Janet E. Cameron’s debut novel Cinnamon Toast and The End of The World (Link to my review) is a brilliant coming-of-age novel set in the 1980s. The Nova-Scotia author now living in Ireland recently answered a few questions for me – especially what is next in her writing career.
1) So how has the reaction been to Cinnamon Toast and The End of The World been so far? Has there been any particular memorable feedback to the novel so far?
A: I’m not sure overall what the general reaction has been. You send this stuff out into the world and get little bits of information here and there as to how it’s doing and the rest is guess work. There was a great review in the Globe and Mail about a month after it was released in Canada, and a starred review in Quill and Quire a few weeks later, both majorly yay-inducing moments for me. Also it’s been nominated for the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading Evergreen award, which I think has gotten it a bit of attention. Occasionally I’ll have someone contact me on social media or by email to tell me they liked it, and then I’m skipping around the place with joy. I’ve even had a few people say it’s one of their favourite books, and when that happens, there’s really no feeling like it. (Not that all reader feedback has been positive of course, but then, people who hate your book rarely make a point of emailing to tell you this, thank God.)
2) I’m curious about your back story. How does a Canadian writer find herself in Dublin, Ireland?
A: It was because of the 2002 FIFA Soccer World Cup! I was teaching at a private school in Tokyo the year Japan and Korea hosted the world cup and the city was flooded with international fans. I happened to run into one, a cute curly-headed journalist, when I was out with a group of friends. Three years later I was married to him and living in Ireland.
3) Are working on any new writing right now? If yes, are there details you can share with your fans?
A; My fans? You mean my mom? Well, you can tell her that I’m working on a novel now, but it’s giving me a lot of trouble and I’m not sure if it’s ever going to be a book. It’s set in the same town as Cinnamon Toast and the main characters are a couple of minor figures from that book. It deals with the aftermath of a suicide, so anyone who thinks the first book was a bit miserable will probably not find this one a fun-fest either. If it ever gets out there.
4) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
A: You know, it’s funny. Every time I claim someone as a favourite, they release something I don’t like, and then I want to call up everyone I’ve told and say I’ve changed my mind. I think Edmund White can be wonderful, especially when his backdrop is the American mid-west. I loved Douglas Adams when I was a kid and can still quote chunks of the Hitchhiker books. Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness is a great book that was a big influence when I was starting to write prose, and recently my big favourite is Ruth Ozeki’s
A Tale for the Time Being. I try to keep an open mind and read everything. Right now I’m about halfway through Lisa Moore’s Caught and the writing is pretty much blowing my tiny mind.
5) When you write do you get inspiration from your own life or from the lives of others for your stories?
A: I just make stuff up, mostly. If my life is involved, it’s less interesting for me, or at least more difficult. I did have a suicide in my family back in 1989, which is one reason why the second book’s giving me so much trouble. That said, I enjoy using real places and sticking little details from the real world into what I’m writing. But you have to be careful with that in case someone gets the wrong idea. I gave Stephen’s father the nickname ‘Spider’ and had him living on the North Mountain in Nova Scotia, so a friend wondered if I was writing about Spider Robinson, the science-fiction author. I had to clarify that when, to my surprise, Spider himself ended up reading the book. (He liked it, which made me super, super happy.)
6) You seem to have a presence on some of the social media platforms like Twitter. Does being on those platforms help you with your writing?
A: I think they’re a time and energy drain, actually, but I’ll admit I’m addicted. It’s easier to post a blog article than to publish a book, and the reaction from readers is pretty much instantaneous, so it can be very rewarding in the short term – which makes it a dangerous distraction from the rest of my writing. Publishers encourage you to use these outlets, although no one can measure how much social media helps with sales and recognition and we might all be just guessing here.
7) Do you do a lot of travelling? Do you make it back to Canada much? (Now that WestJet is offering service between Ireland and Canada I would assume it would be a bit easier.)
A: That service won’t start until the fall, but it might make things easier. The problem is that there’s so much of Canada – my sister and mother are in Edmonton and my dad is in Nova Scotia. So once you’ve arrived, there’s still a lot of travelling to do, and it’s not exactly cheap. I’m on an extended visit to Nova Scotia now, but I don’t imagine I’ll be back soon once it’s over. I just can’t afford it.
8) Has Cinnamon Toast been involved in any book clubs at all? If yes, did you participate with their discussions at all?
A: Yes, it’s been interesting. I don’t know how many book clubs have covered it, but I was able to attend one meeting in person in the fall, which was pretty great. We had cinnamon rolls, of course. I’ve also Skyped book clubs in New Zealand, Vancouver and New Brunswick. Sometimes this goes well and sometimes it’s a bit awkward, depending on the connection. Once I couldn’t see more than one person at a time and just had the impression of getting yelled at by unseen voices with every fourth word cutting out. But for the group in Vancouver, there was a big screen and a great connection and it was like being there.
9) Have you done any public readings of Cinnamon Toast at all? If yes, what was that experience like for you?
A: I’ve read from it a number of times, usually as part of a double or triple/quadruple bill with other authors. I got to read twice at the Festival of Authors in Toronto last October, which was really quite amazing. I like reading for a group, but tend to get stuck on the same bits to read because I know they work and it’s difficult to take chances on something you’re not sure of when you’re nervous. But I’ve got another reading coming up in early June and I’ll just have to force myself out of the old comfort zone this time.
10) There are quite a few people trying their hand at writing fiction right now. Do you have any advice for them?
Edit. Edit your little heart out. Edit until you’re ready to go mad, then edit some more. It’s the only way you improve. And be patient with yourself. I know when you’re finished something, impulse to run out and share it becomes overwhelming – writing is about communication after all – but I always regret sharing anything without a cooling off period first. You will probably find you want to change something or even give it another few drafts before it’s ready to get out there and meet people.