Last november I had the chance to attend the TNQ's Wild Writers Literary Festival in Waterloo. This was the second edition of the festival and I think they did an amazing job with the panels, workshop and other activities. In the upcoming weeks, I will cover the different events I attented.
The Rock Comes to Waterloo
featuring Wayne Johnston & Donna Morissey
The opening panel for the Festival was a conversation between authors Wayne Johnston (The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, A Wolrd Elsewhere) and Donna Morrissey (Kit's Law, Downhill Chance) who both happen to be from Newfoundland. The discussion was hosted by Craig Norris, host of the CBC radio program, The Morning Edition. Both authors discussed their latest novels, The Son of a Certain Woman and The Deception of Livvy Higgs, respectively.
CN: Is it a characteristic of Newfoundland characters to tell stories, lies or myth?
WJ: Telling stories is the raison d'être of fiction. It's also important to understand that myths are not meant to fool people. Percy, the main character of my latest novel is creating his own mythology because he is bored. He's simply compensating for the things he doesn't have at home.
CN: Donna, where do your characters come from?
DM: The elders in my life are a source of inspiration. The most inspirating person was in fact a pathological liar. When a relationship with such a person comes to an end, it's very difficult to say what was true and what was fabricated. This served to create Grandmother Creed's character. She believes in her own stories, they're a way to compensate for her dark childhood, redefine who she is.
CN: What is the difference between a myth and a pathological lie?
WJ: Well Percy doesn't really expect to be believed; his stories are for entertainment. Pathological lying is a form of psychosis.
DM: Myths aren't necessarily things that didn't happen. They don't mean lies. They come out of human living patterns.
WJ: It becomes a myth when it doesn't intersect with religion.
DM: Myths are pagan.
CN: Does this type of religious Newfoundland still exist?
WJ: Despite the absence of a system of denomination in education, there is still bullying and repression still exists. Religion is very exclusive and rejects all other texts.
DM: Where I grew up, there were almost no catholics and very little repression, but maybe it's because there were very few people. People were together, they interacted because they all needed one another.
CN: What kind of schools were around, growing up?
DM: A one-room school.
WJ: Many different schools, their students selected according to denomination.
CN: Donna, can you tell us a bit more about the technique used in your novel?
DM: As Livvy moves in and out of lucidity, she is framing her identity. As a kid, she was pull in all directions and as an adult, she supressed whos she was. As she goes back to the past, she tried to understand what was real and what wasn't As an adult, her vision differs greatly.
I use Maslow's pyramid to get inside a character's thoughts. I can determine their needs and it influences how I push the story forward. Emotions lead me more than plot.
CN: Wayne, can you tell us a bit more about Percy and his relationship with his mother?
WJ: Pecy suffers from a form of Oedipus Complex. Since he has no hope of having a relationship with a woman, his only option is to sleep with his mother. While on book tour, some people have walked out on me, saying they knew where I would go when I die and that they didn't think a boy should sleep with his mother. I'm not saying I recommend it! What I wanted was a very tormented character faced with the authority of the church.
DM: Livvy is very vulnerable internally. Her story is a journey of self. We are fed the sins of our fathers and pass them on. There can be no understanding until you know what your burden is. Livvy inherits veryone's lies when her mother dies, which cripples her. This story is about going back to redefine who we are. Everyone has a story. Everyone has wounds.
CN: What is the role of location in your stories?
WJ: I don't know. I don't love but I don't think the book could happen anywhere. This setting of a recluse land and the closed society is important to the story.
DM: I wanted to write about the French part of Newfoundland. I visited the area, actually, and decided I wanted to write about it. I wanted to bridge the gap between Newfoundland and the mainland. Writing is like being an engineer. It's not all about feelings.
DJ: Many people write about St-John's but Donna is like Faulkner; she own the area she wrote about. There is no homogenous Newfoundland; just like Canada, it's different everywhere. The culture, the dialect, nature, it's all different.
DM: It's just a question of giving a voice to people, so they can tell the stories that need to be told.
CN: Is there a common identity for Newfoundland?
DM: Like many places, it's very different. It's hard to put into words.
CN: Is there symbolism involved in Percy's deformity?
WJ: I don't know if it's a symbol. I've written in the past about boys who were put on the fast track for priesthood. For Percy, that's the only group that will accept him because he can have no sexuality. I wanted people to identify with Percy. He's a scapegoat. His mark is his deformity, just like the scarlet letter. The church is supposed to accept people based on what they are deep inside. It's the opposite in my novel. This is loosely inspired by Ulysse, a novel by Joyce.
CN: Do your characters sometimes evolve differently than you had planned?
DM: In a book inpired by my family's journey, the main character (myself) soon got pushed aside by her brother whose voice became the voice of the story.
WJ: It happened to me, too. In The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, I had to invented a character to oppose my protagonist when the book was almost finished. I reread my books when starting a new book and I'm still surprised at my own characters. It can be difficule to shed the skin of a previous book when starting a new one.
DM: It can be very difficult to slip in and out of writing. The transitions are bumpy.
WJ: It's important to feel empathy and sympathy towards my characters. If I loathe them completely, it can't be good.
DM: You have to get to know all sides of a character. There's something human in every monster.