happiness in a country that is often misunderstood in North America. Whether they are participating in a marriage market to appease their mother, working as a delivery boy in Beijing or dealing with trauma in a hospital in Shanghai, we see these young people push against both tradition and the lightning-fast economy to try and make their way in often difficult situations. Woo brings remarkable empathy to these dreamlike stories and their twists and turns, which will linger long in readers’ minds.  Through it all, the spectre of Taobao – China’s online retail giant – hovers, providing everything the characters might need or want, while also acting as a thread that ties together a captivating and complex collection of stories set in a captivating and complex country.”

Register on EventBrite. This is a PWYC event, with all proceeds going to the author.


Some of you may be wondering, when the heck is Junction Reads returning to in-person events? It’s been busy for all of us, with new jobs, new promotions and new stories needing our attention. We have been in talks with an event space (a fabulous bookstore), and have every hope of getting back in the Spring. We believe Covid is still a risk to many in our community and that accessibility means our events need to be safe and welcoming to all. When we get back, we will require masks at all our events.

NOVEMBER READS

We have a busy month ahead with four great books and four fabulous authors joining us for conversations about their new books.

Subscribe to our Youtube channel because if you miss any of our live events, you can find the videos there.

Register for our Junction Reads events, and you might win a copy of the book from the publisher. Follow us on Instragram @thefirstthirty and @junctionreads and join us for our live events,


On November 10, I am going to chat with Elaine McCluskey about writing her varied and vibrant collection of stories, Rafael has pretty eyes. from Goose Lane.

The seventeen stories in Elaine McCluskey’s latest collection, Rafael Has Pretty Eyes, follow characters who have reached a four-way stop in life; some are deciding whether to follow the signs or defy them; others find a sinkhole forming beneath their feet. Set in the Maritimes but transcending regional boundaries, McCluskey’s stories are experimental, sometimes provocative, and often about those living on the margins. Smart, compassionate and unsparing, Rafael Has Pretty Eyes explores the absurdity and interconnectedness of a life adrift.

Purchase your own copy, directly from the publisher or your local independent book shop.

On Sunday November 13 at 5:00pm EST, Margaret Nowaczyk returns to Junction Returns with her latest book, A Memoir of Genetics, Mental Health and Writing, Chasing Zebras from Wolsak and Wynn.

“From leaving Communist Poland to enduring the demands of medical school, through living with a long undiagnosed mental illness to discovering the fascinating field of genetics, plunging into the pressures of prenatal diagnosis and finally finding the tools of writing and of narrative medicine, Margaret shares a journey that is both inspiring and harrowing. This is a story of constant effort, of growth, of tragedy and of triumph, and most of all, of the importance of openness. In the end, Dr. Nowaczyk invites us all to see that “life is precious and fragile and wondrous and full of mistakes.” And to keep trying.”

Register on EventBrite. PWYC. Tickets are $0-20 and all proceeds to the author. You could win your own copy from the publisher.

On Thursday November 17 at 7:00pm EST, join us on Instagram Live, for a conversation with Nataša Nuhanović about writing and her delicate and heartbreaking love story, The Boy’s Marble from Guernica Editions..

“A boy and girl promise to meet at midnight on a bench halfway between their apartments, and run away together, only the boy never comes. Twenty years later in Montreal, she meets someone who reminds her of the boy and wonders whether it could really be him. A brilliant anti-war story that wakes the reader in hope and love, and helps understand just how useless, meaningless and absurd war really is.”

Follow us and share @junctionreads and @thefirstthirty.

On Sunday November 27 at 5:00pm EST, we welcome back Catherine Graham with her latest novel, The Most Cunning Heart from Palimpsest Press.

“In the early 1990’s, Caitlin Maharg, grieving the loss of her parents, leaves everything she knows in Canada for Northern Ireland to pursue her love of poetry while living in a cottage by the Irish Sea. Feeling like a child again in a distant land still affected by the Troubles, she is haunted by the secrets her parents’ deaths unearthed. In her longing for emotional closeness, she befriends Andy Evans, a well-known poet with a roguish charm. Their attraction soon leads to a love affair. Flouting the paisley headscarf of respectability, she plunges into a relationship that gives her an entry to the literary world, but at a price. Filled with insights into grief, longing and creativity, The Most Cunning Heart is a novel about how a quiet heroine learns to navigate deception, love and loss.”

This is a PWYC event. Register and you might win a copy of the book from the publisher.

Interview with Anna Dowdall

The end of last season was a rush. We were all racing to the summer and the relaxing sunny days ahead. If you missed our event with Anna Dowdall on May 5, you can check out the video of our event here.

APRIL ON PARIS STREET was released by Guernica Editions in October 2021.

“In April on Paris Street, a Montreal private investigator of half-Abenaki heritage takes a case that looks like old-school damsel in-distress rescue but that then turns into something unnervingly different. The narrative weaves working class Ashley Smeeton’s personal story (trying to connect with her Abenaki relatives, the death of a grandmother she’s hardly known, an ill-considered fling with a handsome vaurien) into the story of the privileged young woman, Mirabel Saint Cyr, whose fashion mogul husband hires her.” It is a gorgeous novel that takes the reader on a journey through Montreal and Paris.


APRIL ON PARIS STREET is filled with incredibly complex and duplicitous characters. The story itself feels like background to the lively characters. It is much like an Agatha Christie novel, where you can imagine each character having a novel to themselves. You also mention the Orient Express at one point. I wonder if you’d talk about any literary or creative influences?

How can I deny the influence of Agatha Christie and why would I want to?  Utterly without pretension and highly accessible, her books are genius.  But my influences are probably a real mix of this and that. I love Ursula Curtiss, and my first book, After the Winter, meant to read fallaciously like mid-century romantic suspense, is a tribute to her.  Then there’s Rebecca West, for the admirable subtlety of her female characterizations. Lucy Montgomery is probably partly responsible for my love of immersive setting. And if Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins can have all over the place “run on” plots, why can’t I?  And, finally, there is nothing UK screenwriter Sally Wainwright has done that I haven’t wanted to imitate. 

The women you write are strong and determined, even when others think they’re indecisive or weak. Creating a book filled with very different multi-dimensional women must be a challenge.

Can you talk about characterization and how, as a writer, you approach character development?

I’ve been drawn to writers whose female characterizations are considered ground-breaking or at least in some way unusual. In crime fiction, it is so easy to fall into sexist gender tropes. There is a prevalence of female victims in books by both male and female writers.  I cracked a Canadian hard-boiled crime story recently, saying I’d stick with it if the first female character wasn’t a hooker. Not only was she a hooker, but she also didn’t show up until page 81. In some ways what I do is almost elementary. I try to create female characters who don’t stab each other in the back; don’t talk about men all the time; take centre stage in the book; have a wide range of human preoccupations, and whose behaviour can be very unexpected. In crime fiction, this latter element is part of how a writer can misdirect the reader. You hit the nail on the head in your question, and the depths and strengths of women in my books are part of the reveal. My three novel endings one way or another are meant to be feminist repliques to commercial crime fiction with its voyeuristic female victims and typical endings.          

There are several doubles in the novel. Some we cannot mention, but near the beginning of the novel, there are two women named Mira, thugs described only as Thug One and Thug Two and other paired characters who work together to bring the story to the page. Can you talk about this in APRIL ON PARIS STREET, and how doubles work to amplify the tension and conflict in the writing?

A probing question. I’m not sure I can answer it fully. I have had a lifelong obsession with doubles. Maybe I am a little double myself, one way or another? But…having dumped all the doubles I could think of, related to form, plot, setting and character, into April on Paris Street, I guess I can stand back and say, almost as a reader, that they add to the uncanny feeling of the story, of things not being ever quite what they seem.  Maybe almost philosophical, as if I want to portray an uncertain world of ramifying and duplicating realities, even of eternal returns.  However, I hope I’m not as nuts as Nietzsche, although everybody should be a little bit crazy once in a while.  

Ashley is a working Private Investigator, and the Saint Cyr case is not her only job. In many novels with a PI as the lead character, we don’t get to see other cases they are working on. I couldn’t help but wonder if the ones in APRIL may appear again in a future novel. Can you talk about your choice to include such detail with the other cases?

It was part of my need to embroider motifs of doubleness wherever I could. The other cases are like mini plots, reflecting on and modifying the main plot and the theme, ie, betrayal where you least expect it. The neighbour’s wrong un boyfriend isn’t such a wrong un. The overworked pediatrician’s husband on the other hand exemplifies the double life. Etcetera. My second book, The Au Pair, explores a theme of tragic plagiarism and I also work in snippets of another plagiarism case, with comic overtones, to foreshadow the direction of my main plot. I do this type of thing almost automatically. I’m like a bower bird sorting my objects and colours, only they are themes and variations on themes. I could easily use these in future books! April on Paris Street ends with Dominique of the bright green eyes gone missing in the mysterious east (end.) Maybe Ashley will be hired to look for her.   

You do such a fine job of describing in vivid sensual details the surroundings in the novel: the cold, the wind, the darkness. How does physical space play a role in your storytelling?

Thank you for your kind words. The “place” of the story is the world I need to wander around in as I write. Again, it’s not a deliberate choice as much as a natural predilection. Even as a kid, I always preferred books that built a very complete world, in both its natural and human-made aspects. The interplay between setting and character fascinates me, as it is subtler than the tango between character and plot and captures the impalpable via mood. In crime fiction in particular, setting’s menacing and unknown aspects are a gorgeously ambiguous interactive frame for the unfolding story. Place, in my estimation, is what contributes magic to stories.

Paris and the Parisian Carnival really come alive in the book. Have you spent time there? Have you gone to Carnival? Have you been to a masquerade party? I’d love details on the research.

I was raised in a French-Canadian community and participated in many local Carnavals as I was growing up. I once won a prize as a Pierrette on skates. I love Paris, who doesn’t, and have spent much time there, in modest hotels in sketchy parts of the city. And I did spend five days in Paris, just researching Carnaval. I went to the research centre of the Archives Nationales de Paris, the archives of Le Figaro, a Musée Carnavalet special exhibit, and there were relevant collections at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Musée Bourdelle too.

Ashley meets her father’s family for the first time in APRIL ON PARIS STREET and it is a complex relationship, given she didn’t grow up with Abenaki traditions and culture. How much will you dive into this with her if she appears in the next novel?

I don’t know! But probably quite a bit if she is to feature in a future book. However, to keep things fresh, I might invent a mysterious and just discovered half-sister, who dies in problematic circumstances perhaps. Just to add a wrinkle. That, by the way, is a contrivance of my first book, After the Winter. No matter how detailed my characterization, I like to place my rounded characters adjacent to fairy tale and fable plot elements. I’ll never write social issue novels, although I adored reading them when I was younger.


From Guernica Editions:
Anna Dowdall was born in Montreal and recently moved back there, which surprised no one but her. She’s been a reporter, a college lecturer and a horticultural advisor, as well as other things best forgotten. Her well-received domestic mysteries, After the Winter and The Au Pair, feature evocative settings and uninhibited female revenge, with a seasoning of moral ambiguity and noir. She reads obscure fiction in English and French and thinks Quebec is an underrecognized mise en scène for mystery and domestic suspense.

Hard stories make big hearts

Ivan Baidak comes to Junction Reads on Sunday October 2 at 5:00pm EST. On Zoom.

I was at the Guernica Editions launch for Ivan Baidak’s novel, (In)visible, on September 18, and was so moved by his introduction to the reading. He talked about the almost 2 million Ukrainians who live with disabilities and that the majority of them live indoors, away from the public’s gaze. They live in fear of being seen, being mocked and feel safer indoors.

As the mother of a kid with a facial difference, this was hard to hear. There have been many times in his life that I felt we shouldn’t go outside, especially when he was very young and had spots all over his face from laser surgery. But we went anyway; we went shopping at IKEA where he played with other kids in the ball area; we went to the park where kids could see him and he went to school. We did this for no other reason than he deserves to live like everyone else. I didn’t think about the other side of it until years later when my very young niece told her best friend (who was staring at her cousin’s port-wine-stained face), “Don’t worry, after a while you won’t even notice.” She was right. The more people hang out with him, the more they see he’s loving, caring, empathetic and funny as hell. The more they see him, the less they see the birthmark because he is more than his face. My kid needs to be seen; people with disabilities, both visible and invisible, need to be seen.

In the first section of Baidak’s novel, the characters, who are members of a support group for individuals with visible differences talk about their reactions to people staring and inquiring. Anna, a character with a large hemangioma on her cheek says, “I wish they didn’t notice us at all…or rather ignored us.” Eva says, “I usually joke about it. Whenever someone asks me about patches on my skin, I pretend I have no idea what they’re talking about. Patches? What Patches?” The conversation turns when the group’s facilitator says, “Don’t be hard on others. They might just need a bit more time to get used to you.” This upsets Eva, who is angry she can’t ever hope to make a good first impression and that no one will ever fall in love with her at first sight.

This is the heart of the story, for me. We live in a world where our physical bodies, our faces, our hair and how we move in the world, are judged at first sight. Unless my son decides to hide inside, the images he shares on social media will be commented on by those who will see his birthmark first, and then, hopefully notice his beauty. This world is exponentially more difficult for him and for people with visible disabilities because the first impression will always include their differences. What I like about Baidak’s novel is, his characters are allowed to speak their own experiences and share their own opinions about what they should be doing and what the general population should be doing.

This novel explores the experiences of four characters with visible differences. From Tourette’s to alopecia to a facial hemangioma and vitiligo, Adam, Marta, Anna and Eva confront their own fears and trepidations as they move toward a new place in their lives. They are each courageous and confident as they learn “patience and resilience” on their journeys of self-discovery.

In the final chapter, Adam says: “Each of us is fighting our own battle…Whenever I meet someone for the first time, I feel like I’m opening a new book. I am not familiar with this person’s story…but I know…they might be struggling with something…So, I try to be kind to them.” We need more books like (In)visible in the world. We need more people to see others as they hope to be seen. We are all struggling. We come “in many different shapes and forms” and it is only when we look beyond the book cover – beyond the faces and bodies – that we will understand each other. I cannot say enough how important it is for people with differences to live inside the books we read. At the reading, before Ivan stopped talking, my son said, “I need his book.” He wanted – he needed – a book that spoke to his own experiences. Ivan dedicated the book to Duncan with the words: “Hope you have a wonderful life.” Isn’t this what we should want for everyone?

I hope you will join us on October 2, but in the mean time, please read Ivan’s book. Find resources and follow groups and individuals on social media.

Suggestions: AboutFace Canada an excellent group for individuals and families living with facial difference. Face Equality International, an organisation of many fighting for face equality as a human rights issue. Tourette Canada, a fundraising and support organisation raising awareness. The Canadian Skin Patient Alliance, “a national non-profit organization that improves the health and wellbeing of people across Canada affected by skin, hair, and nail conditions through collaboration, advocacy, and education.”

Junction Reads is growing!

We are so excited to share the news that Sarah Campbell is joining Junction Reads. The best news? She will be our Social Media Coordinator and I cannot be more thrilled to have her join the team! Look out for more posts with recommended reads, reading events and other bookish things.

Sarah Campbell is a writer, a Roots Of Empathy Instructor and a lover of all things pop culture. When she isn’t reading she also writes book reviews for 49th Kids (kids.49thshelf.com.) Most recently, she has been published in the Quarantine Review. She and her husband, their two sons and dog Bingo live in Waterloo, Ontario. You can follow her at Pink Fish Reads.


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