Author + panelist = ?: Trent McClellan and Lisa Moore talk Canada Reads

Thumbnail image for CR13-trentandlisa-noposter.jpg

Last year's champ returns! Trent McClellan will be our guide to the Canada Reads experience. Follow along as he blogs and tweets about the 2014 edition of CBC's battle of the books. His blog posts will appear on the Canada Reads website every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter @Trent McClellan for his complete Canada Reads 2014 coverage.

Dynamic duos have accomplished great things throughout history: Batman and Robin, Hall and Oates, the Sedin twins, the Ford brothers (that's my last Ford joke...probably). However, these duos have nothing on the unbeatable pairing that is Canada Reads author and Canada Reads defender. One person is the creator and the other must rely the creator's intentions.

I'm sure having a book in Canada Reads is a huge honour for the lucky authors, but it must also be a source of great anxiety. I was extremely nervous to defend February because I wanted to do the book justice. February's author Lisa Moore was handing over four years of her work to me with the intention of defending it in front of the world! I haven't felt that much pressure since the last time I crossed the U.S. border (for no reason, mind you). The pressure was self-imposed, as Lisa couldn't have been more supportive throughout the entire process. Our duo was successful because she gave her creation to me and had faith that I would defend it hounorably and with passion. So it all came down to the words of the great philosopher George Michael who said "I gotta have, faith, faith!" (This song will now be in your head for the rest of the day. Sorry.)

I finally had a chance to chat with Lisa Moore about what was going through her head before and during the debates. The chat brought back a lot of great memories from almost a year ago and it was fun to catch up. I think authors and defenders form a unique bond through the Canada Reads process, and like all formidable duos Lisa and I found ourselves on the same page.

Here's our conversation:

More from Canada Reads:

Trent: How did you feel when you found out your book February had been chosen as a finalist in Canada Reads 2013?

Lisa: Whoa, trepidation and excitement, equal measures. Only the trepidation came first, in a square, ten-tonne block, right in the middle of my shoulders. At first, I was afraid of having my book torn apart on national radio. The conversation can get very heated, as I knew from being a Canada Reads panelist. But then I thought: it will bring new readers to February. And writers are greedy for readers. February had already been out in the world for a bit and Canada Reads was like the prince coming along and kissing a sleeping beauty. Everything stirred to life around the book again. Reprints, for example. Books have strange lives. Sometimes they go deep underground for a while, sometimes a couple of years, sometimes decades, sometimes a century, and then something in the universe makes them burst back up through the Earth's mantle. Canada Reads has done that for lots of books.

Trent: When you found out that the defender of your book was a comedian (who'll be touring much of Canada in 2014), were you apprehensive about his approach? Be honest! 

 Lisa: Honestly, I was thrilled. I was so glad that a young, male comedian could relate to February, a novel that is, at least on the surface, the story of an older woman who has suffered a loss. The fact that you saw something in the book that rang true for you made me feel joy and relief. It made me feel very hopeful about the power of stories, that they can cross boundaries of all sorts. When I spoke to you and realized that the book had touched you, (it was such a lovely conversation, so thank you for that) I felt like: okay, that's already enough of a gift, it doesn't matter what happens from here.

Trent: You have the unique distinction of having been a defender in a previous season of Canada Reads and then later had a book defended in Canada Reads. Did your experience as a defender make it any easier to have your book battle other books?

Lisa: Nope. Boy, it's nerve-wracking. I couldn't listen, and I couldn't not listen. I poured my whole heart and soul into February. It's a very personal novel, and at the same time I was attempting to explore a true story wherein many people lost their lives. I wanted to pay homage to those lives, in some way, with the novel, but I also really wanted to explore the nature of love. So, it felt like there was a lot at stake. But as Canada Reads unfolded I felt like the panel was fair and astute and honest. So it became easier and easier to listen. People were discussing ideas about what fiction can be. What a novel can do. It was a harrowing discussion for me, but also, as a person who wants to write more novels, very interesting.

Trent: Although we discussed February on a few occasions leading up to the debates, you were very hands off with regards to my preparation. Was this distance just your approach to me or to anyone who has read one of your books? Do you make it a practice to let readers you encounter make the book their own?

Lisa: Yes! Once the book is between a cover and on the shelves for people to read, the book belongs to whoever reads it. I am no more an expert about what the book means or does than any other reader, at that point. I think reading is a creative act. Readers create the stories they read in their imaginations. They suspend disbelief, (a form of magic) and bring the book to life. For example, they decide what the characters look like, though there may be a physical description, it can never be as detailed as the one a reader's imagination can furnish, especially if the reader is a good reader with a powerful imagination! That's why people come to love books so deeply, because they have poured themselves into the reading of them. But also, I have had my say, within the pages of the book. When I meet someone who has read one of my books I like to be quiet and hear his or her experience of the story. Did the book communicate? Did it do what I wanted? And did it do unexpected things?

Trent: Did you follow the debates and if so, how stressful was that to do?

Lisa: I listened to parts. I listened whenever you were speaking. I would leap up and turn the radio off whenever anyone said anything negative about February. But later, I went back and listened to all of it. On the last day of the show I was packing my bags for a trip to Mexico. I was listening and throwing things into a suitcase and ripping them back out of the suitcase, tossing them across the room. I found myself standing still, absolutely still, just listening, and then I was tossing clothes again. At a certain point I thought, oh well. I guess February won't win. Then I just wanted to get to the end of the show (and get to Mexico!). When the winner was announced I couldn't have been more surprised. Seriously, I felt the blood rush to the top of my head. I literally lost my breath for a moment. I've never been shot by a stun gun, but I think I know what it would feel like: I was stunned.

I thought you were an excellent defender all the way through, fair to the other books, but you also were able to bring the spirit of my novel alive, by talking about it honestly and passionately. I am very grateful for that. I went to Mexico the day after we met in the studio at Q, after February won, on the anniversary of the sinking of the Ocean Ranger. I was gone for two weeks. When I came home I was shocked to learn how excited people in Newfoundland were about the win. Everywhere I went, people were congratulating me. A friend had emailed me in Mexico to say it was too bad I was missing it. How excited people were. But they were still excited when I got home. About three months after Canada Reads I was hiking on a cliff and I ran into a man, a stranger, who told me he had been at an intersection, and all the cars honked their horns when the announcement was made. Someone else said they were in the middle of a yoga class, but they had in the radio on in the class, just to hear, and they all cheered. Which is hilarious. Someone else was in a doctor's office and everyone in the waiting room clapped. This might not have much to do with my book -- I think people here were thrilled to have the story of the Ocean Ranger talked about, and talked about passionately, with the ear of a national audience. And that was your doing.

Trent: What calming advice do you have for the authors who have books in Canada Reads 2014?

Lisa: Well, the thing is, Canada Reads does bring readers to books, and to all the books up for debate. I love that Canada Reads doesn't just focus on new books, the books in a single year. It can bring new life to all sorts of treasures. And that's a gift. So hang in there.

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.