First off, let me underline and bold my excitement at participating in THIN AIR Winnipeg. I’m honoured to be in such great company, and I’m looking forward to experiencing what I’m sure will be an incredible writing festival—not to mention the city of Winnipeg!
I’ll be sharing my debut novel, Cauchemar, which tells the story of 20-year-old Hannah, a sheltered young woman who’s lived her whole life on the edge of a Southern swamp. After the sudden death of her adoptive mother, she’s forced to confront her real mother (who is rumoured to speak to the dead), the threatening energy of the swamp, as well as the possibility that she, too, may have darkness lurking inside her—all while navigating the already intense landscape of a new relationship and impending motherhood.
So, second, let me address the question that people inevitably ask when they hear that I—a writer from Toronto—wrote a book set in the American South:why?
It’s one those questions that you never anticipate before you put out a book. You worry about the line edits, about the cover design, about the readings. Which is why my knee-jerk response has been: Uh, because.
Over time, it’s prompted a slow wave of self-analysis. You know, that thing where you wonder if everyone else thinks and writes like you do, and you start to inspect your writing process. All of which is to say: I don’t quite know.
When I started writing Cauchemar, Toronto was in the grips of a spring thaw, and I was living in a small apartment, and listening to music with banjos and knee-slapping beats. I was staring entirely too much at an (unsettling and captivating) cow’s skull I’d purchased from a salvage shop and mounted on my wall.
It’s hard to know which came first: blackening catfish or writing about it, so let’s say they both sprouted up simultaneously. There was an image in my mind—more of a sensory reel, really—of a swampy place where the insects got mired in your sweat, and the heat was oppressive.
Although it began with vague impressions, the more I researched Louisiana (and eventually stopped in for a visit), the more I fell in love with it. It’s impossible not to be drawn in by the atmosphere, the culture, and of course, the food. Cauchemar is fiction, however; it’s still very much Louisiana with a heavy veneer of my imagination over it.
It was a fun book to write, and by fun, I mean stimulating; by turns creepy, intriguing, and utterly different from the coats, lattes, and rumbling streetcars that surrounded me in the real world. Writing lets you inhabit different places, different bodies, different mindsets, and hopefully—fingers crossed—I succeeded in transporting readers as well.
THIN AIR 2015