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.
Meet Alex Knight, author of murder mystery novels born in Toronto who have lived in a number of cities in Canada and the United States.
Hello Alex, so happy to have you joining us. Would you be so kind to give readers a one-sentence synopsis of BODYGUARD, The Adventures of Anya Orlova?
This is the story and back story of a young woman who had to grow up with an unusual gift that often threw her into the path of danger.
How real are your characters?
Almost all of my characters are composites of people I know or have known so some of them are all too real.
It started as a short story in September 2010, inspired by a random comment a colleague had made about a little tavern. That’s usually all it takes to get me started, a random word or comment that brings out the best (or worst) in me.
But always entertaining, Alex. When did you first know you just had to write?
Like many other writers, I’ve been an avid reader from an early age. I knew that I wanted to entertain others the way that I had been entertained over the years. It’s always hard to take that first step, especially if you’re plagued with self-doubt. After putting it off for decades, I made it a goal to be published before I reached my 50th birthday. I was and I haven’t looked back.
How long did it take you to write Bodyguard?
As mentioned earlier, it started as a short story in 2010. Over the course of the next two years the protag whispered to me constantly, telling me her back story. In 2012 I started working on it again and released it in January 2013. While it didn’t take three years of writing, it did take that long to realize it was going to be a novella and to get it written and published.
How did you come up with the title?
The working title changed a number of times from start to finish. When it was time to create the cover I had to provide a title; eventually it presented itself.
What is your favorite paragraph in Bodyguard?
“Heed our advice and our warnings. When you are no longer a child we can no longer guide you.”
“But Grandmother, I stopped being a child yesterday.” This terrible truth was confirmed by the gravity of my tone and my solemn expression.
And she was only six, poor Anya. Alex, who would you say have been the most influential authors in your life? What is it that really strikes you about their work?
Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, John D. MacDonald, and Mickey Spillane were the authors I read and admired the most when I was growing up. I think one of the things I like the most about their writing is that it stands the test of time. Their stories are still quality entertainment.
What story would you like to share about the joy, challenge, or hardship of writing?
When I first started to write I enjoyed some immediate success and so I thought I was ready for bigger and better things. Apparently, according to the much copied, photo-copied rejection letters I received from a major magazine, I wasn’t. (I didn’t even merit an ‘original’ photo-copy, addressed to me, or signed.) That brought me back down to earth pretty damn fast. However, if you don’t try you’ll never succeed.
But many likes your story.Who gives you the most encouragement? Why is that important to you?
Alongside of my family, it would be a great group of writers that I have had the pleasure of knowing for well over a decade. Write Stuff is comprised of several very talented writers that I often refer to as my extended family. We have shared each other’s joys and sorrows and celebrated each other’s victories as if they were our own. Their belief in me has made it possible for me to believe in myself.
What are you working on right now?
I have six NaNoWriMo novels that I have done nothing with since having ‘won.’ My goal is to revisit them and do some serious editing this year. I hope to release them all before the end of the year.
Tell us your latest news.
I am working on a love story. It’s a bit out of the ordinary for me and it’s going to be extremely difficult not to throw in a murder, or two.
And why not? 🙂
Do you see writing as a career or distraction?
It definitely isn’t a distraction, but I don’t see it being a career until I retire.
There aren’t enough hours in the day to continue to work full time, work part time at home, run a household, and write and edit my writing. Until I can devote at least eight hours a day to my writing and editing of same, I can’t call it a career.
How much do you have in common with your protags?
Every protag is a bit of me, a bit of my daughter and a bit of my sister. Of course being the eldest, both of them tend to be rather like me so perhaps all of the protags are a lot like me. The humor, bits of sarcasm, the courage, the second-guessing, the self-doubt, the loyalty, the willingness to pack up and start over – all of that is me. The physical characteristics are mostly a combination of the three of us.
What are your hobbies?
Besides reading, I love watching old classic movies, listening to music, making jewelry (natural gemstones set in silver or copper) knitting, cooking, and fishing.
A woman of many talents! What is your other profession?
I am, what is affectionately known as, a bean counter (accountant.)
When do you find the time to write?
I often plot about murder during the day. Finding the time to actually write it all out is more difficult; like most other writers I grab spare minutes here and there.
Tell us a bit about who or what matters to you.
I admire those who stand up for others and who protect those who cannot protect themselves, whether they are protecting people or animals.
How has your published work influenced others and their attitude towards you?
I mostly write about murder so I truly hope I haven’t influenced too many people. As to their attitudes towards me, they either love me or tend to avoid me.
What one thing is important for your readers to know about you?
They should take everything I say with several grains of salt.
Seriously, the first thing that comes out of my mouth is usually not serious at all. Often the second thing that comes out of my mouth isn’t much better. I laugh at life and myself a lot and if we can’t laugh at ourselves then the joke is truly on us.
Any tips for us on reading and writing?
Read as much as you can, whenever you can. Open yourself up to new genres. (I used to say that I loved all music except Country & Western and Opera. Having explored both, I can no longer say that.) You can like one genre more than another, but if you don’t explore and open your mind you can miss so many wonderfully written books that could truly change your life for the better. As to writing, you need to read as much as you can in every genre, not just the one you want to write in. Do not let family and/or friends discourage you. Like everything else in life, if you want it badly enough you have to work for it. If you don’t give it a shot you’ll never know.
I hate research. I love reading about a wide variety of topics—for entertainment purposes. The minute I ‘have to’ read about something—it becomes work.
And we can only give readers something that we love, right? Thank you so much for chatting with us Alex. Best wishes with the books!
And readers, here are here you can find Alex and her books:
Find Alex on The Web Links: