Writer in Residence

So here's the story.

By David Demchuk


People always ask, so here’s the story: On January 1, 2015, I started writing a new play titled The Thimble Factory. I knew a few things about it when I began—it would be a collection of monologues, they would be based on traditional Eastern European fairytales and folklore, they would be accompanied by wartime archival photographs from the region—but otherwise I was going in cold. I would have to do a fair amount of research along the way. 

I also knew that the project was going to fall squarely into the horror genre—a longtime favourite of mine but not one commonly seen on the stage. 

The Bone Mother

As I have a full-time job, a partner, friends and a sleep deficit, I set a modest goal of 250 words per work session, for a total of 1000 words a week, with each monologue ranging from 850 to 1500 words. I decided to aim for a total of 20 monologues from which I would choose 13 for the final script. (I know, I started with a lot of math. I find that I need some structure, some parameters, and a few constraints for a project to flourish.) 

Even at the beginning I was thinking ‘This could be a book,’ but I stayed focused on the project as a stage piece knowing I could always explore publication at some other point. So I forged ahead and by the time June rolled around I had my 20 monologues plus one very brief coda. Midway through the writing process, I had the presence of mind to book a Sunday evening before Halloween at the now-legendary performance venue Videofag, so I began pulling together everything I would need to present it—including a set of sorts, props, music, promotional materials, a crew and a cast. 

While I was producing the stage version, I once again started wondering about pitching a book. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try. I reformatted the 20 pieces and sent them to my friend Tony Burgess, asking him if he could recommend me to ChiZine Publications, an award-winning literary specfic house which had brought out several of his books. Tony was enthusiastic about the pieces I sent him, and was very generous in advocating to ChiZine on my behalf. 

Time flew as I produced and staged the one-night event at Videofag. We had a terrific turnout and the show was well received. Then, a few weeks later, Brett Savory at ChiZine offered me a contract and the book was underway.

Well, except for one thing: The material I’d sent him totalled about 21,000 words…and ChiZine needed closer to 50,000. So I got back in front of the keyboard, and began the process of figuring out how to expand the world I had created, and how to bring some of the legends and folklore into the present day. By July 2016 I handed in the remainder of the draft. And a year after that, the book was published under the title The Bone Mother. It’s hard to believe that was only nine months ago. It’s also hard to believe that it happened at all.

And of course, somewhere along the way, The Bone Mother became the first-ever horror novel to be nominated for The Scotiabank Giller Prize. So, that’s a thing.

As I reread this post, I see that I have a few things to unpack here, and I’ll return to those over the course of the coming month. Meanwhile, I’m honoured to be here and delighted to spend some time with you. If you haven’t read The Bone Mother and you’d like to, you can find it at Glad Day Bookshop and McNally Robinson as well as at all the other usual places. If you’d like to read an excerpt, you can find one at The Winnipeg Review, and another at The Bone Mother’s website

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

David Demchuk was born and raised in Winnipeg and now lives in Toronto. He has been writing for theatre, film, television, radio, and other media for more than thirty years. His publications include the short-fiction cycle Seven Dreams, and the Lewis Carroll adaptation Alice in Cyberspace, and appearances in the anthologies Making, Out!, Outspoken, and Canadian Brash. His reviews, essays, interviews, and columns have appeared in such magazines as Toronto Life, Xtra, What! Magazine, and Prairie Fire, as well as the Toronto Star. Most recently, he has been a contributing writer for the digital magazine TorontoistThe Bone Mother is his first novel. It was recently long-listed for the prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize.

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The Bone Mother

Longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize!

Three neighbouring villages on the Ukrainian/Romanian border are the final refuge for the last of the mythical creatures of Eastern Europe. Now, on the eve of the war that may eradicate their kind—and with the ruthless Night Police descending upon their sanctuary—they tell their stories and confront their destinies.

Eerie and unsettling like the best fairy tales, these incisor-sharp portraits of ghosts, witches, sirens, and seers—and the mortals who live at their side and in their thrall—will chill your marrow and tear at your heart.