Our second instalment in our Writer's Block column is Amanda Leduc. Her first novel, The Miracles of Ordinary Men, was published this spring by ECW Press. With endorsements from the likes of Andrew Pyper and write-ups in Chatelaine magazine, we were excited to read Amanda's book and curious to learn more about her.
Our second instalment in our Writer's Block column is Amanda Leduc. Her first novel, The Miracles of Ordinary Men, was published this spring by LPG publisher ECW Press. With endorsements from the likes of Andrew Pyper and write-ups in Chatelaine magazine, we were excited to read Amanda's book and curious to learn more about her.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
What was your most rewarding moment as a writer?
Early in May this year, soon after MIRACLES arrived on bookstore shelves, I participated in a reading in Waterloo as part of the line-up for Indie Lit Night. It was a really great evening and I had the chance the spend time with some amazing writers, and I was so pleased and humbled to be there. I was also the last reader of the evening, which I was nervous about because I was sure that most of the audience would have left by the time I got to the stage! But as it turned out they didn’t, and I was introduced by David Worsley, one of the two owners of Wordsworth Books, the beloved independent store that was sponsoring the night.
David had some incredibly nice things to say about MIRACLES, and he began his little introduction with this phrase: “I’ve read a lot of books over my twenty-five years as a bookseller.” And it was this little sentence that floored me. I’ve also worked as a bookseller, and I know the feeling—you get exposed to so many books in the course of your work that sometimes it really takes something special to catch your attention. When he opened his introduction that way, and then proceeded to tell the audience exactly what it was about my book that he found special enough to make it stand out from the crowd—over the course of twenty-five years of bookselling!—I started shaking, I was that surprised. To have someone who knows books—who really knows them, who lives and breathes and recommends books every day—saying this about my novel, and from there, to know that he would continue to recommend the novel to others with just as much enthusiasm—it was such an intensely wonderful, humbling experience. I’ll treasure that night for the rest of my life as a writer. Absolutely.
What do you enjoy reading?
Yesterday I finished re-reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s Lord of Emperors, the second book in his Sarantine Mosaic. I’m a big fantasy fan and I’ve read (and re-read!) and fiercely loved everything of Kay’s. Last year, while volunteering at the Book Lover’s Ball in Toronto, I even got the chance to tell him this face-to-face! I’m also a big fan of Sharon Shinn, and I really love the magic in Karen Russell’s books. I’ve always been drawn to narratives that contain magical elements, and these writers are some of the people, for me, who consistently deliver gorgeous work.
I’ve also become increasingly fond of the personal essay, and the Internet has helped this liking to flourish. These days I find myself fascinated by all of the reading that the Interwebz has to offer—I’ve become increasingly addicted to a variety of online magazines and journals, and I love discovering new writers in this way. I’ve discovered so many new writers in Canada and around the world simply through browsing online magazine. I’ll read anything at all, for example, that Roxane Gay sees fit to put up on the web. RG’s essays, which pop up all over the place with frightening speed and regularity, are hilarious, wrenching, and always spot-on. I am a lifetime devotee. I love everything she does, up to and including her movie reviews, thoughts on The Bachelorette, and her Twitter updates on competitive Scrabble playing. Gold. All of it.
Describe your perfect writing day.
Wake up circa 8am (or so). Go for a short run and/or do some morning yoga. Come home, make coffee, grab some fruit, and be at my desk by 9am, ready to work. Get some morning pages in, and then dig into my current project and keep going for as long as I can. When I run out of coffee, I’ll make tea. If I’m feeling particularly organized I’ll have a series of snacks ready to go—these tide me over until lunchtime, at which point I’ll stop and eat. Usually this means I’ll stand in the middle of my kitchen and grab whatever’s on hand. (Hello, half an avocado and that handful of bacon bits.)
The goal with the Perfect Writing Day is usually, hopefully, by 1-2pm, to reach my daily goal of 1,000 words. At that point, I’ll either put away the current project and try to focus my energies on another piece of work, be it an essay, short story, different novel, blog post, or some other kind of writing related admin—sent submissions out, research markets, etc—or, if I’m in a blissful writing zone, I’ll try to keep pushing through with whatever larger project I started work on earlier in the day. Break it up now and then with some yoga, but keep on trying to push through.
When I lived in Scotland several years ago, I was working a variety of jobs and only ever had time to write on Saturdays, and I would get up at 7, go straight to my desk, and write until 6 or 7pm at night. I finished the first draft of MIRACLES this way. And now the goal is usually to see if I can channel that momentum every time I sit down at my desk.
Of course, the reality of my writing day usually looks something like this:
Wake up circa 8am (or so). Lie in bed for a bit. Check phone/email/Twitter. Stumble into kitchen. Decide it’s too hot/cold/looks like it might rain outside to risk going for a run. Make coffee. Shuffle to computer. Turn it on. Stare at screen. Sign into Twitter again. Waste two hours reading odd bits of news. Cough out two hundred words, then erase a hundred of them. Maybe work on a blog post. And then, around 1 or 2pm, give the day up for dead and go read something that will at once inspire me and make me despair of ever being a Real Writer. And so on, and so on.
What’s one book you always recommend? The God of Small Things is my favourite book, and it’s always the first one on my mind when I’m recommending a book to someone else. This even in spite of the fact that the recommendation has backfired on me on numerous occasions—I recommended it to a close friend several years ago, and was all agog with enthusiasm, etc, etc, and he hated it so much he couldn’t even finish. It seems to be a polarizing book that way—people either really love it, or they can’t stand it at all. Most of my well-loved books tend to fall in that camp, now that I think about it—I also loved The Time Traveler’s Wife, and there are plenty of people who don’t like that book, and people were divided about Life Of Pi, too, when it came out.
With The God of Small Things, I keep getting caught up in the language, and the fact that the story is simultaneously playful and yet unbearably haunting. The characters are full and vivid, and even the villains of the story are drawn in such a way that you can’t help but pity them, despite the horrible nature of their actions. It’s a virtuoso work, in my opinion, and every now and then I’ll dig it out again and re-read it so that I can remember what is possible for a writer to accomplish.
What are your must-read literary websites/publications?
I think The Rumpus is one of the greatest things the Internet has ever brought to the world. Big words, I know, but it really is such a wonderful site—a place of publication, yes, but also a vibrant, inclusive community that’s managed to pull writers and artists together from all parts of the planet. And it has such amazing launch power—look at how her stint at the helm of the Dear Sugar column helped to propel Cheryl Strayed’s career. (I know CS was well on her way before her work in Sugarland commenced, but the column certainly helped to build her fan base.) Same goes for Roxane Gay.
I also love The Millions, and Canada’s own Little Fiction is a great digital space for writers. While it’s true that many online spaces aren’t able to pay their writers (and I know that’s a contentious point for many folk out there), I think there is a certain kind of currency that happens when your work is published and endorsed on the web. Your reach can be greater, for one thing, and the networking opportunities that can happen as a result of getting your name in these online spaces—Joyland is another site that’s great for this—are really worth their weight in gold.
Who is your favourite fictional character?
So many to choose from! But it’s probably Valancy Stirling, from L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle. I read that book for the first time when I was eleven or twelve, and I remember being so impressed and pleased with this woman who takes life into her own two hands and finds magic in her world as a result. For a long time I had this fantasy that I, too, would live out my days—for a certain period of the year, anyway—in a cottage in the Muskokas. (With or without my own version of Barney Snaith.) Mostly, though, I was—and am—just totally on board with Valancy’s sense of humour. Also? She proposes to the man of her dreams. And he says yes. Which is a literary victory for women everywhere, as far as I’m concerned.
What’s the most surprising thing about being a writer?
For me, it has to be the fact that I manage to publish things at all. All joking re: my Perfect Writing Day aside (and before I say anything else I should specify that I do also have a day job, and logistically I don’t actually get to have those perfect writing days all that often), there are many, many times during the course of work on particular project when I’ll stop for a moment and just think, “I get to make things up, and put them on paper, and sometimes people even think they’re good enough to put out there in the world.”
Writing is hard—there’s no denying that. But I do love it, and every single time I sit down at my desk I’m surprised to know that I have managed to be able to do this thing that I love on a regular basis. To spend a day with tea and one’s computer is really a fantastic way to pass the time. And to know that I’ve managed to publish a novel—to know that the work of those days spent in front of my computer, when I was really just making things up in my head and putting them down on the page, has suddenly become an actual thing, a physical object that’s out there in the world and affecting other readers—that’s amazing. I don’t think I’ll ever cease to be surprised by it.
Amanda Leduc has lived in Ontario, British Columbia, and Scotland, in a variety of apartments—some with wooden floors (happy sigh), and some without (unhappy sigh). She prides herself on being an excellent roommate and has gone so far as to share her apartments with mice, squirrels, and Charlotte the spider in various incarnations. Sometimes she even shares an apartment with other people.
In her working life thus far, Amanda has worked as a strawberry picker, admin assistant, bookseller, retail clerk, furniture hawker, fundraiser, data entry ma’am extraordinaire, and dogwalker. At present, she works as an admissions clerk in the emergency psychiatry ward at a hospital in Hamilton, Ontario, which means she gets to hang out with doctors all day and scribble interesting medical facts in her notebook when no one else is looking. She has also, on occasion, worked in exchange for food. She will still work for food, especially if the food in question has anything to do with avocados.
In her Dream Life, Amanda would live in Vancouver, by the ocean, and eat the Cambodian Jungle Curry (medium-hot) from The Noodle Box approximately 5.5 times every week. (For more on the Dream Life, see The Questionnaire, #3.) In her Real-And-Must-Pay-Bills life, she is a happy resident of Hamilton, Ontario, who occasionally eats falafels and hummus from La Luna, the best restaurant in the city. The Miracles of Ordinary Men was finished to a constant soundtrack of Florence + the Machine and Amanda’s next novel, currently in the fetal incubation stage, is developing to a mixed soundtrack of Mumford & Sons, Neko Case, The Civil Wars, Bon Iver, and white noise. (See www.simplynoise.com.) Also, yes, some Florence & the Machine again, because why the heck not.
Amanda still harbours dreams of taking off for an around-the-world trip sometime in the nearish future. This is probably impossible. But like Carroll’s Queen of Hearts, she enjoys believing impossible things. (Getting a novel published used to be one of them.) On many occasions, she has also believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. Sometimes, even more.
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