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Jacqueline Markowitz has roots as a producer for radio and television commercials, but now she is writing full-time and running her own company, The Jam Press, offering literary and publishing services, based in Toronto. Last October, she published Conversations For Two, her first novel — what Markowitz describes as fiction from life — based on her older brother, John, who died decades ago, when she was 17.
“Twenty-five years after John’s death, I came into possession of a box of his writings in a most incredible way. I began to discover his life, to try and make sense of his death, and a book was born; one that I feel we wrote together,” says Markowitz. She adds that her book is a conversation between her and her brother — his voice resides in the poems, songs, and the words he left behind.
Markowitz spoke with Bookclub-in-a-Box about her writing process, the years of writing and revisions, and the highs and lows of self-publishing. (Buy Conversations For Two at Toronto’s Type Books, Page and Panel, at www.thejampress.com, or in ebook format on Amazon.)
Which aspects of the story in Conversations for Two are taken from your own life?
There are incidences in the story that have been borrowed or interpreted from my own life, but then it becomes the life of the narrator, her journey to explore. In this book, truth and fiction merge and mingle in the intricacies of the characters. There were eight years between my brother and me. I was a kid, and he was my cool big brother. I couldn’t possibly have had a window to his life at the time. I did, however feel that I got to know him as I wrote this book, or at least gained an idea of what his life might have looked like. It’s a story set in the early ’70s in Toronto. I got to write what it felt like to be part of the generation of peace and love!
It’s not a true story, although some of the story is based on a truth, and much of it is imagined, created, inspired by my brother’s words, triggered by his thoughts. The experience is considered through the lens of the narrator, her 17-year-old, and her mature self. It’s her attempt to understand why her brother died, to find answers, and somehow, acceptance. (more…)
Carolyn Taylor-Watts grew up in New Zealand and started out her career there as a registered nurse, but she has now established a family in downtown Toronto and pursued her dream as a writer of short stories and books. Although she has previously published several non-fiction books, last December she self-published a novel for the first time.
Helena: An Odyssey is an epic saga overflowing with Greco-Turkish history and stories that reflect the symbolism and importance of hair — in fact, the novel was inspired by Taylor-Watts’s Greek hairdresser. The story opens with the Kouvalis family in late 20th-century Toronto, but weaves back and forth between this family’s present day and the time of the Greco-Turkish war generations earlier. The author describes her book as “a story of myths, grand obsessions, and doomed, thwarted love stories. Probably the most interesting one of its many themes is the fascinating and sometimes terrible history of the power and symbolism of hair.” She spoke with Bookclub-in-a-Box about her writing process and inspiration, the years of research, and the highs and lows of self-publishing. (Buy Helena: An Odyssey in print or ebook format on Amazon.)
Can you tell me about your Greek hairdresser, and how she inspired the main themes of Helena: An Odyssey?
When I moved to Cabbagetown in Toronto, I needed a hairdresser. I was walking up Parliament Street, and I heard music coming out of this hair salon. I looked in the window and there was this woman dancing and singing with scissors in her hand. The salon was full and busy and it had an energizing atmosphere. So I thought, ooh, let’s try this.
When I sat down in her chair, it was like sitting in a psychiatrist’s chair, because the hairdresser asks you to tell her all about yourself. But I turned the tables on her because I found her so fascinating, and I wanted to know all about her. Over the years, I heard her family’s story — they were Greeks living in Turkey — and what happened to them when they came to Toronto. I had intended to write a novel about what I know, my own story about my forebears moving from England to New Zealand. But I thought, I already know that story and I don’t want to relive it — I want to know something else.
The long-awaited follow-up to Linden MacIntyre’s novel The Bishop’s Man officially launches tomorrow, and the Giller Prize–winning author recently spoke to Bookclub-in-a-Box about his new book, Why Men Lie, which offers a moving and emotionally complex conclusion to the Cape Breton trilogy.
Why Men Lie takes place two years after the events of The Bishop’s Man. We’re introduced to Effie MacAskill Gillis, sister of the troubled priest Duncan. It’s 1997, and Effie is an independent, middle-aged woman working as a tenured professor of Celtic Studies, but her complicated and often disappointing love life has left her all but ready to give up on the opposite sex. Then suddenly, a chance encounter with a man on a Toronto subway platform gives Effie renewed hope. J.C. Campbell is an old friend she hasn’t seen for more than 20 years—an attractive, single man who appears to possess the stability and good sense she longs for.
After all of her experience in relationships with men, Effie thought she knew all she needed to about what to expect, and how to maintain her self-sufficiency. Why do men lie?, she wants to know. But whether it’s for love, for protection, or for more selfish reasons, Effie soon learns that no amount of experience can prepare you for what might resurface from the past, and for the damage that might cause, emotionally or otherwise.