“I’m excited to see the book out in the world and, hopefully, be a part of the conversations it sparks.” | Q&A with novelist Angie Abdou

Novelist Angie Abdou took time out of her busy schedule a few years ago to have a coffee with a fan.
Novelist Angie Abdou took time out of her busy schedule a few years ago to have a coffee with a fan.

There probably isn’t a more personable and more hard-working novelist on the Canlit scene than Angie Abdou. Her previous books have won numerous praise and awards over the past years. Her new novel Between (Link to my review) is already creating some interesting discussions before it’s release and will be the must-read of the 2014 fall releases.

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1) You are about the launch your novel “Between” in September. What are your feelings about it right now? How have the advance reviews been for it so far?
A: I was extraordinarily nervous about this book a few months ago. In it, I explore some uncomfortable truths about parenthood … and about contemporary North American life in general. That discomfort leads to a certain amount of anxiety on my part. However, initial responses have started coming in, and they have been very positive. That has given me a very welcome confidence boost. Now I’m excited to see the book out in the world and, hopefully, be a part of the conversations it sparks.
2) I know you mentioned the idea of this book when we met in Fernie a few years ago but how long have you been working on it? Was it a steady process in writing it or did you put it away for a while?
A: I always find the “how long” question so hard to answer. It’s not a matter of simply counting the days. A novel incorporates my whole life experience to date. This one does so more than my others. There was also a gap in which I had to rethink the  last third of the book. I did a major rewrite of that final section based on the wise advice of Susan Safyan, my amazing editor at Arsenal Pulp Press. I suppose if pressed to answer the “how long” question, I’d say since the release of The Canterbury Trail in 2011. So, Between is the product three years of thinking, researching, drafting, revising, rethinking, rewriting, and editing.
3) The press release that came with the advance reading copy of “Between” quotes you in saying that the book ‘originated with your own discomfort’ in bringing in a nanny from the Philippines. Is your character of Vero pretty much an extension of yourself or did you do any research for writing this book?
A: Oh boy – anyone who reads Between will know why I’m *very * uncomfortable with readers thinking of her as an extension of me. God no!  I did a fair amount of research for her character (army tanks & swinger resorts spring to mind). Her liberal guilt is my own. I did far more research, of course, for the Filipina nanny, Ligaya.
4) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
A: I have so many favourite writers. I’m scared to start listing for fear of leaving out others. Here are the first ten who spring to my mind, in no order: Timothy Taylor, Miriam Toews, Alison Pick, Jowita Bydlowska, Marina Endicott, Paul Quarrington, Bill Gaston, J.M. Coetzee, Jonathan Franzen, John Updike, John Irving.  See, that’s 11, and I am just getting warmed up.
5) Has your writing changed much since you started writing? If yes, how so?
A: Yes. I ran into a reader on the weekend who was half way through Between and, in the most animated terms, he told me it was my best novel yet. I said, “Oh good. So I am learning something!” Of course, I learn things with each book I write, and apply those lessons to the next. Also, though, what I’m trying to do with each novel changes. With this novel, I was working with intensity and vulnerability.
6) Are all your speaking engagements for “Between” set up as of today? Is doing public readings of your works something that you enjoy to do?
A: I have about 25 speaking engagements set up for the fall. I plan to do more through the winter and in the spring. I love getting out and speaking with readers – that travel is the reward for long years of solitary work.
7) Have any of your books been the topic of discussions for book clubs? If yes, did you participate in the discussions at all and was it something that you enjoyed?
A: I have attended many book clubs with all three of my previous books, and it’s something I enjoy a great deal. When I do regular book events, I have to assume the audience has not yet read the books, and I make sure there are no “spoilers” in my talk. In that way, those events are more promotional – I ‘m hoping to encourage people to get out and buy/read the book. At book clubs, I can assume everyone has read the book so we can get into deeper discussions.
8) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you can share with your fans?
A: I overheard my husband telling a friend about my next book and he said “She’s writing a ghost story, but in her own Angie way.” I really loved that and the “in her own Angie way” has helped me with the writing. That description, which I wouldn’t have included, has given me a much-appreciated freedom.
9) I’ve been asking a lot of writers about their experiences using social media and the majority of them respond with a comment that the time spent using those platforms is a ‘necessary distraction.’ I know you are active on both Facebook and Twitter and it seems to me that you enjoy using them. Am I right in assuming that? Does using social media help you with your writing at all?
A: Absolutely. I would feel very cut off from writers and readers without social media. I live in a small/remote city. Twitter and Facebook keep me connected to the much larger community of Canadian writers and readers. I might have given up on a “writing life” in Fernie (to a certain extent) without the larger network that I get from social media.
10) Fernie seems to be an idyllic place for a writer to live in. I know you are active with teaching and organizing literary festivals there yet some of its residents are notably not impressed with your writing. (A recent reaction by a reader about your book The Caterbury Trail made the rounds on the national news circuits.) Are you planning to continue living in Fernie for the next while and – if yes –  how does living there help your writing?
A: I am definitely in Fernie for the long haul. We’re in the process of building our dream home (with long-term dreams of a writer-in-residence suite on the same property). I have definitely made an online fuss about a couple very negative experiences with Fernie readers, but what I haven’t done as publically (shame on me!) is talk about all the wonderfully positive reader experiences I have in Fernie. Both the local bookstore (Polar Peek Books & Treasures) and the Fernie Heritage Library are very supportive of me and my work. There were over one hundred people at my last book launch celebrating its release. For every bad interaction with a Fernie reader, I have had hundreds of positive experiences. Unfortunately, I (like so many people) tend to make the mistake of putting more emphasis on negative experiences than positive ones.  This time I’m going to give equal weight to each person who stops me in the street to enthusiastically express appreciation for my books. When I do that, I’ll have no complaints about Fernie. Of course, I sometimes crave the anonymity that a big city provides, but I’m well aware of the pay-off I get in exchange for that anonymity. I’m already looking forward to the Fernie launch of BETWEEN on September 26 at the Fernie Heritage Library which will, I hope, be a full-house and a wonderful community celebration.
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