Monthly Archives: January 2018

“One big inspiration (of the book) was a fantasy of the good life and how to find it, which involved having good friends you’d live close to and share life with as well as access to art and fewer cars and concerns” |Q&A with author Liz Harmer on her new book “The Amateurs”

 

amateurs

It is always a thrill to see a new work come available for us readers to enjoy. Liz Harmer has been in my social-media network for a while now and her novel “The Amateurs” is being published on April 24, 2018by Knopf Canada. Liz was kind enough to answer a few questions about her novel and provide some insights into her writing style.

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1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of “The Amateurs?”

At the centre of The Amateurs is “port”, a product released by a tech company called PINA, which proves to be nearly irresistible. People buy it, use it, and soon the world depopulates. The novel focuses on two groups living after this kind of rapturing apocalypse—a few dozen people living in Hamilton-like former steeltown, and nearly a thousand holing up on the PINA campus in California—who are grieving everything and everyone they’ve lost, afraid of and desperately curious about the ports, and trying to figure out what’s next. The novel moves from the steeltown group to California and back.

 

2) How long did it take you to write the book? Was there anyone or anything that inspired you to write it?

 

One big inspiration was a fantasy of the good life and how to find it, which involved having good friends you’d live close to and share life with as well as access to art and fewer cars and concerns. I had a picture of an economy somehow happily collapsed by technology. This mutated, of course, and I ended up thinking a lot about hinge moments in life in which I might have, for example, completely screwed up my marriage—just the sort of fantasies one has around time travel and do-overs. I thought the idea that portals promising a good life might create one inadvertently was funny. My husband Adam was finishing his PhD in Philosophy around the writing of the novel, and we share an interest in the paradoxes of time travel (among other paradoxes), which was another spur.

 

From the first attempted pages, the book took around fifteen months to write, but I had been writing character sketches of Marie and Jason for much longer than that. Then the editing and revising took another year or two. It’s hard to find the boundaries around that kind of timeline.

 

3) “The Amateurs” has been listed as part of Knopf New Face of Fiction program. How did the novel get chosen for that program?

 

I don’t know how that happened—but I am so thrilled to be on that list and to be publishing with Knopf.

 

4) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

 

I love Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen, and I’m also very enthusiastic about Zadie Smith, Rachel Cusk, Heather O’Neill, and Elena Ferrante. Ottessa Mosfegh’s stories and her novel Eileen were some recent favorites. I’m currently reading Ruth Franklin’s biography of Shirley Jackson—it’s excellent—and I’m just starting Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook.

 

5) Your website states you also write essays and short pieces of fiction. Do you find any differences between the two forms of writing? Is there one form you prefer over the other?

 

Yes, and I’ve also been recently trying to write poetry. Each form provides something different, though I have a lot of trouble knowing for myself what that difference is. My nonfiction tends to be memoir, and I like all my work to be exploratory and open-ended as I’m very uncomfortable with definitive statements, at least in my writing. I tend to prefer whatever I’ve been working on—right now, I prefer fiction and feel most comfortable within it—I like to create a voice and get to know a character.

 

6) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

 

Yes—many new things, actually. Partly because I am very busy with young kids and too many responsibilities, and partly because my personality likes novelty, I’m always working on lots of projects at once. I’m several drafts into one new novel (a realist novel about commitment to marriage and to religious belief) and part way into a first draft of another; I’m working on a bunch of short stories; and I’ve been working on and researching a long nonfiction project to do with mental illness in my family.

 

7) You seem to be active on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using those sites? Are you planning to use those applications to connect with fans of your writing?

 

Definitely. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and I’m trying to figure out how best to use them. I used to really love blogging, which I think led me to write more nonfiction, and I want to figure out how to enjoy social media that much.

 

8) Are you done any public readings of you work? If yes, is it something you enjoy to do? Are you planning a book tour with the release of “The Amateurs?”

 

I have done a few readings over the past few years, of stories and essays and parts of The Amateurs. I think it’s a skill I’m getting better at, especially with some practice I’ve had reading poetry aloud. I enjoy it and tend to like events—I like going to readings also. My tour will take me to Southern Ontario in May, to start with, with more events to follow.

 

9) Your biographies have you listed as having moved from Hamilton, Ontario to California. How do you like living there now? Do you get back to Canada much?

 

I do get back to Canada fairly frequently, both with and without my family. We moved because of my husband’s academic job, which we were extremely lucky to get, but I suffer from a lot of homesickness. I miss the changing seasons—even the grey skies of the endless Southern Ontario winters—and it was hard to leave friends and family behind, especially when our kids were so young. But we have made wonderful friends here, and pomegranate trees and blue skies can be nice. I was writing The Amateurs during the move—had finished the first part during my last summer in Hamilton and started the second part before we even had an internet connection here—and my mentor with the U of T, Charles Foran, joked with me that I was going through a kind of portal while I wrote my portal novel.

*****

Link to Liz Harmer’s website

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for “The Amateurs”

A Novel Which Crafts Elements of the Human Condition | Review of “Bellevue Square” (2017 Doubleday Canada) by Michael Redhill

Bellevue

We have all viewed people with mental illnesses of some sort. And we all have had that little voice inside of us that have wondered about our own state of mind. Yet do we ever really considered mental health in regards to the human condition at all? Michael Redhill has certainly given us all something to think about with his novel Bellevue Square.

Page 32

We  all know that bad things are coming. Advice: don’t get too comfortable. Read short books, don’t see your doctor too often. Example of this: on one of my visits to my old GP, Gary Pass, I learned the name for the bony protrusions that had started to poke out of my skull. They were aneurysmal bone cysts, benign. (1997) Then Pass pronounced I had polyps. They flourished in such places as my armpits (2001, 2006, 2010). my cervix (2007), and my rectum (2012). It’s no small thing to have a half-dozen growths fried off your cervix, but I would take that over two in the fundament. Paula, my sister, called the second operation “Fire Below.” She’s been allowed, since 2007, to make fun of my aches and pains because she has a case of the brain tumours. Paula used to live in Phoenix with her husband, Chase, but now she and chase are quits and she lives alone in Phoenix, convalescing or dying. Mine years after diagnosis, the tumour has doubled in size, but she lives on. It’s inoperable. We keep our Skypes on and I have a huge data plan on my phone, which means I can talk to her while I walk down the street if I want. I’m all she has now. Our deadbeat father dies last year, and our mother alternates between Toronto and Key West, where she cures herself to kid leather six months out of the year. Once in a while she’ll go see Paula, but my mother has a life. She says you shouldn’t have to take care of your kids past their eighteenth birthdays.

Redhill has crafted a unique journey for us readers as we follow protagonist Jean Mason in her search for her doppelganger. Her unknown identical twin haunts her thoughts and she begins an obsession to find more about this person. Jean’s journey takes her through a downtown Toronto market and into a park (known as Bellevue Square) where she gets to know the regulars in order to find out more about this mysterious double.

Page 65

Pee, Dog turds, and decomposing mice are only some of the fragrances of Bellevue Square in the springtime. I’d long ago stopped noticing these undertones to the market’s stinky chiaroscuro, but it can be a challenge for first-timers, and when we walked into the park, Ian pulled his head back, as if he could save his nose from going in. “That’s  . . . fucking foul,” he said

Miriam greeted us as we entered.

“Friend of yours?” Ian asked.

“A local,” I said.

“That makes you . . . ?”

“I told you, I got to know a few people over the weeks-”

Months”

“-that I’ve been coming here.” I told him Miriam was a Turkish lady who’d  worked her corner since 1995. I told him how she was the market wet nurse. Ritt wasn’t around from what I could see, and now Cullen had been missing for the better part of a month. The last few things Cullen had talked about before he vanished had unsettled me. He claimed to have invented a drug that allowed him to upload his thoughts into a computer.

This is the first of a “triptych” of novels that Redhill is writing as part of his Modern Ghosts series. And with it he has captured an element of the human condition that; exists, is somewhat undefinable and takes on twists and turns we all at times witness yet do not discuss. This is certainly one of those reads I recommend that should be pondered over and not rushed through in order to appreciate it’s depth.

Page 156

The society of the mad contains primarily other sick people, as well as doctors and nurses. Some family if you’re lucky. I’ve learned that many people here have been here before and will return again. Out in the world they’re burning fuses, a danger sometimes to themselves or others. In here, they shamble, their legs confused on anti-seizure drugs; they wince at their thoughts; their lot in life is revealed to them over and over. They are poor and sick and shabby and hungry.

Michael Redhill has certainly crafted an element of the human condition in his novel Bellevue Square. It is a bold read and one that should be pondered over. In short, a great piece of literature.

*****

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for Bellevue Square

 

Getting to Know Ava Lee before her Television Debut | Review of The Dragon Head of Hong Kong/The Water Rat of Wanchai (2014) Spiderline

9781770898110

Readers of crime novels and thrillers are a special breed. They not only have the pleasure of reading their genre through books but also viewing the actions of their characters in television programs. And now that one of the most noted characters is in production to come to the small screen, I figured it was time to introduce myself to Ava Lee via Ian Hamilton’s The Dragon Head of Hong Kong and The Water Rat of Wanchai.

Page 6

“Mr. Lo, even if I can locate the money, how do you expect we’ll get our hands on it?”

His chin slumped onto his chest and he stared at his feet. “I don’t know, but I can’t just do nothing. I can’t leave things the way they are. The pressure at home from my wife and my brother-in-law is going to be unbearable. But I know that if I tell her you’re looking into it, it will buy me some time.

“I honestly don’t know enough about how things operate in Hong Kong and China to be of much help.”

“Please.”

Ava sighed. “Look, I’ll make some phone calls tonight to some people who do know how things work there. I can’t promise you any more than that.”

“So you aren’t saying no?”

“Or yes.”

“That’s good enough.”

How desperate is this man? She thought. “Okay, so we’ll leave it at that. I’ll contact you sometime tomorrow and let you know what I’ve decided to do.”

There is something fresh in the concept of the lead character of Ava Lee. Here we have a detective that doesn’t deal in bodies but chases down unpaid debts by deadbeat liars in exotic locations. ‘Follow the money,’ is the adage of many crime and police plots but here we have an accountant actually chasing money in a tough and rough manner. It is a concept we can all relate to while being whisked away to far-flung corners of the globe.

Pages 212-213

It was a quick ride to the city centre. Their route took them over the Tsing Ma Bridge, six lanes of traffic on the upper deck, rail lines beneath. The bridge always took Ava’s breath away. It was close to a kilometre and half long and soared two hundred metres above the water. The Ma Wan Channel, part of the South China Sea, glittered below in the early morning sun as sampans and fishing boats skirted the armanda of huge ocean freighters waiting to be escorted in Hong Kong’s massive container port.

They slowed when they reached the city proper, caught in the last of the morning rush hour. Hong Kong isn’t a city filled with private cars. Finding a place to park isn’t easy or cheap in a place where office and retail space in rented by the square inch, but there are red taxis everywhere, scurrying like beetles. Sonny drove carefully – too carefully for Ava, but he was a cautious man, maybe even deliberately cautious. It was as if he were restraining his true nature. She had seen this trai in him when he attended mettings with Uncle. He didn’t do that often, but when he did, he remained standing off to one side, his eyes flickering back and forth as he followed the flow of conversation. Ava realized that his body language changed along with the tone of the meeting. If Uncle was having his way, Sonny was placid. Any opposition to Uncle position caused him to tense, his eyes growing dark.

I couldn’t find any new information about the release date of the TV series but I was excited to read that Ian Hamilton has published a new book in the series – THE IMAM OF TAWI-TAWI  – this past week.  No doubt, as I beging to work my way throught the series of the earlier books, I will enjoying the combination of action, footwork and suspense that Ava Lee finds herself in.

Pages 370-371

“I think he’s about to leave,” she said.

Patrick called a number from his cellphone. “Wake up, boys,” he said.

“See the small guy in the apron?” he said to Ava. “He’s one of our leading drug dealers; does most of the imports. He’s also a friend of a friend. Until now it didn’t occur to me that he might be involved with Seto and Ng. After all this is over I’ll have to ask.”

The trio exited the restaurant and climbed back into the Land Rover. Ava held her breath.

They followed the car as it lumbered two blocks and parked at Eckie’s. Seto and the woman climbed down. Ava saw him say something to Ng, who was still in the Land Rover. The black Nissan was four spots farther along.

Patrick used his cellphone again. “Give them about ten minutes inside and then get Ng,” he said. He reached over and opened the glove compartment. Ava saw a semi-automatic in an shoulder holster and sevral pairs of handcuffs. “We need two sets, I imagine,” he said as he put on the holster.

“I want to tape their eyes and his mouth before we get them in this truck,” she said.

“Just his?”

“Someone has to tell us the entry codes for the gate, and I’m sure the house is protected as well.”

Certainly Ava Lee will transfer well into the small screen but until she does, many of us will continue to read her adventures written by Ian Hamilton. And combo set of The Dragon Head of Hong Kong/The Water Rat of Wanchai are great places to start.

*****

Link to Ian Hamilton’s website

Link to House of Anansi’s website for combo The Water Rat of Wanchai/The Dragon Head of Hong Kong edition

Link to Strada Films website