1. Is it difficult to write a character that may not always be likable? Both Ruby and Liz were, at times, so hard to like.
I have to admit that I like difficult characters, the ones who are multi-dimensional and intelligent, sporting scars that are both physical and emotional, because they always seem the most real to me. They may be crass, and cruel and so infuriating you want to smack them, but they are never, ever dull.
Let’s face it, real people are rarely all good or all bad – even the Boston strangler could be charming, and Ted Bundy’s friends were shocked to learn of his crimes – and if someone is described as the salt-of-the-earth, I like to think it’s because they’re a little coarse and hard to take in large doses. I believe fictional characters should be equally complicated, unless of course we’re talking about cartoons.
We expect the Roadrunner and the Coyote to be one dimensional and predictable – in fact we count on it. If suddenly the Coyote stopped flipping through the Acme catalogue and decided to pursue croquet instead of the Roadrunner, we would all be devastated. Our expectations would not have been met, resulting in disappointment all around, but a novel is a different matter entirely.
Certainly, we have expectations with regard to plot for some novels. A mystery, for example, has a body and a detective and at the end, the murder will be solved. A romance has a man, a woman and a happy ending while a horror has a monster and a good guy and in the end, the monster better die! But that doesn’t mean that the characters in these novels are predictable. The Beast for example was not a likeable guy. He was deeply flawed, horribly rude and completely unsuitable for any thinking woman. But those very flaws were what fascinated us because there was a chance for a better life if only he would take it.
For me, that’s what makes unlikeable characters so compelling. Will they allow joy into their lives, or will they go on as they have been, believing there is nothing better in store for them? When I first sat down to write a character sketch for Liz, she told me to screw off and leave her alone. She was happy the way she was, thank you very much. She had no intention of changing a thing, and no one could convince her otherwise. I liked her instantly and could not wait to get her into the story!
2. You dealt with several different mental illness issues: Alzheimer’s, addiction, leaning disabilities. How did you research these and have any of them touched your life?
We have dealt with addictions on both sides of the family for years, but Alzheimer’s was definitely the catalyst for this book. My mother-in-law was diagnosed with the illness fifteen years ago, and is now in a long term care facility. But I remember well the day my husband finally accepted that his mother was no longer the woman he remembered – the one who built the best backyard hockey rink in the neighbourhood every winter, and rented a cottage every summer so carloads of kids could experience the joy of a northern lake.
That woman was slowly disappearing before our eyes, her personality slipping away as surely as her memories. But for a long time my husband would drag out the photo albums every time we visisted, confident that if he just kept pointing out people and places, she would remember them, she had to remember them.
The day he finally closed the album, sat back and asked her if she would like a little more tea, I knew he’d accepted the truth. She was never going to remember any of it, and pushing her was only causing both of them more stress. She needed him to live in that moment with her, to pour the tea and enjoy the sunshine because that was all she had, and soon that would be gone too. It was a sad but telling moment, and I knew then that I had to write about this devastating illness that touches so many lives.
3. The Island is its own character in the book. I looked it up after reading Island Girl just to get another look. Do you have a particular connection with the Island? Do you have a favourite place?
Growing up in Toronto in early sixties, Centre Island meant bike paths, paddle boats and the excitement of a ferry ride. I was too young to understand what was going on politically between the city and the Islanders, but my family was definitely on the side of parkland and parking lots, believing that the city’s program of bulldozing every home and business on the Island should continue, and the land used for picnic tables and kiddie rides. That was progress, after all, a sign that sleepy Toronto was coming into her own and heading bravely into the future.
Despite their best efforts, I was not convinced. There was something about those narrow, dappled lanes and those odd, tiny houses that fascinated me and lingered in my mind and imagination long after I’d grown and left the city. But oddly enough, the Island wasn’t my first choice as the setting when I started working on this book.
I was leaning toward the Gulf Islands off the coast of British Columbia, and it wasn’t until I was sitting in a commuter train on my way into the city that I realized the perfect spot was right there across the water – a ten minute ferry ride from downtown Toronto.
The history of the Island and the struggle to hold onto the homes there is a story onto itself, but when I started doing the research, some Islanders were reluctant to speak to me, not wanting to draw attention to themselves because there are still some who would like to see them all gone. Turned out that fear was well-founded when this past winter, one of Toronto’s more dull-witted councillors suggested that a casino and brothel should be built on the Island because there was already a nude beach there, after all.
Clearly, the man has never set foot on that beach, or been on the ferry when it’s packed with little ones coming to the Island to learn, or teenagers leaving for High School in the city. Surely even he couldn’t think that hookers and schoolkids would make a good mix!
As for a favourite spot, I have to say the Rectory Café. The food is fabulous and the view spectaculor, making it the perfect way to end a day of cycling, disc golf and sunshine!
4. I loved the secondary characters in this book. (Say hello to Nadia for me.) Do you have a favourite character? It is hard not telling even more of their story?
I love Nadia too! She was so much fun to write being larger than life yet so straight-edged. And you’re right, it was hard not to tell more of her story. She may have to have a book of her own one day!
5. Finally, what are you reading and who are your favourite authors?
Right now, I’m listening to New York by Edward Rutherford. I’m a huge fan of audio books because they allow me to get my fiction fix while doing other, mundane but necessary tasks. New York is dense and captivating, a history lesson of the best sort with fictional characters you care about.
I also have a copy of Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis beside my bed. This book won the Stephen Leacock award for humour and was also chosen as the CBC Canada Reads pick for 2011. I’m not far into it yet, but it’s promising to be a good one!
As for my favourite authors, I cannot get enough of Timothy Findley. Headhunters is one of my all time favourite books and I have read it three times. I also like Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants), Stephen King (The Stand and Gerald’s Game, in particular) Anne Marie MacDonald (Fall On Your Knees) and Anita Shreve (Eden Close, in particular)
Thank you Lynda for taking the time to answer my questions and for writing such a wonderful book. TLC Book Tours has been kind enough to offer a copy of Island Girl for me to giveaway. Leave a comment by 11:59 EST on July 3rd. I will use random.org to pick a winner and notify them by email.