Jaclyn Dawn grew up in a tabloid-free small town in Alberta. With a communications degree and creative writing Masters, she works as a freelance writer and instructor. She now lives somewhere between city and country outside Edmonton with her husband and son. The Inquirer is her debut novel.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
You know that feeling when you complete a school assignment – relieved, proud, nervous as you await the verdict? So far being published feels a lot like that.
As a freelance writer and instructor, I already worked with words daily. Since the call from NeWest, I’ve made some adjustments to include the publishing process for The Inquirer. My once quiet creative writing hobby just isn’t so quiet anymore!
2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I’ve always found myself imagining how events and conversations would appear on the page, editing scenes and sifting words in my mind. At twelve-years-old, a late walk home after babysitting in my sleepy hometown turned into a run because of the story I was imagining along the way.
I enjoy writing the occasional article and working on my technical writing projects, but so far, I haven’t been inspired to write a non-fiction novel. And my attempts at poetry sound like cheesy greeting cards. I love fiction. It can be both entertaining and a means to communicate something intricate or otherwise difficult to communicate.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
My writing projects need to percolate. They start with a concept that refuses to leave my busy mind. The characters and plot follow, and only when they feel real can I start writing. I jot down notes if I am scared of forgetting certain bits of information, but otherwise I write, rewrite, and edit along the way so that the first draft appears close to the final. A timeline of index cards on a big bulletin board helps with this process.
4 - Where does a work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
My creative writing most often starts as a book, with the stage of completion and length to be determined.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Despite being an instructor and someone who often has to present for work, I felt nervous and self-conscious for my first couple readings. Instead of talking about writing in general and about clients’ projects, I had to talk about myself and my creative writing. Then Wendy McGrath, an author who was also reading at the triple launch in Calgary in October, made a good point: attendees are coming voluntarily and typically don’t heckle.
So much of the writing process is solitary that public readings are a great way to connect with readers and the writing community. I enjoy the social aspect and see how beneficial such events can be for marketing. Perhaps these positives will help me be less self-conscious about my creative writing which does affect my creative process.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I find myself exploring the same two questions: Why do people do what they do? And, what if?
For example, the idea for The Inquirer came to me while I was waiting in line at the grocery store where the tabloids and gossip magazines are on display. Why are people drawn to the scandalous headlines? What if a tabloid started airing the dirty laundry of a small town like mine?
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
This is a question worthy of an essay! Both the writer and reader have varying roles and responsibilities. Putting too much thought into this question may put too much pressure on the creative process.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I once wrote an article that was returned with more red marks than the entire first draft of my novel. The editor basically took my idea and made it her own. However, the editing process is invaluable when an editor and writer work well together in their respective roles. My NeWest editor, Leslie Vermeer, encouraged me and The Inquirer to be better while maintaining the integrity of the novel.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
“Just be you, Jackie,” my husband Logan tells me. You don’t need anyone’s permission but the reminder sure comes in handy now and then.
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I have yet to establish this illusive thing called a writing routine. Life as a mom, freelance writer, and post-traumatic migraine sufferer makes a regular writing schedule difficult to maintain. That said, being tied to a routine and traditional workspace doesn’t suit me and would affect my creativity anyway. I write in bursts when and wherever I can. How my day starts depends on the day.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Writers joke that inspiration strikes when you’re trying to fall asleep because you have an early morning or when you’re busy doing anything else. I embrace this inevitable when I have writer’s block by turning to another project, house or yard work, exercise, some sort of outing. Counter to the leather and Harley stereotype, if there isn’t snow on the ground, my best novel-mapping time is when I go for a ride.
12 – What fragrance reminds you of home?
I can’t settle on one answer to this question. My son, however, says, ‘banana bread.’ It’s his favourite, so I bake it often.
13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I create a music playlist to listen to while working on each of my projects. By pressing play on The Inquirer playlist, I am transported to the fictional town of Kingsley with Amiah Williams. The trick is picking songs that apply to and don’t distract from the project. I can’t have a song that reminds me of something in my real life disrupting my workflow when I’m terrible for procrastinating as it is!
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I read in almost any genre, though I read more fiction than non and avoid horrors if I want to sleep at night. I can go on forever about the writings and writers who have left an impression on me. Instead, I will mention some writers who influenced me while I was writing The Inquirer, which was originally my MA dissertation.
For two semesters, we were assigned a novel to read, analyze, mimic, and discuss each week. I didn’t enjoy them all, but I definitely learnt from them. This strenuous exercise made me more conscious of my own writing decisions and voice. I liked the humour interlaced in A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka. I divided my novel into seven purposeful sections, though I think that’s where the comparisons to Mulan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being end. I never considered the reliability of narrators until our discussion on The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. I aimed for the layers in literary fiction and the short, action-orientated chapters mastered by James Patterson that keep a reader thinking ‘oh, just one more chapter’ at 3 am.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
There’s always another place to travel and another story to discover. I’ve had several people in the publishing industry advise me to take time to sit back and enjoy all that releasing The Inquirer entails. So, for at least the remainder of this year, I think I will do just that.
16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
When I was in grade one, my teacher told me to write down what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote ‘mom, teacher, and writer.’ (Even then I couldn’t pick just one answer for a question!) If I wasn’t a writer or writing instructor, I think I would be a grade school teacher.
Life as a singer or dancer is intriguing, though, believe me, these are not options for me! Maybe the best time for answering these questions isn’t while binge-watching Glee on Netflix. My husband and I are also currently hooked on Longmire, but I wouldn’t say I am suited for life as a sheriff either.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I have always had a passion for the written word. When I finished high school, my ever-supportive parents helped me find the Professional Writing Diploma program at MacEwan. I earned my Bachelor of Applied Communications at MacEwan and eventually my Master of Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. Having the opportunities and support to be a writer made it possible as a career path and made the childhood dream of seeing my own book in the bookstore and library come true.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I started reading the works of fellow NeWest authors this summer, including Dance Gladys Dance by Cassie Stocks, Molly of the Mall by Heidi L. M. Jacobs, and Cobra Clutch by AJ Devlin.
As research for my next novel, I have been re-watching 1980s favourites starring Molly Ringwald, including Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink.
19 - What are you currently working on?
I am researching potential homes for a story I had written for my son years ago. I also started a new literary fiction novel. It’s been percolating for some time, but I don’t have an elevator speech quite yet.