ALU Summer Book Club: Intro to Humane

Meet our July book club pick: Humane by Anna Marie Sewell! We serve up an excerpt of this hybrid Indigenous/crime novel and interview Stonehouse Publishing publisher Netta Johnson about how after reading the first 30 pages of this book, she was “blown away” (we suspect you will be, too!).

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Blending elements of crime fiction, Indigenous folklore, and the family novel, poet and writer Anna Marie Sewell’s Humane introduces readers to Hazel Lesage, a Métis mother of two who takes it upon herself to find justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women as an unlicensed PI. Sewell shows us all of the characters in Hazel’s orbit, from her fiery daughter, Missy, to her troubled relative Devin, to the dog, Spider, she adopts after a prophetic dream featuring her grandmother (and who, to her dismay, is apparently able to talk). Hazel’s biting and hilarious sarcasm masks a troubled existence; one where violence is disproportionately experienced by “throwaway people” – Indigenous women, girls, and femmes.

Humane (clicking begins a PDF download) – while you wait for your 15% off copy to come in, or your library hold, or before you can get out to your favourite indie bookshop (all very valid!). Our interview with Stonehouse publisher Netta Johnson is below.

An interview with Netta Johnson

 

All Lit Up: How did Humane first come to Stonehouse? What about the manuscript grabbed you and made you excited to publish it?

Netta Johnson: I was at the Fall seasonal celebration at the Waldorf Independent School of Edmonton, and Anna Marie was sharing Indigenous Fall songs and stories with the whole school in an assembly, and I got over my shyness and introduced myself. Later, we were chatting in the kitchen, and I asked her if she ever wrote fiction, or was she only a poet. She said she had mainly written poetry, but lately, there had been a story that had grabbed hold of her and was trying to get her to write it. I laughed at that, because in my experience, those are the best stories, the ones that just demand to be told. I told her that, and I said that if she ever gave in to the temptation to write the book that was nipping at her heels, to get in touch, and I gave her my business card. A few weeks later, she sent me the first 30 pages of Humane and I was blown away. Anna Marie has a rare gift; she is able to grab the reader and speak to them so directly that they get swept into the narrative immediately. After the first introductory pages, I was sold, and have never looked back. I feel so fortunate to be able to read/publish her incredible novels.

 

ALU: Humane plays with – and sometimes subverts – several genres at once, including crime and magical realism. Tell us a bit about the editorial process in working on a multi-genre book like this.

NJ: I am increasingly drawn to crime fiction, and I was struck with how Anna Marie has combined the gritty raw quality of crime/mystery, with the warmth of family drama, and the magical realism that includes shapeshifters. In an editorial sense, I often felt like my role was saying ‘Oh, this is cool. Why is it happening, who is saying that?’ and from that, the two of us would discover that she was being a little coy about there being a sasquatch character. As a result of these types of conversations, Anna Marie would pull back the curtain a little more to let the reader see more of the (yet) unspoken story context.

ALU: The cover of this book is so arresting, with the illustration by Trish Sewell peeking out amid the bold type. How did you arrive at this design?

NJ: We wanted to combine the elements of the mystical, the mysterious, with the stark realities of poverty, violence and exploitation, so that the reader would understand that both elements were in this story. Trish Sewell is an incredible Indigenous artist (in addition to being Anna Marie’s sister) and her painting, Shifter, just leapt off the screen when I first saw it. Anne Brown, the book’s designer, was able to juxtapose the stark bold lettering with the dramatic red on the ‘E’, the letter which separates human from humane, and helps symbolize the violence and inhumanity at the heart of the deaths of many Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, the tragedies at the heart of this novel.

ALU: Did you always know Humane would have a sequel (Urbane, released this past June)? What was it like revisiting Amiskwaciy for this follow-up novel?

NJ: I did not know, and honestly, I could hardly imagine how she could possibly follow-up on such an incredible novel. When she let me know and sent the sample pages, I was hooked immediately. Again!

All through Humane, we had heard about ‘the Embryo’ and how Hazel’s ex had shacked up with a newer, younger model. In Urbane, we actually meet her, and along with Hazel, we come to know her, and all is not as the reader expected. Edith (the embryo) cares about the fate of the exploited every bit as much as her predecessor, and the women find themselves joining forces in an unexpected way… Also, Devin, Hazel’s nephew, he experiences loss and trauma in Humane and in Urbane, we begin to see him coming into his own through the process of healing from trauma. The Devin parts were my favourite parts.

ALU: What can readers look especially forward to in Humane?

NJ: The cast of characters in this book is the kind that you want to sit down and have coffee with on a weekly basis. So much humour, knowledge, and insight. In many ways, you come for the retribution justice, and stay because you wish you knew the people in the book, knew them in real life.

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Many thanks to Netta for answering our questions and providing this excerpt of Humane, which is available on ALU for 15% off, all summer long.

Keep on top of all summer book club happenings here.