BWS 05.11.14: Zoe Whittall

Zoe Whittall

Zoe Whittall is the author of the novels Holding Still for as Long as Possible–winner of the Lambda award–and Bottle Rocket Hearts, which was named a CBC Canada Reads Top Ten Essential Read of the decade. Zoe has also written The Middle Ground, a novel for adults with low literacy skills, and three collections of poetry–The Best Ten Minutes of Your LifeThe Emily Valentine Poems and Precordial ThumpShe drops by the blog ahead of her reading to discuss her next novel, The Best Kind of People, which is forthcoming from Anansi in 2016.

Failure

This spring I finally sold my third literary novel. It’s called The Best Kind of People and will be published in 2016 with House of Anansi. I say finally, because it feels like I wrote it for decades. I may read from it tonight at Brockton Writers Series’ fifth anniversary party (ed. note: CAKE!), but I’m a bit nervous about it.

For one, the book isn’t funny. At all. It’s about rape culture and what happens when someone you know and love turns out to have a monstrous side. It seems like too much given the last 10 days of JG-related media saturation. Plus, I usually only read the shortest, funniest bits from anything I write so that I can tell when the audience is with me; I will rarely be “that boring writer who went on and on.”

Secondly, this novel and I have had a tumultuous relationship and I’m not sure I’ve really forgiven it yet.

I almost set it free numerous times. From 2009 to 2011, I wrote a draft I thought was finished. It wasn’t. I went to Banff in 2012 and sat alone in my room in the Arts Centre for two weeks until I wrote another draft that turned out worse than the earlier one. I seriously didn’t realize that could happen. This was worse than that time I was writing my second novel and wrote a draft where a character was in a surrealistic coma dream for 60 pages!

In 2013, another draft in hand, I met up with fellow author Angie Abdou in Moose Jaw at the writers’ festival, both of us with new manuscripts we weren’t sure were going to make it. We sat in the mineral baths on the roof of the hotel–go there if you’re ever in Moose Jaw–and talked about the possibility of failure. Every new publishing season I watched as authors I’d toured with in 2009 put out another book, and then another, and I felt like I was lost at sea. I had become the kind of writer who would use a cliché like ‘lost at sea’! What was happening? I admitted to Angie that it was possible I’d spent years on a book that would never end up being bound and marketed and sold and sent out into the world. Every author has one of those, right? Perhaps it was simply my time.

But I gave myself another year, and I made it work.

This is the part where I should offer sage words of advice like, “So don’t give up!”–but sometimes books, like 60 page discursive coma dreams, do need to be abandoned before new and better ideas emerge.

Zoe Whittall visits the Brockton Writers Series November 5, 2014—full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (7pm, PWYC)—along with Carole Giangrande, IF the Poet and Sheniz Janmohamed. Come early, too (6:30) for Rock Your Cover Design: How to Create a Captivating Cover that Captures Your Book’s Vision, a special talk by Suzanne Alyssa Andrew, author of Circle of Stones (Dundurn, 2015).

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