Escape with a Writer Sunday

An interview by Diane Bator, member of the Crime Writers of Canada and the Headwater Writers’ Guild.

I had the pleasure of meeting Karen at a writing event before we went into self-isolation for Covid-19 and bought a copy of her novel.

Tell us about your life outside of writing.

I’m a mom, an educator and learner, and live here in Ontario. I enjoy sports and the outdoors, and split my time between Toronto and spending time at our cottage in the Kawarthas. I enjoy cooking, but I’m not very good at it. The same goes with gardening.

Do you have a work in progress?I

’m writing my second novel now. Untitled at this point, I’m through the first messy draft and am digging deeper. It’s the story of an every day normal family who lives a block away from where a man is shot in broad daylight in his driveway. Except the family may not be exactly normal. They have a few ugly secrets.

What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?

That’s a great question. As a new author, I’m always curious to hear what those with more experienced would say. For me, it was two things.While the process of writing the first messy draft is really exciting, I found it difficult when a specific scene didn’t flow the way it needed to. But I’ve learned as drafts evolve, I can go back to those tricky scenes and write them with the detail, colour and depth they need. Writing my second novel now, I keep this top of mind.I really enjoy writing complex and compelling characters. They evolve as the writing evolves. It’s fun when they begin to jump off the page and reveal their quirks, strengths and flaws. I found it a lot easier to write a character I admire, or believe in. Greta is a strong, feisty female protagonist. Her story is one of resilience, heartache and triumph. I fell in love with her and I hope you did too. However, it’s much harder to write a character, using show, don’t tell, when the character is dark. In the case of The Dime Box, I had to dig deep to evolve Ian, to ensure a reader felt chilled as they got to know him.

What sort of research do you do for your work?

Set in Ontario, The Dime Box is the story of a young woman accused of murdering her father. Though purely a work of the imagination, Greta’s story is inspired by the students I had the privilege of serving in the Scarborough Board of Education, the TDSB and at TVO. I’m also interested in social issues we need to take action for everyday to build a more inclusive and just society. Poverty, marginalization, gender, domestic violence, the search for identity, adoption, and how we, as a society, define family. These themes are interwoven into the novel. Through them, the characters in the novel are forced to face significant moral dilemmas and make difficult decisions.
The foundation of the book reflects two of Canada’s finest pubic institutions-the justice and the education system. As a teacher, I could draw on my experiences, as well as tap into the expertise of my colleagues. However, my limited knowledge of the justice system was a gap needed to be filled. Luckily, I have a friend who works in the system and he was able to answer my fire hose of questions. I’m grateful for the experts who made sure I represented these two public institutions accurately in this novel.

Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author that inspires you?

There is something amazing about the feel of a book in our hands and getting lost in a good story. Whether writers self-publish, go indie, hybrid or publish traditionally, I’m in awe of the amazing artistic talent out there.

Some of my favourites include: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and The Shining by Stephen King.

Books I recently enjoyed: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, The Woo Woo by Lindsay Wong, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah and Becoming by Michelle Obama.

Up next are: Crow Winter by Karen McBride, The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead and Immigrant City by David Bezmozgis.

Was there a person who encouraged you to write?

I’ll be forever grateful to my Grade 11 and 12 English teacher, Mrs. Brown. A firecracker with a great sense of humour and passion for literature, she had the perfect blend of high expectations, and a kind and nurturing heart. She inspired the whole class to write, telling us she believed everyone has a story to tell. Though it was years ago, I often still think of her encouragement as I write.

I’m also forever indebted to the many people who read early drafts of The Dime Box. All acknowledged in the back pages of the novel, they kept me motivated when I didn’t think I could push through the twenty-seven drafts it took to get to the end. As I wrote, I learned a lot from my editor, Adrienne Kerr. She’s remarkable. When someone with her expertise tells you where a novel is strong and where it falls down, it can only get better. I believe every story needs an editor and a great editor makes every great story better. Canadian author Lawrence Hill was also a mentor. He taught me a lot of the power of storytelling and the craft of writing itself.

Originally published April 26, 2020 on Pens, Paints, and Paper, a blog by Diane Bator.

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