(Q&A) Lisa De Nikolits

Last week I was given the chance to do a book spotlight on West of Wawa  and the chance to read and review the book. When I first read the blurb of the book I knew I wanted to read it. Not only is the author Canadian but its a book that takes place in Canada. So whats not to love about that?

My review of West of Wawa is schedule to appear later this morning but for now I have a Q&A with Lisa. I was super excited after reading the book that I would be able to interview her. I had a few questions that I was dying to ask her and Lisa was fantastic and I am so excited to read her previous book and any of her upcoming books.

About the book:

Emotionally battered and bruised, 29-year-old Australian immigrant Benny is looking for escape, not redemption. Escape from herself and the dismal failures of her life: her first solo art exhibition is panned by critics and her husband left her for an Andy Warhol look-alike. Isolated from her family, her career as an abstract artist in ruins, she comes to Canada and finds solace working eighteen hours a day as a graphic designer in a disreputable agency. Numbing her pain with hard work, she self-medicates with prescription meds, and becomes involved in a series of increasingly dubious relationships with ill-suited unreliable men who lead her into danger. Cutting off all ties with normalized daily routines, Benny leaves her job and sets off on a road trip adventure across Canada, hoping she will discover who she wants to be and where she wants to be it.

During the bus trip she discovers junk food, cigarettes, hash and drinks a lot of alcohol. She confuses sexual attraction with love in a series of relationships with loser bad boys and continues to put herself in destructive, potentially dangerous situations. Hardcore, she travels for the most part by Greyhound bus, sinking deeper into the underbelly of a world that offers her the anonymity she seeks. Funny, aggressive, fearless and vulnerable, Benny is a road-warrior with a backpack of opiates, a map and a guileless sense of naiveté. In seventy-two days, she travels nearly ten thousand miles overland and more by flight and train; she’s a determined modern-day pioneer.

This coming-of-age novel is narrated with wry humour and filled with a cast of engaging characters. A tale of sexual adventure and feminist learning, Benny looks for escape but emerges a heroine instead; with mistakes, epiphanies and friendships helping forge her a home and a sense of identity in the true North.

Please help me welcome Lisa De Nikolits to Cindy’s Love of Books. Thanks so very much Lisa for taking the time out of your busy schedule to sit down and do this for me. I truly appreciate it.

Cindy: How did you come up with the cover?

My publisher asked me if I had any ideas for the front cover – and did I! Of course I did! My husband (Bradford Dunlop) is a fine art photographer and he had been contacted by a publisher in the States who wanted to use one of his images for a book of theirs (In This Light, new and selected stories by Melanie Rae Thon). And ever since that moment, I’d been tracking his work with a beady eye.

I was excited when Luciana Ricciutelli (my publisher and editor at Inanna) asked me for cover suggestions; excited to the point where I wanted to get Brad up at midnight to look through his images(which is the time when I recalled the West of Wawa cover image, the one with the birds). He was definitely less than enthused at that hour – which baffled me! But the next morning I got hold of this image (along with a few others) and sent them along to Luciana who worked with her very talented artist Val Fullard and this cover is the end result. I love this cover art very much; it’s so fragile and beautiful, so strong and clean.

Cindy: What about the title?

Actually, the original title was West of Wawa and Why Eve Ate The Apple… I’d been struggling to find a title, struggling mightily, and I’d been trying out different ones for what seemed like months.

When I work on a title, I become obsessed. I’m quite awful really. I wander around badgering colleagues, friends and family, and uttering strange things like The Velveteen Bus Heads West and other such ridiculous things completely apropos of nothing… Anyway,I was at a guitar lesson, bemoaning my title-less fate and my teacher said “take it from the book,” (he knew that each chapter had its own title) and one was West of Wawa and Why Eve Ate The Apple, and that one popped into my head. So there it was, but I later shortened it to just West of Wawa. The ‘Why Eve Ate The Apple’ bit is still in the book and I invite (and hopefully entice) readers to discover that bit for themselves!

Cindy: How long did it take you to write West of Wawa?

I wrote the first draft of West of Wawa in July of 2005 and it was published in September 2011. So that’s six years. Six long, continuous, tough years.

Here’s a bit of background to the story:

Shortly after the first draft was written, the book was accepted for ebook publication by a small publishing company on the east coast. We spent a year working on edits and revisions and proofs and galleys and the like, and we even finished the cover artwork (completely different cover artwork and I also loved that artwork) and it was all going really well. Then, two weeks before launch date, the company ran out of funds and closed up shop. Talk about crushed and devastated.

But, I told myself, look on the bright side, at the very least, I had a polished manuscript that I could shop around. And I did just that, submitting it a publishing house in Toronto that I had wanted to work with for ages. I waited on tenterhooks for the long six months it took them to read it(they’re also a small house and had quite a backlog so it took a little longer than usual for me to get feedback.) I wasn’t too worried though – the book had already been previously accepted and so I was 80 percent sure that the news was going to be good. But then, another crushing blow was delivered – feedback told me that while the scenery was great, the protagonist was vacuous. She professed to learn and grow on her journey but her actions didn’t support this. Once again, a crushing blow.

I gathered my energy, swallowed my pride and took my story back to the drawing board. (Hmm, three clichés in a row there but that’s pretty much what happened!)

I kept the scenery of the original story but ditched all the rest.

In the meantime, while West of Wawa had been traversing this treacherous road, I’d been working with my current, wonderful publisher (Inanna) on my first novel, The Hungry Mirror, and so of course, as soon I was finished reworking West of Wawa, I sent the book to them. Three months later I got the good news: “the book’s a terrific read!”

So, it all turned out well in the end. West of Wawa emerged, a print book, and I am proud to say that it’sa much better story.

Cindy: Its almost like things had to happen first to make this happen. Where can readers find you?

Here’s my Twitter link: http://bit.ly/v5Rk08

amazon.ca: http://amzn.to/xu637D

Indigo/Chapters: http://bit.ly/sVmWzv

Reading on YouTube: http://bit.ly/u5eyG2

Trailer on YouTube: http://bit.ly/qXrJLn

Visit my website: www.lisadenikolitswriter.com for reviews,comments, photographs and more.

Cindy: When writing West of Wawa, why did you pick those particular cities? (I loved how you mentioned my little home town, Bathurst in the book)

I did the actual trip! I had been in Canada for about a year and a half, having come from Australia where I had lived for nearly two years. I was just overwhelmed by this need, this hunger, to travel across Canada. I can’t even explain it. It was something I couldn’t not do! I think I also realised that I was at a point in my life when I could do such a thing; I didn’t have any family responsibilities, I wasn’t tied to my job (I knew I could get something else when I’d finished the trip) and it just made so much sense to do it then. And I’m so very glad that I did.

The blue arrow indicates my home town, Bathurst, NB and I marked off Churchill, Manitoba as well (you can click on the map to enlarge it).

I’ve also been to a lot of cities that aren’t mentioned in the story they’ regret, but they just didn’t fit; Iqaluit is one of them and I was quite sad that I couldn’t get that into the book. And in terms of Bathurst, I did art direct a magazine after Hurricane Juan hit (Transcontinental put out a publication but before anyone mistakenly thinks that I was Benny or she was me,and that my colleagues were the cast from West of Wawa, I must rush in and say that all the characters are fictitious! As was the situation under which the magazine was produced.)

I also travelled to a lot of those places in a different sequence to Benny – for example, I went to Newfoundland long after my trip across Canada. I love the east coast very much; there and the far north – I do share Benny’s love for Churchill, Manitoba!

Cindy: How did West of Wawa come about?

Well, as I mentioned, I did the journey across Canada, on a bus. And along the way, I wrote a travel journal – I love keeping travel journals. When I am writing them, I have no idea if I’ll ever use them or even what I might use them for but it doesn’t matter. Being alone with my thoughts and a pen and paper is a very joyous experience for me. So I wrote my way across Canada (and none of it except the route and scenery was ever used.)

How did Benny’s story come about? After I ditched her vacuous predecessor, I thought long and hard and I can’t even tell you exactly where Benny came from. Because (in real life) I’ve never met anyone like her, with her background, with her experiences. I worked so hard to understand her, I really grappled with her, I asked her questions, I dressed her in all sorts of different clothes, I discovered her relationship with junk food and unearthed the story of her and Kenny. I loved discovering Benny; she’s like a friend tome. I don’t really know where she came from but I love her.

Cindy: I have to ask this, If West of Wawa was optioned for a movie who would play Benny?

An interesting question! And one that Chatelaine magazine can answer! They did a casting call for West of Wawa and I thoroughly concur with their choices.

Readers,I invite you to take a look and see if you agree: http://bit.ly/t9uWHS

Chatelaine was very kind to Benny and West of Wawa. Laurie Grassi (the book editor) chose West of Wawa as one her editor’s picks in the September 2011 issue and they interviewed me for a Q+A and their book club held a discussion over three weeks as they all read West of Wawa together. Their endorsement was such a great honour. I can’t tell you the joy I feel when readers tell me they like the book – and even when they tell me things like there were moments when they wanted to throttle Benny or when they got frustrated with her or then they were so happy for her and with her – well, it’s an amazing feeling of gratitude (for the gift of the book having come my way) and joy.

Readers you really should go and check out who Chatelaine picked for the characters. I think some of the pics were dead on and I could see that now after reading the book.

I have to say that there was moments I wanted to reach in and throttle Benny because of her decisions and her actions.

Thanks so much Lisa once again. I really enjoyed the book and being able to speak with you and ask you some of my questions.

copyright 2010, Cindy (Cindy’s Love Of Books)
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