C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

Author Profile: Nairne Holtz

The Skin Beneath

Nairne_Holtz
Nairne Holtz

Nairne Holtz was described by the Globe and Mail as a “writer to watch.” She is the author of This One’s Going to Last Forever (Insomniac, 2009), which was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and The Skin Beneath (Insomniac, 2007), which won the Alice B. Award for Debut Lesbian Fiction and was shortlisted for Quebec’s McAuslan First Book Prize. She lives in Toronto with her lover and miniature dogs.

This One’s Going to Last Forever is about relationships that are, for the most part, destined to fail. From campus lovers to a middle-aged man who performs drive-through weddings dressed as Elvis, the characters in these darkly comic stories search for love in all the wrong places. They also find love in the most unexpected places. 

In The Skin Beneath, Sam O’Connor is a “yuffie,” a young urban failure who is covered in tattoos and preoccupied by picking up girls she quickly discards. But there’s one woman she can’t forget—her dead sister, Chloe, a conspiracy freak who may not have killed herself. Tracing Chloe’s final days in this noir coming-of-age tale of swapped, hidden, and altered identities, Sam discovers everyone has another layer and secrets they hide from themselves—including herself. 

This One's Going to Last Forever

 CW: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

NH: One of my fourth grade teachers assigned creative writing exercises for homework and that sparked my interest in writing. I decided I wanted to be a writer, a spy or a private detective. I’ve wound up working as a librarian and being an author. I can’t talk about the spy stuff. 

CW: How did you develop your book idea?

NH: My ideas come from my imagination, reality, and skewed reality. The reality isn’t necessarily mine. Sometimes I draw on the lives of friends or complete strangers. I’m always reluctant to say what is real and what isn’t in a specific story or book, but I will say I was amused when a reviewer of my first novel, The Skin Beneath, described the only character in the book inspired by a real person as “unlikely.”

CW: And what research was involved?

NH: Research involved trips to various libraries and searching the web. Being a librarian helped.  

CW: What’s your personal approach to the writing process?

NH: My writing process for longer work involves outlines, revised outlines, and endless drafts. The process is often tedious as is discussing it in my opinion. As to training, I have a graduate degree in English from McGill University. I also completed the Humber College creative writing program, where you are paired with a writer who edits chunks of your work for eight months.  

CW: How long did it take you to write your first book and find an agent?

NH: It took me a little over two years to write my first novel, but I was lucky at that time not to be doing much paid work. Humber College has an agent, and I sent my stuff to her when I finished the program, and she took me on. That process took about a year and a half.

CW: What were the surprises and challenges on your route to publication?

NH: My first attempts at publication were in Canadian literary journals. I received one acceptance and fifty rejections, which was quite discouraging. My girlfriend kept saying, “There is always more than one way,” and indeed, my stories eventually found print in American lgbt literary journals and anthologies. While my books have received glowing reviews in the mainstream, basically my audience is lesbian.    

The hardest part of the publishing process was realizing the extent to which manuscripts languish in slush piles. The mainstream presses look at books represented by agents whom they know and the indie presses tend to publish their friends and aren’t necessarily impressed by agents. What I enjoyed about the process was how much I learned about both writing and marketing. Also, of course, it was such a thrill the first time I walked into Chapters and saw my book on the shelf.

CW: What advice would you give unpublished writers?

NH: You have to decide what you want and make peace with it. If you want to write novels, this will likely mean periods of not working fulltime at a paid job, which has obvious economic consequences. If you tell a story with non-mainstream characters or you have an experimental style or you write poetry, you will likely limit your audience. You have to decide whether it is more important to have a wider audience or to tell your story in exactly the way you want.

CW: Have changes in the book industry forced you to change how you published or marketed your work?

The closing of so many gay and lesbian and women’s bookstores has meant fewer places to sell my books, but the web has offered more opportunities in terms of publicity. I think Amazon, not to mention all the second-hand booksellers online, will mean a longer life for my books, and I was quite happy to add my first book to Google’s free electronic library. For my second book, I focused more on the web in terms of publicity. For instance, I had my publicist give my book to a few bloggers and some places where I did readings used Facebook as their main publicity tool.

CW: What’s next?

NH: I’m working on a new novel set in Nova Scotia in the ’70s and ’80s about a Quaker hippie family.

For more information, Nairne’s website is www.nairneholtz.com.

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Author Profile: Anthony Bidulka’s Date with a Sheesha

Anthony_BidulkaAnthony Bidulka’s mystery series tells the story of a world-travelling, wine-swilling, wise-cracking, gay Canadian PI living a big life in a small city. The Russell Quant series is a multi-award nominee including for the CWC Arthur Ellis Award, and was awarded the Lambda Literary Award for Best Men’s Mystery. Anthony Bidulka has enjoyed time well-spent and misspent in the worlds of academia, accounting, footwear, food services, and farming. In 1999, Anthony Bidulka, BA, BEd, BComm, CA, left a decade-long career as a chartered accountant to pursue writing.

The Russell Quant books are: Amuse Bouche (2003), Flight of Aquavit (2004), Tapas on the Ramblas (2005), Stain of the Berry (2006), Sundowner Ubuntu (2007), Aloha, Candy Hearts (2009), Date With a Sheesha (2010.)

CW: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

AB: Pretty much as soon as I could put pen to paper. As a youngster I was completely entranced by the power of storytelling and my greatest wish was to be someone who could do that. Instead of spending my allowance on candy or toys, I’d buy books and comics. As a teenager, I began writing and illustrating stories for my nieces and nephews. In truth, those were the first books I authored.

CW: Tell us a little about your books.

AB: I write a mystery series, which is not exactly what I set out to do. My first serious attempt at a book—as an adult—was a thriller. While I was waiting for the offers to pour in, I thought it might be a good idea to spend time on something just for the pure love and fun of writing. I created the world of Russell Quant, the first and only half-Ukrainian, half-Irish, wine-swilling, world-travelling, wise-cracking, ex-cop, ex-farm boy, gay, prairie-dwelling, Canadian private eye being written about today anywhere by anyone! (I dare anyone to contradict me.) That was ten years ago. Russell Quant has been my literary companion ever since.

The current release, Date With a Sheesha, deals with a young Canadian researcher travelling to the Middle East to buy antique carpets. Unfortunately, he’s found dead in a Dubai souk wrapped in a carpet. Russell is hired by the young man’s father to discover whether this was a simple tourist mugging gone bad as the authorities insist. (Of course, it is anything but). What follows is a magic carpet ride of an adventure from Saskatchewan to the frankincense fields of Oman and scorching sand dunes of Saudi Arabia.

CW: What research was involved in your book’s development?

AB: In each of the Russell Quant books, although much of the action takes place in Saskatchewan, Russell always finds himself embroiled in some sort of shenanigans in foreign locales. He’s been to the south of France, New York, Africa, Hawaii, and now, the Middle East. Each of the locations is chosen because of time I have spent there snooping about and wondering if this is a good place for murder and/or mayhem.

CW: What’s your writing process?

AB: I am very much an outliner. I like having at least a basic structure on which to build. I like knowing where I’m going. That said, I also think the most exciting—and sometimes nail biting aspect of writing fiction is the unknown. Although I create outlines, they are only the bare bones. The flesh is all the rest of the good stuff that comes out as you write the story, develop characters, create a world that only you control. Heady stuff, it is.

Once I have a first draft, I’ll go through a number of revisions until the piece gets to the point where I think it is the best it can be. Then I send it to my editor and she tells me why it isn’t.

CW: What’s the most surprising thing you discovered writing this book?

AB: I’ve sometimes wondered if writing a series would get boring or formulaic but I don’t findDate_with_a_Sheesha that to be true. I’m writing the eighth and I’ve attempted to give each of the books in the series a slightly different flavour. One is more romantic than the others. One is more of a caper. Another is more of a thriller and one is the scariest of the bunch. It’s a delicate balance because, to maintain the essence of what people liked about the series and characters, you don’t want to change things up too much. My hope is to keep the series fresh, the readers engaged and on their toes. That keeps me interested and excited to write more about Russell.

CW: What’s the hardest part of the publishing process?

AB: Today I think the most difficult part of the publishing process is keeping up with the speed-of-light changes in the industry. How we write, read, publish, and promote the written word is changing into something that was unrecognizable only five, ten years ago.

CW: How has that changed your book marketing?

AB: Extreme change had just begun to show its face as my first book was being published. Oddly enough, this has been a boon to me. I have only known upheaval in this industry. Just looking back over the past eight to nine years, one of the biggest changes is that the majority—the majority!—of small independent bookstores at which I gave readings in Canada and the US are now gone. They were the ones willing to give a new Canadian a chance. 

Oh yes, the world has changed and we must evolve with it. We used to give away electronic copies of the books for free, thinking that people would never read an entire book on screen, but perhaps it would entice them to buy the hard copy. Many of my colleagues now produce trailers for their books that rival those of blockbuster movies.

I have always seen the key to marketing a book as developing an ever-changing toolbox full of tricks. You try ten things and hope two of them work well. And even so, those two things will likely have to be tossed and replaced with something else before you blink. Daunting? Yes. Exciting? Yes. The essence is to be creative, be communicative, never give up trying.

CW: What do you most enjoy about being an author?

AB: There are so many enjoyable parts of the writing life. The firsts are top of the list. Getting that first signed contract. Seeing your book in galley format. Seeing it in a bookstore window. Getting emails from readers (who aren’t related to you!). Having your book reviewed in a major newspaper or magazine. Flying into a city you’ve never been to before and having people actually show up at a reading just to see you. It’s all so wonderful and fun and a truly unique experience.

CW:What advice would you give unpublished writers?

 AB: Get involved in the industry. Join writers groups, go to conferences, meet other writers, volunteer on boards and committees. As I’ve discovered in every part of my life, when you give back, you get back ten times more.

CW:What’s your next book project?

AB: A brand new edition of the first book in the Russell Quant series, Amuse Bouche, is being released soon. I’m currently working on a few different writing projects, one being the eighth Russell Quant mystery, tentatively titled Dos Equus.

CW: Thank you, Anthony! For more information, please visit www.anthonybidulka.com.  

 

 

 

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