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In the meantime, here are some ready-made questions:
What inspired you to write Across a Narrow Strait?
I wanted to explore the process of becoming an activist, of what pushes someone who’s had no leanings whatsoever in that direction. I wanted to see if I could put that transformation, which must be emotional at its core, on paper. Could I show how someone like Anna, an uptight apolitical high school teacher whose focus in life has always been her younger sister, Katie (who has physical and cognitive disabilities), might one day arrive at place where she feels it is her moral duty to break the law?
At the same time, I wanted that thread to be embedded in a story that everyone — not just activist-types — would enjoy. So it’s a family drama and love story too.
How long did it take to write the novel?
It’s hard to say for sure since the earliest drafts were on a computer I have since tossed, but probably 7 years.
How many drafts did you do?
That depends. What is a draft? I reworked the novel for so many years, constantly changing, editing, polishing. In the beginning, though, there were complete rewrites, starting over from a completely new beginning, for example. This happened after the first manuscript evaluation and again, years later, after working with a fiction mentor who urged me to start even later in the story (where have you heard that before?) and to give Katie more space and time. Then, as I got feedback from my beta readers, I continued to make small changes. That went on until the day I published it!
The novel has three point-of-view characters — Anna, Tim, and Sam — although it is mainly Anna’s story. Why did you give Tim and Sam their own points-of-view and voices?
At first I wanted point-of-view characters primarily to show us Anna through other characters’ eyes. But as I began writing Sam, and later Tim, they took on lives of their own, and I found myself just as interested in their stories as in Anna’s. In the end, of course, the three plot lines intersected, hopefully deepening each other’s stories.
Is Anna you in disguise?
Good heavens, NO! For one thing, I do not have red hair. And I am not tall and thin! And I was never married to a delightful French man or a pilot, both of whom had the gall to die early. However … Anna’s journey into activism is a reflection of my own in many ways. Like her, I got turned onto birds when I moved from Vancouver to a gulf island, and like her, I became an anti-pipeline activist because of my love for birds and concern for their habitat. But I haven’t sat in the middle of a highway or gone to jail. Yet.
There are scenes where Anna has almost mystical encounters with a bird — a young finch, a Bonaparte’s gull. Are these experiences taken from your own life?
Yes. Not necessarily with these particular species, but I have had moments of almost mystical connection with individual birds. I understand this as tuning into the awareness of “the other”, and it does fill me with something like awe.
Did you do much research to write the book?
I did. Even though I was involved in fighting the Enbridge Pipeline while I was writing it, so was constantly reading information about the tar sands and the effects of an oil spill on birds and the economics of pipeline development, it was important to get all that right. Plus, I had to learn about deer – about their physical characteristics, how they live, census methods – it goes on and on. My saved research files number in the hundreds.