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Q&A: Lauren B. Davis

davis_lauren.jpgTo celebrate this year's Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist, we asked each longlisted author a series of questions to help us gain insight into their work and their thoughts on the craft of writing. Here we have Lauren B. Davis, author of Our Daily Bread.

Q: What inspired you to write Our Daily Bread?

A: One of the things obsessing me in the past few years is the increasing polarization I see around me. It pops up in any number of places -- religion, politics (both local and international), public rhetoric, the media, and the like. We don't have to look far for examples --perhaps no farther than the town next door, or even our own families.

As I pondered these ever-widening gaps, a story from my past kept rising to the surface. I lived in Nova Scotia for a brief time in the early 1970s. While there, I heard stories about an isolated community on a nearby mountain. They were terrible tales, involving incest and other forms of child abuse. I told myself that these stories couldn't be true. I believed, naïvely, that if they were true, surely someone would have done something to stop it. Then, a decade later, the story of the Goler clan broke, an investigation began and eventually many of the clan's adult members were put in jail and the children placed in foster care. 

I was horrified, but also mystified. If all those rumours had been true, why had it taken so long for someone to intervene? The answer seemed to be that the people who lived on the mountain had, for generations, been considered "those people," as in "What do you expect from those people?"

An episode like that inspired me to fictionally explore how ordinary people could do dreadful things, or permit dreadful things to continue. The notion of extreme marginalization of a community and the terrible repercussions of ostracism haunted me.

The book is not, however, about the Golers, and other than a few snippets of dialogue taken from the trial transcripts in the last chapter, nothing of Golers appears on the page. I have invented a fictional town and fictional people set near the Delaware River (where I now live) because I wanted people to understand something like this can happen anywhere, and, sadly it does. 
Q: What would you say is at the core of your book?

A: The question I'm asking is: What happens when we view out neighbor as "the Other" and what is the transformative power of unlikely friendships?
our_daily_bread.jpgQ: If your book was being made into a movie, who would be your dream director?

A: Deborah Granick, because of Winter's Bone, which has a similar sensibility to Our Daily Bread; and Paul Haggis because of, among other things, The Black Donnellys and Crash. They're both bloody brilliant.
Q: Which Scotiabank Giller-longlisted book (other than your own!) would you most like to see take home the prize?

A: We've all been awarded a great prize already, besides since most of them are still on my to-read list, I can't pick a favourite. 
Q: Where is the absolute best place for you to write?

A: In my office, looking out over the garden, fireplace crackling, cup of tea at hand, dog nearby, Best Beloved in the next room. 
Q: Is there a specific subject matter, event, or location close to your heart that'd you love to write about in the future?

A: I'm finishing up a book called THE EMPTY ROOM, which imagines what a day in the life of a woman who is very much like me might look like, had I not put down the bottle and got sober 17 years ago. Harper Collins Canada will be publishing it in May 2013.
Q: What book has moved or affected you most in the past year?

A: I read a lot of good books this year: Dany Laferriére's The Return, an elegant meditation on grief, fathers and sons, and identity; and although I don't often read in this genre, Enter, Night, by Michael Rowe is a literary, frightening, complex and character-driven horror story for thinking people. Lastly there's J.R. Moehringer's memoir, The Tender Bar. It's hard to write a book that's funny, thought-provoking, poignant and utterly entertaining, but Moehringer managed it.
Q: What is one insight into the craft of writing or the writing life that you wish you'd known much earlier?

A: Writing a novel is a mad undertaking. It begins with an effervescent, glimmering vision of perfection, which sets the writer off on her ink-stained quest, assured that THIS time she will reproduce the vision exactly as it first appeared. This mirage is quickly followed by the mossy-toothed skull of doubt, and then long months of slog, wherein the writer is often only propelled forward by a dogged sense of duty, and fatalism. In other words: we keep following the sentences, one after mediocre one, in the hopes of landing somewhere, if not glimmering and effervescent, then at least reasonably well appointed. We also keep going because, really, we don't do anything else even remotely well and if we don't write about what's bothering us, we tend to be even more annoying to live with (My Best Beloved assures me) than we are when we're embedded in slog.

At the moment, I'm working on a new book and I have negotiated with the mossy-toothed skull of doubt, whom I shall call Morton. I have agreed to allow that Morton is perhaps right, and that this idea I had a while back for a perfectly BRILLIANT novel will be, at best, an ACCEPTABLE novel.  And perhaps not even that, let's just admit it.

In short, now I realize (as I do with every book I've ever written) that the enchanting opalescent vision the muse first plonked in my noggin in never going to be realized. Oh, sure, I'll write a book, but it won't be the book of my dreams. The characters won't be quite as irresistible, the plot won't be quite as mesmerizing, and the theme won't be quite realized.
I have told this to My Best Beloved, and he has said, as he always does, "Oh, there already are you? What a good sign. You'll be finished the first draft in no time." I have learned not to stomp around muttering when he says things like that. And there's no point in telling him I've thought of just chucking it since he knows from experience, as do I, that I will see this book through to the end, that this is only a phase, and part of the process and the biggest truth of all which is: ALL WRITERS FEEL THIS WAY. We are all filled with self-doubt and we write anyway. Why? Because we are writers first and foremost, even if we are accountants, lion tamers, firemen or priests in our spare time. I wish I'd figured this out years ago.  

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