Sarah Lane is the Canadian author of The God of My Art: A Novel, long listed for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. She grew up in rural British Columbia on the Canadian west coast and has lived abroad in France and the USA and travelled around Cameroon, Mexico, and Europe. She has a M.A. in comparative literature, and her short stories and poetry have appeared in a number of literary magazines. She currently lives in Vancouver, Canada, where she is mom to two energetic toddlers.
Sarah has kindly honoured us with a visit today to chat about her writings.
Hello Sarah, thank you for coming in. Tell us what compelled you to write THE GOD OF MY ART.
Many things, but one in particular. I did part of my B.A. in France, where I studied political science. Social classes often define people’s options for careers and the like in France, and I realized that, even if we like to pretend they do not exist in Canada, they enmesh us here as well. My novel shows how being born into, for example, the “welfare” class has repercussions that can follow a woman into adulthood.
“The novel’s title is a twist on the traditionally female muse or goddess of art.” What made you decide this approach?
I thought it would be fun to look at how a female artist might find inspiration for her paintings in her male lovers.
“It explores the protagonist’s obsession with her lover as her source of inspiration in becoming an artist and for creating art.” Besides techniques, what, in your opinion, will generate great art?
That is one of the questions that the novel asks: where does art come from?
“The novel is set in British Columbia: Prince George and Vancouver.” Share with us your Vancouver.
I wanted to show the two-faced underbelly of Vancouver. In the novel, it is a city divided between affluent neighborhoods full of do-gooder globetrotting outdoor adventurers and gritty neighborhoods full of streetwalkers, homeless people, and other misfits. It is also a city with certain liberties, like the nude beach, and a natural beauty that changes with the seasons.
“Helene’s underprivileged background with her prostitute mother and biker father.” How did you decide this background?
Please see the question on my motivation for writing the novel, regarding social class.
“Helene and Matthew’s relationship really takes off…” Tell us why Matthew is special.
Matthew is Helene’s muse. The novel explores her obsession with him, first as a lover and then as the object of her art.
“The novel follows Helene’s process of moving on from the relationship.” What makes this a charming read?
I think the novel is more gritty and urban than charming. It is divided into three sections, each representing one of the primary colours. Blue is the second section and in it she learns of his betrayal.
“At the core of this coming-of-age tale are the shifting faces of Helene—teenage runaway, university student, and budding artist.” How involved were you with the art world or artists’ life?
I am a writer and so involved in the art world that way. When I lived in Europe I visited the major art galleries in Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, and Berlin. I drew on those experiences a lot while writing the novel.
How real are your storyline and your characters Helene, Matthew, Hana and Laurent?
The storyline and the characters are completely fictitious.
Yet you have created a convincing novel! Would you share with us a memorable moment in completing this novel?
Walking along the boulevard of the lake in Annecy, France, every evening at twilight after a full day of writing. Those were the days before my sweet toddlers, when I could fully concentrate on writing.
Could you please give our readers a one-paragraph sample of your short fiction and poetry?
From my story “Breaking Up,” published in the Antigonish Review:
Clement doesn’t tell this Canadian woman that he was in the Congolese army. He says the scars are from soccer, which they are, and doesn’t mention the AK 47 under his arm that night in Katanga. He doesn’t describe the bloodshot eyes of the intoxicated soldiers in the gleam of headlights, the loud shouts penetrating the darkness to ward off terror. What the body remembers is a single gunshot. Tied to a tree, an albino rebel slumping forward in front of the military truck, a long row of trees, long as the night can be dark, multiple shots in the dark to ward off treason. In the same instant as he fires, he recognizes this albino to be his maternal cousin.
A poem in French, published in Quills Canadian Poetry Magazine:
Thank you, Sarah.
“She began writing in high school, penning her first poem for circulation in the school newsletter.” When did you first know you just had to write?
In high school, when I was fifteen. I wrote a poem about a boy in my class. I guess he was my first god of art, in that sense.
“She did her B.A. in international relations and her M.A. in comparative literature at the University of British Columbia.” What is it that really strikes you about the work of your favourite authors?
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigerian Author)
I love this book because you could remove the love story from the historical setting and it would still be an amazing book. But when you add in the historical element, it becomes so much more. The novel as a whole is absolutely devastating and more so, because up to today nothing has changed in terms of how the Western word views Africa.
Dancing in the Dark by Caryl Phillips (British Author)
This is my favorite novel by Phillips because it is rich and subtle and adds up in little bits and pieces all the devastating effects of racism on Bert Williams’s life. There are videos on YouTube of Williams’s acting and they are difficult to watch after reading this novel.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (Russian-American Author)
I took a few years to get past the first few chapters of this book as I couldn’t get into it. When I did, I fell in love with Nabokov’s writing. This book is the best written novel I’ve read, in terms of poetics and style. Nabokov draws you against your will into the world of a pedophile and that is both the beauty (he writes so well) and the horror (he writes so well you start to sympathize with his character) of his novel.
L’Ingratitude by Ying Chen (Chinese-Canadian Author)
I love the dark, hopeless feel of this novel. I read the French original, and I’ve been told the translation is not as good.
The Lover by Margerite Duras (French Author)
This is a dark, coming-of-age love story, tragic and moving.
The Man Outside by Wolfgang Borchert (German Author)
I love the style of the writing in these stories (I read the English translation). He writes in repetitive, crispy short sentences, which are rather hypnotic and give the mundane events of his stories a poetic feel, most of which are set against a background of war.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (American Author)
I liked this story because I thought it was a well written and compassionate account of an American family in the Congo.
You have studied with acclaimed writers Tom Wayman, Crystal Hurdle, and Sharon Thesen and studied literary translation under Rhea Tregebov and George McWhirter. Any writing tips?
Write specific not vague and concrete not abstract. Avoid adverbs in any shape or form. Translation taught me to look at writing from the sentence level up, rather than the other way around. There are many ways to say the same thing. The poetics of writing are as important as the meaning the words convey.
Thanks, Sarah. What are you writing now? Share with us your latest news. What’s next?
My writing projects include finishing my second novel about an international love affair that may or may not have a happy ending and starting my third novel about a doppelganger who seeks recognition from her original self, with tragic consequences.
Good luck with those. Now, let’s talk abou you. What did you learn from writing your novels?
That writing is hard work.
“She has lived abroad in France and traveled extensively in Cameroon, Mexico, and Europe.” What’s your favourite place, and why?
I loved France because it is such a beautiful country in terms of history, architecture, and countryside. I also liked the culture and the cuisine.
You’re also a foodie. If I came to your place for dinner, what would you prepare?
Spicy fusion cuisine. Depending on how adventurous I thought you to be, I might serve Ndole with boiled-plantains (Cameroonian dish), Mung Bean Curry with chapatis (Indian dish), or Chilli soup with corn bread (North American dish).
The first one sounds interesting 🙂
Thank you so much for your time today. Best wishes with your writing!
Readers, I hope you have enjoyed meeting Sarah. Come check out her Blog, GoodReads, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter for her latest updates. Her book is available from Kindle Edition, Amazon, Chapters, & Barnes and Nobles.