Books

Nada Alic writes about women you probably won't like, but you'll probably relate to anyway

Her short story collection Bad Thoughts is about women trying to make it in the modern world.

Her short story collection Bad Thoughts is about women trying to make it in the modern world

Bad Thoughts is the debut short story collection by writer Nada Alic, a Canadian writer living in Los Angeles. (Penguin Canada, Andrea Nakhla)

Nada Alic is a writer from Toronto who currently lives in Los Angeles. Her short story collection Bad Thoughts depicts Los Angeles women who are all grappling with a shared stark reality: the modern world. Whether it be the perverts, nobodies, reality TV stars, poetic hopefuls, shameless party girls or self-help addicts. To cope, they live in their imagination, fantasizing about their baddest thoughts. 

One of the stories in the collection, The Intruder, was shortlisted for the 2019 CBC Short Story Prize

The 2023 CBC Short Story Prize is open now for submissions, and the winner will receive a writing residency at Artscape Gibraltar Point, a cultural hub on Toronto Island. They will also receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have their work published on CBC Books. You have until Oct. 31, 2022 to submit your original, unpublished fiction that is up to 2,500 words. 

Alic's work has also been seen in the collaborative fiction series Future You, and she also created the animated short film The Trick. She spoke to CBC Books about how she wrote Bad Thoughts.

Taking a risk

"I had a full-time job and I was writing on the weekends for a few years living in L.A. I knew I wanted to take it seriously and go for it. So for a whole year, I was secretly saving up money to quit my job to write this book. It's a high-stakes decision because I have an immigrant family and I'm an immigrant myself. I've never not had a job. 

"I was scared about the financial part of it. But there was something in me that was like, 'You have to do this.' At the end of 2018, I quit my job to write the book. 

"I had spent so much time on the logistical part of it — saving up money and getting my artist visa — that I hadn't considered or tended to the emotional part of it. 

I had to learn this new way to be, which is to be an artist and the discipline and creating a routine for myself.​​​​​​

"Suddenly, you've designed this environment for yourself where you have unstructured time. The first few months was me unlearning a lot of the ways that I existed in the world. I had to learn this new way to be, which is to be an artist and the discipline and creating a routine for myself.

"It's intimidating for somebody who's always existed in this container of having a job to go to every day."

The Peter Pan archetype

"I came across this book after I finished the collection, about this thing called the Puer Aeternus — the Peter Pan archetype. It became a way to frame what's going on in my mind. It only briefly mentioned the female counterpart, the puella.

"At the time, I was editing the collection, and it became this organizing principle for the whole book. It's cool that I found it afterwards because I wasn't trying to force it. But it's these women who — like a lot of modern women — are resisting that threshold moment into adulthood. 

She's making a ton of mistakes. She's being a terrible person. But can we find some compassion and can we connect with this antihero?

"They're stagnating. They're afraid. They're languishing in this adolescence with their newfound freedom, as men have done for eons. I wanted to explore that in less of a pathologizing way and more of a compassionate way. Obviously, she's alienating her friends and family. She's making a ton of mistakes. She's being a terrible person. But can we find some compassion and can we connect with this antihero?"

LISTEN | Nada Alic gives advice for writers wanting to enter the CBC Short Story Prize:

We speak with author Nada Alic, who was shortlisted for the CBC Short Story Prize in 2019. She talks about what being part of that process helped her discover and about her published collection of short stories.

Unlikeable (but relatable) female characters

"I don't think that it's mandatory to care about these so-called unlikeable female characters. That's why I tried to make it humorous and playful.

What I'm trying to see if you can relate to that feeling — that feeling of longing or hoping or waiting.

"For each story, there's this core preoccupation that they have, such as waiting for an email that is going to change your life. Could I make the world's worst character? Everyone around her is having real problems and she's completely neglecting them in favour of this fantasy. Because it's not anything and she probably won't get it. What would that look like? What I'm trying to see if you can relate to that feeling — that feeling of longing or hoping or waiting. You don't have to identify with this character. But we've all been there.

"I wanted to take that sort of kernel of avoidance or whatever it is that we do all this theater around. We create these dramas in our heads."

Nada Alic's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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