In a unique hotel in Scarborough, three strangers are trying to rebuild what's broken in their lives and families. Suleiman, Tiffany, and Ori are all searching for something, and all finds themselves holed up at the Nap-Away Motel.
Nadja Lubiw-Hazard's moving novel, named after the hotel at its heart, The Nap-Away Motel (Palimpsest Press), is a story of grief and connection, families and mental health. When a litter of orphaned kittens bring the three unconnected characters together, everything changes, and light begins to emerge from their respective darknesses.
We're excited to welcome Nadja to Open Book today to talk about The Nap-Away Motel and its unique storytelling as part of our Long Story novel-focused interview.
She tells us about her surprising (and fascinating) pick for her favourite "character", the unexpected questions her research process brought up (like "can you bring your cat to a youth shelter?"), and how National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) gave her writing process a huge boost.
Do you remember how your first started this novel or the very first bit of writing you did for it?
The first bit of writing I did on this novel was a single chapter with a back and forth perspective from two of the main characters, Ori and Tiffany. Each paragraph switched from one character’s point-of-view to the other’s. From the initial feedback I got, I realized I’d written something very lyrical, but also a bit inaccessible and dreamy, and that I needed to bring myself down-to-earth a little, and focus more on plot and action.
How did you choose the setting of your novel? What connection, if any, did you have to the setting when you began writing?
Several years ago I was spending a lot of time driving Kingston Road in Scarborough for work. I started to pay attention to all the motels along the strip – there were so many! One thing I noticed was how few cars were in the parking lot, but how occupied the motels were. Laundry was hung to dry over chain-link fences, kids on bicycles and scooters played in the parking lot, people sat in chairs just outside of their rooms. I started to wonder about life at a roadside motel in Scarborough. It was clear they were not being used just as a travel stop, but as a place to live. This really sparked my curiosity and my imagination, and the seed of the story was planted.
Did you find yourself having a "favourite" amongst your characters? If so, who was it and why?
That’s such a difficult question. I have a great deal of affinity and empathy for all of the characters and now that the novel is done, I am left wondering and worrying about them. I do have a special place in my heart for the motel itself. When I wrote the first draft of the novel, there were four point-of-view characters, and Nap-Away was one of them. My intent was to see the world through the eyes of the motel. I envisioned Nap-Away as humble and loyal, as slightly naïve about the cruelties of humans, despite what it had witnessed over the years. I eventually removed the personified sections, but I still feel like Nap-Away’s heart shines through the story.
Did you do any specific research for this novel? Tell us a bit about that process.
Yes! I ended up doing a tremendous amount of research, which I loved. My initial research centred on the history of the Kingston Road motel strip in Scarborough, and how these motels had changed over time. I also spent a fair amount of time at several of the motels along the strip; I sat in the parking lot, walked around behind the motels, visited the offices, talked with the residents, took pictures of cats peering out of windows, of abandoned bicycles thrown down on the pavement, of graffiti on the buildings. I really felt grounded in a sense of place.
Aside from setting I also did a lot research for each of my characters, including the experience of trans/non-binary youth, the Islamic perspective on grief, and living with mental illness. For example, Carter’s character was influenced by several books including A Road Back From Schizophrenia by Arnhild Lauveng, and The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness by Elyn R. Saks, both of which were incredibly powerful and informative.
And every day during the writing process something new to research would pop up: Can you bring your cat to a youth shelter? What strings does a ukulele have? How do you get fake ID?
What was the strangest or most memorable moment or experience during the writing process for you?
The most memorable time during the writing process was writing the first draft. After I wrote the first chapter and got some feedback, I just sat down and started writing. It took me a fairly short time, only about 3 months to write that first draft. I had only recently heard about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and it had never occurred to me that a novel could be written so quickly. I was inspired! I had a chart posted at my writing desk: GOAL 85,000 words. On Oct 21st I had 73,500 words to go. By December 1st I had 46,622 left to go and on Jan 18th I finished the novel at 74,396 words long. I felt completely absorbed and captivated by the story and it just flowed out of me.
What if, anything, did you learn from writing this novel?
One of the discoveries, now that I have gone all the way through the process of writing a first draft to publishing a novel, is how early on in the journey you are when you have finished that first draft! It was definitely a memorable moment, and worth celebrating, but there was still so much work ahead. I was amazed by how many revisions and further drafts were still to come. I also learned the value of critique from trusted readers. I had invaluable feedback from other authors and editors who provided new perspectives.
Nadja Hazard is a writer and a veterinarian. Her work has been published in Understorey, Room, Canthius, and The Dalhousie Review. The Nap-Away Motel is her first novel. She lives in Toronto with her wife and their two daughters.