The Next Big Thing

I’ve been asked to take part in “The Next Big Thing”, where writers let people know what they’re working on and how it came to be, and then hand the baton off to other writers. Theresa Kishkan tagged me – you can read her entry, on her lovely blog, here:

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:

-- What is your working title of your book?

Cabin Fever

-- Where did the idea come from for the book?

I was at a residency in Bergen, Norway, doing the final edit on my book of short stories. Bergen lies at the end of a fjord, and in the middle of the city, there’s a series of trails up a mountain that overlooks the city.

I climbed it nearly every day with my son on my back to clear my head, and nearly every day, no matter what the weather, some 75-year old Norwegian would pass me at a good clip, tell me they were out for a 10 or 12 km walk through the mountains and then ask me where I was from. When I said Canada, they would invariably say “Oh! You guys are so connected with nature...”. And every time they said that, I would think, really? I don’t know a single 75-year old Canadian who would be out every day in all kinds of weather for a walk like that... so what happened between the time when that reputation was set, and now? A lot of us have moved to cities in the last generation – so I got to wondering about what will happen to that perceived connection with nature.

I grew up in a city, but have also spent a lot of time in small towns – hamlets, really. And those places and their characters speak to me more than cities do. I wanted to give living rurally a voice, to buck the trend of hipsters and über-connectedness and Facebook and Twitter, to ask what we’re giving up by turning our backs on the rural.

Rural isn’t to be equated with Arcadia; it’s not perfect by any means, and I don’t try to romanticize it in Cabin Fever, but I do think it gets the short end of the stick.

-- What genre does your book fall under?


-- What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A woman (Clea) decides to move from the city to an old family cabin on September 11th, 2001, and in re-connecting with friends of an older generation (Max, a book restorer, and Gerry, a logger), the widening gap between urban life and rural becomes clear, and an eerie feeling – that her decision to move on that fateful day was not a coincidence – settles in her.

-- Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Oh, gosh... that’s a hard one. It’d be a very sleepy movie! A la “Gerry” by Gus van Sant, with building tension of a sort towards the end... Max would be someone like Armin Mueller-Stahl, that kind of wise-with-age posture and behaviour, though not cocky, and Max is younger than Mueller-Stahl is... Ciaran Hinds, maybe. And Clea? Someone who can pull off urban and rural at the same time. Someone who’s comfortable with the decisions she’s made, and yet fully aware of her flaws, and able to take criticism. Naomi Watts? Or Michelle Williams? And Gerry’s easy. Kris Kristofferson; a grizzled and kind elder who wishes his kids would visit more, and who makes it his profession to help his neighbours.

-- Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m not sure yet. Probably published by a house, without an agent. My writing’s a bit too off-the-wall for most agents, and I’m ok with that. I’ve had great experiences publishing with smaller houses – Coach House in particular – and think they’re more important now than ever to keep non-mainstream voices alive.

-- How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

4 years, with a 3-year break in between when I was working as a producer for Radio Netherlands Worldwide. I started it at the residency in Norway, and finished the first draft last year at another residency in Belgium. I’m almost finished the second draft now, which is substantially different from the first, though the idea and direction of the book hasn’t changed.

-- What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

If I can be so bold to say that it’s Sebald meets Annie Dillard... they’re both influences, in any case. The tone is observational, in a “stand still and be quiet” kind of way, like Dillard does, and the novel is interspersed with photos, a la Sebald, and has an understated way of connecting the unexpected, as he does. It’s a tribute to both of them, and I hope I’ve done them justice.

-- Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think I was really just interested in the flight from rural areas, how that seemed to be seen as the only solution for a lot of people in a time when income gaps are widening. It’s a worldwide phenomenon... for the first time ever in the history of the planet, there are more people living in cities than rurally, and that’s got to have some consequences, even if only instinctually. And it’s especially got to have consequences for Canadians, who have a reputation for being so closely tied to land, and nature.

I had also spent some time in a very isolated part of Iceland before going to Norway, where the landscape was incredibly blank, but pure.

And while there, I happened to read about the Spanish notion of “querencia”. It’s a term specifically used in bullfighting; it has no English equivalent, and refers to the place where a wounded bull retreats to collect itself. The matador does everything in his power to prevent the bull from finding that place because it gives the bull a confidence and belief that he can survive an unfair game. Metaphorically, though, it’s a term used for a place in which you feel or know precisely who you are, to which you’ve always belonged, even though you may never have been there before. Cabin Fever connects those two ideas of querencia and a connection with landscape.

-- What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There are a lot of elements to it. It dives, through more than one storyline, into eras past, into ways of doing things and thinking that have long been on the way out, if not entirely abandoned, in my opinion, at great expense. It’s a reminder simultaneously of how far we’ve come, and what we’ve lost, and how very few seem to be asking why.


I’m passing the baton off to two very different writers: Liz Bachinsky and Stan Johannesen. Liz is a phenomenal, hyper-modern poet whose powers of observation are rare, and Stan’s prose writing is some of the most thoughtful and adhering I’ve ever read. Both writers are treasures.