Writer in Residence

Most Anticipated Books of 2017, Part 2

By Danila Botha

Hi Open Book Readers,

Following on from Part 1 of this series, I’m also incredibly excited about new books by Richard Rosenbaum (he has two coming out in 2017) and Chris Benjamin. I had a chance to interview them this week about their new books.

Richard Rosenbaum is the author of the excellent novella Revenge of the Grand Narrative (Quattro Books, 2014) the non- fiction book about the Ninja Turtles, Raise Some Shell (ECW, 2014) and is also the fiction editor at Broken Pencil Magazine. He has two new books coming out in 2017, a novel, called Pretend to Feel (Now Or Never, 2017) and a collection of short stories called Things Don’t Break (Tightrope Books, Fall 2017)

DB: Tell me about both of your books.

RR: My first book, Pretend to Feel is a novel, being published in Spring 2017 by Now Or Never Publishing. It's a sci-fi flavoured novel about an alienated teen seeking fame and family by believing everything that television has ever taught her.

My Second book is a short story collection. It's called Things Don't Break, which is also the title of my first published story. It's coming out in Fall 2017 from Tightrope, and it contains both published and unpublished stories, some totally realistic and others super weird and most things in between.

DB: What were some of your biggest influences?

RR: For Pretend to Feel, some of the writers that influenced me the most were James Joyce and Douglas Adams, Mary Shelley and Chuck Palahniuk. I think of them as being paired off in that way because it felt a little like those writers' styles were arguing with each other or rewriting each other as I was working on the novel - like some of the themes that they each represent were at work while I was writing, and the different perspectives that I've absorbed through their writing were all trying to have their say, and they didn't always agree!

DB: That’s such an interesting perspective. It sounds challenging, though.

RR: It was. I wanted to make sure that every point of view was fairly represented, even the ones that I as the author don't personally agree with.

DB: Always tough as the author, when your own characters say or do things that make you cringe, but you feel that it’s necessary or realistic for them.

RR: Right. Every character in the novel has their own belief system and their own history, and reasons for holding the ideas that they have.  So even if I was worried that one character or another would end up sounding too rant-y or polemic, I tried to make sure that that character was speaking to how they genuinely saw the world.

DB: What were your influences for Things Don’t Break?

RR: I was influenced by a lot of great short story writers whose work helped me see different ways of using the medium to communicate an experience: David Foster Wallace, Flannery O'Connor, Jonathan Lethem, George Saunders, Zsuzsi Gartner, Etgar Keret, Dorothy Parker. They’re all writers who have done things with short stories that I'd never seen done before.

DB: Wow, I love Etgar Keret and Zsuzsi Gartner too. Dorothy Parker and Flannery O’Connor too. What an awesome list. What were the biggest challenges with this collection?

RR: What was challenging was discovering ways to make each one express itself uniquely. There are a couple of stories that are completely "realistic" and others where you don't necessarily understand all the linguistic or metaphysical rules that govern how the world of the story works.

A few of the stories are only one sentence long. There's one story that (aside from the title), doesn't have any words in it at all. I have a bad habit of overexplaining things, so sometimes I try to go in the opposite direction and cut a story down to only the most absolutely essential idea or image and hope that it will do the rest of the work even if it doesn't include all the pertinent context.

DB: That’s so interesting. I really can’t wait to read both of them.

Chris Benjamin is the author of the amazing novel, Drive By Saviours (Fernwood Publishing, 2010) He is also the author of some great works of non fiction, including Indian School Road: Legacies of the Shubenecadie Residential School (Nimbus Publishing, 2014) He’s also the managing editor at Atlantic Books Today.  We had the chance to talk about his fascinating new novel, ‘Burban Boys, and the challenges of writing it.

DB: Tell me about your new book. I’m so excited to hear that you’re working on new fiction.

CB: My new novel is called ’Burban Boys and it is coming out Fall 2018 from Roseway Publishing. It is a bittersweet and satirical ballad for suburban Nova Scotia. It is by turns funny, dark and poignant, and it lovingly skewers masculinity and suburban isolation.

DB:  That’s a great description. I heard “lovingly skewers masculinity and suburban isolation” and I thought, I love this book already.

CB: At the heart of the story lie three boys, best buds, growing up in the suburbs in the 80s and 90s, in a fictional town outside of Halifax known as “the County.” Drew was born there. The others immigrate as pre-teens, Gerry from Toronto and Danh from Vietnam.

DB: That’s interesting.

CB: Their friendship is the aggressive, competitive kind of love that works so well in boyhood – and it sees them through each of their own personal tragedies, guides them in the absence of good parenting. But when Danh and Gerry grow up and move away, Drew fails to find anyone to fill the void, anyone to be as unconditionally close as they were, and he finds himself raking the coals of his boyhood friendships trying to figure out why he doesn’t know how to love.

DB: Oh, that’s interesting too. What inspired you to write about these themes?

CB: You know, I started writing this book so long ago I'm not even sure what the inspiration was.

DB: (laughing) I know what you mean.

CB: Lesley Choyce originally recommended I write something YA set in Nova Scotia. I set out to do that but when I thought about growing up in Halifax County, it didn't seem all that YA.

DB: Right. It’s funny, after living in Halifax what people’s perceptions of it are, versus the reality of what it’s actually like.

CB: I mean, I don't want to imply that I had some hard-scrabble childhood, but I think, at least at that time, that boys very quickly turned to their peers more than their parents for role modelling, which was a big mistake we made. Still happens I'm sure. So I draw some from my own childhood in this one, and the boys I knew growing up, and the adults we dealt with.

DB: That makes sense. What’s been the biggest challenge of writing it so far?

CB: This new book has been a challenge from the start. I made the mistake of writing the whole thing in a 6-day writing binge while my family was out of town. That was 7 years ago and I've been fixing it ever since. It's nearly there I think. How I overcame it is through sheer stubbornness and the support and cheering from my partner and from my writing group (shout out to the Wired Monks), who believed in the story from the start. They had love for each part of the story, which made me feel that if I could just figure out how it all fit together, I'd have something.

DB: It sounds like you do. I can’t wait to read it.

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.

Danila Botha is the author of three short story collections, Got No SecretsFor All the Men (and Some of the Women I’ve Known) which was a finalist for the Trillium Book Award, The Vine Awards and the ReLit Award. Her new collection, Things that Cause Inappropriate Happiness will be published in March 2024 by Guernica Editions. She is also the author of the novel Much on the Inside, which was recently optioned for film. Her new novel, A Place for People Like Us will be published by Guernica in 2025. She teaches Creative Writing at University of Toronto’s SCS and is part of the faculty at Humber School for Writers. She is currently writing and illustrating her first graphic novel.