I am the award-winning author and illustrator of several books including my historical fiction companion novels House of Rougeaux and Boy, Falling, a collection of illustrated short fiction entitled For the Love of Meat, and the graphic novel memoir Spot 12: Five Months in the Neonatal ICU. When not writing, I work as an editor and translator. I live in Victoria, British Columbia, with my family. Eighteen is my third novel, and I am delighted to appear in the Author’s Lounge!
Arriving in a rain-swept city after a solo bus journey, eighteen-year-old Talia’s world breaks wide open. Soon she is chasing chickens, telling bad jokes to a prospective boss, fielding a roommate’s insults about her décor, all the while homesick for a place that never existed. Funny, harsh, touching, and uniquely observant, Talia speaks to the reader as if to a best friend. In a chance encounter Talia meets George, a young man whose passion for building sailboats sparks a conversation that leads to much more. When a sailing job takes George away to Mexico, Talia struggles with ghosts from her troubled past until a growing faith in herself brings her to take a bold decision, stepping into the unknown in a way she never has before. Reminiscent of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Colette’s Claudine, Eighteen is an intimate coming-of-age exploration of love, friendship, sexuality, and self-discovery.
Like many young people with troubled pasts, I spent much of my youth hating myself and making decisions—especially around dating and sex—that reflected that self-loathing. I wanted to find out what my youth might have been like had I liked myself more, and I began writing an exploratory essay looking at real moments from my past and asking the question: What if I had done this instead of that? Pretty soon characters and a story line emerged, and that became the novel. It was tons of fun to write.
Talia is artsy and quirky and has a unique take on the world: Cedar trees look like “old ladies in raincoats”, another night she dreams that she and her roommate are in a punk band called “Kosher Chicken Vagina” and play at a bar mitzvah. Later, when Talia’s friend Amy starts gluing toilet paper to the bathroom wall at a New Year’s Eve party, she joins right in. Talia is sensitive, harsh, funny, and tender hearted by turns.
In writing this story I found that love, friendship, sexuality and self-discovery were the most important themes in Talia’s journey. Possibly these are the main human themes throughout life for everyone, I don’t know! I know for myself these themes have remained primary—though I must say that sexuality in my young life played a much bigger role than it does now (I just turned fifty-one).
Writing any book is full of challenges. One specific challenge for me was in writing the sex scenes. I didn’t want them to come across as corny (readers will be the judge!) and had to ponder what terms to use for body parts, etc. Since Talia is brand new to sex, I wanted to convey that experience in an authentic way, and also in such a way that she was an empowered sexual being with agency, enjoyment, and healthy exploration.
It’s always my dream as a writer that readers connect with the characters and feel immersed in the story. The raw materials I used to create these characters were my own life experience–of myself and a mix of friends–put together with the shaping and gluing of imagination. When I write I’m always trying to strike a certain note or hit that elusive target of “getting it right”. I have an amazing editor who I call my editorial kung fu master. Her feedback was essential to the rewriting and shaping of all the elements in the story and all the characters.
I tend to follow a sprint-collapse pattern. When I’m deep into writing I’m fully immersed and often write round the clock whenever I have time or can’t sleep. I keep a notebook with me when I’m in the kitchen cooking or walking somewhere in case I need to jot something down. However, I don’t have a lot of stamina, so I may be immersed for a month or two and then collapse and do no writing for several weeks. Then do another sprint.