Q & A With The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes Author, Bridget Canning

Merriam-Webster defines satire as “a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn,” but is seems to me that the best modern satires, particularly topical satires, do a little more than this. The vices and follies they expose are collective rather than individual and they implicate us all because we are all drawn into collective absurdities.

I became acutely aware of this when reading Bridget Canning’s debut novel, The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes. The novel sees an obscure young woman, the Wanda of the title, turn into a media — and social media — sensation when she instinctively knocks out a deranged gunman by hurling a can of coconut milk. Her modest home becomes the location for a 24-hour media scrum and she comes under intense pressure to become the person the news networks, Facebook, twitter etc. . . want her to be. All the time, of course, she has problems of her own and these are on a far more human and humble scale.

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Q1. It seems to me that satire is quite separate from other literary forms in that writers either have a satirical gene or they don’t. You clearly do, and while you obviously have mastered all the other accepted crafts of writing, your type of satire seems to require a super-sensitive understanding of trends and currents of collective thought and behaviour – Zeitgeist, if you like. I found myself recognizing almost everything, although I hadn’t necessarily noticed noticing them before. Are you a very keen observer? And how much of this is conscious?

Bridget Canning: I try to take note of things as much as possible – there are different lists on my phone of descriptions, snippets of dialogue, interesting names. As for unconscious observation, I think my background in teaching has trained me to be reflective – for example, considering how a lesson went, what worked, what didn’t, etc. I spend a lot of time journaling and attempting to pick apart why things are the way they are. Teaching and studying education has made me a better writer.

Q2. One thing that comes through very clearly in this novel is a sense of place and society. I can experience St. John’s in this book – its hip, arty side as well as its more bourgeois side – and I think anyone reading the novel would emerge with an idea of what the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador feels like. How do your themes relate to your own relationship with St. John’s?

Bridget Canning: I’m not originally from St. John’s, but I consider it my home and love it dearly. It has everything I want in a city and community. However, it can be a frustrating devotion – unstable economy, heartbreaking spring weather, blatant nepotism, history of poor leadership. For me, St. John’s feels like a beloved friend who gets really stubborn when you gently suggest they maybe take a little better care of themselves.

In The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes, I wanted St. John’s to be recognizable, but universal – as in, what happens to Wanda could happen in any city. Wanda is also not originally from St. John’s, so through her, I hoped to create recognizable “St. John’s scenes” –  but since she’s not really a part of them, there’s a distance that can make them interchangeable.

Q3. One of the strands in the novel is that we are all frantically searching for heroes and saviours. Do you think there is something about the present era that intensifies this belief in heroes? Would this story have been different in a different time?

Bridget Canning: I believe so. We’re the starter generations of the information age and concepts like fame and notoriety have expanded their inclusion. You could be the leader of the free world or someone who made a really funny video with your cat and the same amount of people will know who you are.

There is so much information that we reduce people to nuggets of meaning – listicles, memes, gifs. And we do this with our “heroes” – for example, the two Swedish students who caught Standford Rapist Brock Turner a few years ago. I read Buzzfeed articles praising their heroic actions, their faces were everywhere. I read comments about how people wanted their children to be like these two guys. Yet even with their actions and testimony, Brock Turner got a slap on the wrist. The heroes were idealized, but it still didn’t get appropriate justice for the woman they saved.

Q4. Do you think this kind of satire is uniquely urban? Can you imagine a rural topical satire, or would a rural story have a different objective and a different tone?

Bridget Canning: I don’t think it’s uniquely urban and much of Wanda’s situation is not distinctly urban – St. John’s is small enough for her to be recognized, and of course, she’s from a small town, so there’s the awareness of how her identity is impacted there.

When I consider a rural topical satire, Michael Crummey’s Sweetland comes to mind. The actual shrinking of rural life, the young people who leave to make money and it makes them worse – there’s so much play between different worlds there.

Q5. I wonder how this novel plays out in generational terms. Your protagonist is educated and a conscientious employee but is also precariously employed, and this landscape of young(ish) highly educated underachievers is all too familiar everywhere in the western world where the kinds of certainties the older generations enjoyed are no longer available. Is this consciously part of the satire? Do these circumstances give Wanda’s generation more bite than those that went before?

Bridget Canning: Oh definitely. When I consider so many of the “baby boomer” novels I read in my 20s and 30s where the young protagonist got a good, solid job or backpacked across Europe or went on a drug-fueled road trip, I think, how’d they do that? I had creditors after me for my defaulted student loan and I couldn’t afford a futon.

For many people of my generation and younger, economic security feels like a non-renewable resource older generations have depleted. It’s a frustrating reality, but fun to write about.

Q6. What are you working on now? Might the next Bridget Canning novel be a continuation of the same brand or something quite different?

Bridget Canning: I’m involved with a few projects. Currently, I’m working on a screenplay through the From Our Dark Side Incubator program. It’s a psychological thriller about a serial killer who targets internet trolls. I’m also doing the Masters in Creative Writing at MUN with a short story collection as a creative thesis. There’s also another novel manuscript I hope to pick up when I have time – not the same brand as The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes – it takes place during the early 1990s and is kind of a coming-of-age story. I’m also working with my writing group to put together a kind of coffee table book with photos of bathroom graffiti and writing inspired by it. So not busy at all!

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Q & A with Call of the Sea author, Amanda Labonté

The discipline of writing fantasy and supernatural fiction has always fascinated me. An author in these genres has to convince a reader of events, characters, and situations that the reader knows cannot be real.

This seems like an extraordinary challenge. It’s far from straightforward to convince a reader to believe in events that can and do occur, let alone those that don’t. Adding known impossibilities to the burden of literary proof takes a great deal of guts and imagination. I admire the ambition, the focus, and the steadfastness of writers who work in the fantasy genre.

One particularly fine example is Amanda Labonté, whose recent novel, Call of the Sea, was published by Engen Books.

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When I first read Amanda’s fiction, I was struck by how well she had interwoven timeless-seeming folklore and legend into thoroughly modern settings. Her protagonist is Alex who comes under suspicion when his twin brother disappears over the side of their fishing boat. His search for his brother, combined with his need to clear his name, sees him plunge into a world of magic and mermen lore.

Q1: One quality in Call of the Sea is that rather than disrupting the atmosphere of mermaids, mermen, siren calls and ancient songs, the taut and contemporary passages actually heighten the magic, partly through contrast, partly by anchoring the overall experience in a world we know. Was it a conscious decision to write a ‘modern’ fantasy with ancient, folkloric elements?

Amanda Labonté: In many ways, this is the only way I could have written this story. I toyed with setting the story in the past, but the story really dragged. Once I moved it up to the here and now, the story flowed much better and the motivations of the characters made a lot more sense to me, making them easier to write. Since Call of the Sea was my first book, getting the story out was the most important part of the writing process. As for the fantasy elements, incorporating mermaid mythology felt really natural. The setting really lends itself to the idea that there’s more under the waves than we can possible comprehend and I felt like this mythology made sense with this setting.

Q2: Connected to the above, would you ever set anything in an entirely fantasy world? How might the challenges differ?

Amanda Labonté: If the right idea struck me, I would definitely consider setting a story in an entirely fantasy world. It would have some interesting creative challenges because world building is its own special skill set. The biggest issue would be making the world relatable. Even when a reader hasn’t been to a particular city or town, there’s a preconceived idea of what that place is like because it’s part of our collective conscious. Whereas an entirely made-up world doesn’t have that built in awareness. At the same time, stories like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are timeless, so it’s something I would like try in the future.

Q3: The richness of the mythology in Call of the Sea is very striking. It seems there must have been a great amount of working out the folkloric details in advance, and the sheer discipline is impressive. How much of this is imagination, how much research? Which parts do you, as writer, find most exciting?

Amanda Labonté: The fun thing about writing a fantasy story set in Newfoundland is that there’s an appreciation for the paranormal and supernatural. I grew up with the idea that you leave bread on your doorstep at night in order to appease the fairies. Since I grew up around these kinds of stories, I think that made creating my own mythology a lot easier. I really jumped into researching sea creatures like mermaids and sirens but I was less interested in how they were supposed to look or act – that’s what I took from my own imagination – and much more interested in what elements I could take that would make their existence as believable to my characters as the fairy stories were to me. In the end, the use of music was one of the key elements of the mythology that I highlighted in my story.

Q4: The setting is Newfoundland, your home, and in particular an aspect of Newfoundland culture that resounds strongly to people who were raised in Newfoundland and Labrador i.e. in the beginning in which the brothers are taking part in the food fishery. What did it mean to you to start the story here? I’m thinking particularly of the thematic underlay of a young man going missing, apparently being swallowed by the sea – does this have more resonance post moratorium?

Amanda Labonté: The circumstances at the start of the book are definitely something I thought a lot about. In many ways, the fictional Clad’s Cove is very much affected by the same issues plaguing most rural parts of Newfoundland. The transition from a fishing based economy after the moratorium of the 1990s meant that many communities had to seek out new ways of making a living. Many communities turned to tourism with mixed results. Alex, the main character, and his brothers are growing up in an environment and lifestyle that they love, but that likely won’t be able to support them as adults. In many ways that makes the setting a little bittersweet.

Q5: Connected to the above, is there an inherent sadness is setting a Newfoundland fantasy at sea. Do you, and do you think your readers, associate the ocean with loss or at least yearning?

Amanda Labonté: The sea is both the most beautiful and most terrible setting imaginable. I love to look at it, especially when I visit the Cape Shore where the story is set. But at the same time, the ocean is terrifying. Not only because of all the tragedies that have taken place, but because it has so much potential to take away. Yet, for Newfoundlanders, being able to see the ocean is very comforting. Being landlocked can be a very uncomfortable feeling when you are used to seeing water on a daily basis. This juxtaposition is something I still find really interesting and I’ve experienced both feelings myself.

Q6: What other genres are you working with at the moment?

Amanda Labonté: I am currently working on a paranormal mystery series called Supernatural Causes. It’s very different from Call of the Sea in many ways in that it’s a vampire driven medical mystery series – all things that I had no idea I was interested in until the idea came to me. Like Call of the Sea though, I think Supernatural Causes is very character driven. I’ve really enjoyed trying something completely different.

I am also working on the sequel to Call of the SeaReturn to the Sea – which is also a great experience as it allows me to continue following the characters as they experience new, exciting circumstances.

Q7: In terms of reaching your market what special challenges, and indeed opportunities, are there for the fantasy writer?

Amanda Labonté: The thing about fantasy readers is that, if they like what you write, they want to see more of your work. They are voracious readers and they often reach out to authors, letting you know directly what they think of your novels. That means there are a lot of opportunity to sell your books directly at conventions and signings, but also through word of mouth since fantasy readers are quick to recommend books to each other. That can put some pressure on the writer, because you don’t want to disappoint a reader you feel like you know, but it’s also very rewarding.

 

Paul Butler – update on a new novel

Thanks for this, Susan!

Reading Recommendations

Paul Butler was previously promoted on Reading Recommendations in Sept. 2014 and Jan. 2015. He’s back now to tell us about a new novel that’s been published.

The Widow’s Fire
by Paul F. Butler
Published by Inanna Publication

The Widow’s Fire explores the shadow side of Jane Austen’s final novel Persuasion, disrupting its happy ending and throwing moral certainties off balance. We join the action close to the moment when Austen draws away for the last time and discretely gives an overview of the oncoming marriage between heroine Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. This, it transpires in The Widow’s Fire, is merely the beginning of a journey. Soon dark undercurrents disturb the order and symmetry of Austen’s world. The gothic flavor of the period, usually satirized by Austen, begins to assert itself. Characters far below the notice of Anne, a baronet’s daughter, have agendas of their own…

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The Widow’s Fire Update

Dear HB Creativity Clients and Friends,

In the coming months, I will be traveling to promote The Widow’s Fire, a novel exploring the shadow side of Jane Austen’s final novel, Persuasion. I hope to see some of you at the events listed below!

The Widow's Fire

Ontario

Toronto: Inanna Publication’s spring book launch at Glad Day Bookshop, Church Street, Toronto, between 6:00-8:30pm, May 24. Full line-up: Sky Curtis, author of Flush; Lucy E.M. Black, author of The Marzipan Fruit Basket, Ursula Pflug, author of Mountain, Paul Butler, author of The Widow’s Fire, and Sonia Saikaley, author of A Pink Samurai’s House. With special guest jazz pianist Patrick Hewan.

New Brunswick

Fredericton: Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Programs annual conference, University of New Brunswick, presentation, Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation in Historical Fiction, June 10

Reading (with Mary Corkery and Sky Curtis) at Westminster Books, Fredericton, 4:00-5:30pm., June 12

Alberta

Edmonton: Reading at Audrey’s Books, June 27, 7.00 pm.

Lethbridge: Reading at Word on the Street, September 23, time TBA

British Columbia

Vancouver: Spoken Ink Reading (with Susan McCaslin) at Deer Lake Gallery, Burnaby, June 20, 8 – 9:30 pm

California, USA

Presenter, Jane Austen Society of North America, annual conference, Huntington Beach, October 5 – October 8. Presentation title: Updating Jane Austen’s Morality in 21st Century Fiction (time TBA).

I am continuing to accept very small numbers of clients for the online course, but places will be limited.

The Widow’s Fire update

 

Upcoming Events for The Widow’s Fire (2017)

  • May 24, Glad Day Books, 499 Church Street, Toronto, Inanna Spring Book Launch, 6 – 8.30 pm
  • Race, Gender & Sexual Orientation in Historical Fiction presentation at the Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Programs CCWWP Conference, Fredericton, June 9 -11 (time TBA)
  • June 12, Westminster Books, Fredericton, reading, 4 – 5:30. pm.
  • June 27, Audrey’s Books, Edmonton, reading, 7.00. pm.
  • September 23, Word on the Street, Lethbridge, Alberta, reading, time TBA.
  • 2017 JASNA AGM, Huntington Beach, California, Jane Austen in Paradise: Intimations of Immortality, presentation: Updating Jane’s Morality in 21st Century Fiction October 5 – 8.

More events will be added as they are arranged.

Instant Hook Writing Contest Results

I’m delighted to announce the winners and runners up of the 2016-17 Instant Hook Writing Contest. It was a very strong year indeed with over a hundred entries. A sincere thank you to all entrants for taking part and sharing their works-in-progress.

Winner: Bianca Lakoseljac (Ontario) Where the Sidewalk Ends

This entry grips the reader immediately as a romantically-involved couple encounter a street artist at sunset and the reader senses a gulf opening up between them. The story promises to reveal a great deal about the all the characters, and a touch of mysticism is very persuasively suggested through a heightened sensory awareness. Subtle, compelling, and economical, this is a thoroughly accomplished piece of writing.

Two runners-up (in alphabetical order):

Lea Storry (Alberta)  Me, You and Here

This very assured opening places the reader inside a relationship between a woman and man who must wait out a storm while on a canoeing expedition. The strength of the writer’s voice is particularly impressive as the protagonist claims reader intimacy to great effect. We feel a complex, layered past and well-delineated lines of conflict deep in the fabric of the prose.

Shawna Troke-Leukert (Newfoundland and Labrador) Forgive

This opening reveals a highly impressive mastery of plot as a woman entrusted with the care of a minor sees catastrophe unfold. The author effectively brings many crucial story elements —  very high stakes, dread of the future, just enough backstory — into play in the opening 300 words. There is a great deal going on but we experience it all properly without feeling that we’ve been told.

NOTE: There were many very worthy pieces of work which did not make the final shortlist. A short adjudication was written for each of the entries. Feel free to ask for this should you wish to receive this feedback.

 

Upcoming Events

The Widow's Fire

Events for The Widow’s Fire (2017)

  • June 12, Westminster Books, Fredericton, reading, 4 – 5:30. pm.
  • June 27, Audrey’s Books, Edmonton, reading, 7.00. pm.
  • September 23rd, Word on the Street, Lethbridge, Alberta, reading, time TBA.
  • 2017 JASNA AGM, Huntington Beach, California, Jane Austen in Paradise: Intimations of Immortality, presentation: Updating Jane’s Morality in 21st Century Fiction October 5 – 8.

More events will be added as they are arranged. See “About” page.

Quick update for the Instant Hook Writing Contest: large numbers of entries have slowed the adjudication process, but I will have notified a winner and runners up before the end of March. Many thanks for your patience!