A Conversation with Dora Dueck, Author of ALL THAT BELONGS

All that belongs

All That Belongs is Dora Dueck’s fourth book and third novel, following 2012’s What You Get at Home, which won the High Plains Book Award for Short Stories and was shortlisted for the the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction and the Carol Shields Winnipeg Award at the 2013 Manitoba Book Awards. K.D. Miller calls All That Belongs “a gentle but compelling meditation on love, aging, the nature of memory, and the need to acknowledge and forgive the pain of the past.”

Briny Books: What’s the part of your book that you’re most proud of—the scene you can’t believe you pulled off, the part you most want to highlight, the passage you’d like to enclose in brackets with a note underlined: I WROTE THIS?

Dora Dueck: The interesting thing is that when a book project finally lands in real text in a real book, it all feels like it was written by someone else. Even the simplest sentences take on the aura of disbelief, like, really, when and how ever did I write this and how did all this come together—from me!

But, to answer your question more specifically, the first character that arrived in my head was Uncle Must, in the almost-vision-like scene of him inhabiting the figure of Saint Martinian in the middle of an ocean storm. Which made me ask, who in the world is this man? What’s he about and why does he matter? Which is what Catherine wonders too. I’m proud of the scene because, though it now appears well into the book, it was part of the first writing I did on the novel and I used it as a sample in an application to the Canada Council for a grant, which I needed at the time. It must have been convincing enough, because they gave me a grant.

Briny Books: Was there a part of your narrative that surprised you as your book came together, suggesting that the author isn’t always completely in charge of her work and something deeper and weirder is going on? 

Dora Dueck: There are linkages and layering that happened in the writing process—about fire, or music, for example—that I didn’t set out to make happen, but noticed as the book came together. And, themes—of shame and time, for example—that the story circled around, which I was aware of from the beginning but grew for me as characters emerged and did things. Almost as if I was being instructed or enlarged about them. How shame may be imposed from without or be taken on—almost nourished—within, so often unreasonably. How memory is a constant, awful reckoning with time. Recently I became aware of what can seem a deep undercurrent of sadness but which is —by being articulated, by being felt— actually an antidote to shame. Authentic emotion undoes shame in a way. This surprised and pleased me; I had not set out knowing that this is what can happen in remembrance.

Briny Books: Public readings (and learning to do them) are a big part of an author’s experience. But is there a part of your book that you know you’ll never have the nerve to read out loud? 

Dora Dueck: There are always parts I avoid simply because, while I wish to entice, I’m really really reluctant to give too much away. But in addition, I don’t think I would try to read any of Catherine’s most intimate reflections on the loss of her brother Darrell, because as relatively steady-sounding or contained as her voice may be, I know her well enough by now that I would feel it trembling underneath and my voice might break and chances are I wouldn’t get through the passage.

Briny Books: What has been your favourite reader response to your book so far? 

Dora Dueck: At the time of answering this Briny Books Q & A, the book is just fresh off the press, so I don’t have reader responses yet. Well, except for the three blurbs! And Kerry Clare who had requested an advance copy! All four are writers and readers I admire and whose opinion I value. It was wonderful to hear “I loved it” from several, in addition to the formal blurb statements. But then one of them who sent me an email in addition with very specific things she liked, like the first sentence, small details like how someone whistles, the realistic marriage, the mother-daughter relationship. Even a particular word!

It’s always gratifying to hear readers say they read and enjoyed one’s book. But when they add particulars, even just a couple of things, it’s amazing how much encouragement-mileage the compliment gets!

Briny Books: What book(s) is/are you reading at the moment? 

Dora Dueck: Currently, I’m just wrapping up Michael Crummey’s Sweetland and getting into The Art of Leaving by Ayelet Tsabari and, for a “book club for two” with a friend, My Antonia by Willa Cather.

BONUS: Check out an interview with artist Agatha Fast Doerksen, who created the image on the book’s cover.

The Book Drunkard Festival Comes to Uxbridge

Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge Ontario announces the inaugural Book Drunkard Literary Festival.  Putting Uxbridge on the literary map in Canada is not a stretch for 30-year-old Uxbridge mainstay, Blue Heron Books. Paying tribute to former Durham resident, Lucy Maud Montgomery, who once quipped, “I am simply a book drunkard”, The Book Drunkard Festival aims to capture the wonderment of the written word and its ability to intoxicate, transport and transform. Festival runs October 17-November 3 and the schedule is spectacular.

3 Novel Accessories: CROW, by Amy Spurway

But before we wind down for the season, we’ve got one more instalment of 3 Novel Accessories, which has been the most delightful feature to put together. (See previously: Bad Ideas, The Luminous Sea, and Frying Plantain.) With this feature, we choose items from Toronto-based online accessory boutique Inner Muse that complement Briny Books titles both thematically and aesthetically.

“You know how people say, ‘You’ll laugh, you’ll cry’? You will. And you will.” —The Toronto Star on CROW


Jenny Bird The Jane Cuff—High Polish Silver

Stacey “Crow” Fortune has a tender heart, but she’s as tough as nails, and I wanted an accessory that suited her kickass punk ethos. This is not the bracelet of a woman who suffers fools gladly.


Melanie Auld Stone Slice Ring—Rose Gold/ Black Onyx

But Crow is not only steely—she’s witchy too, and comes from a long line of women with such powers. Onyx stone is a powerful force and helps the wearer during times of turmoil, and will ward against the evil eye.


Machete Grande Drops—Calico

And finally, these gorgeous earrings. They don’t just match Crow’s beautiful cover—but if you, like Stacey Fortune, have just shaved your head, these statement earrings will absolutely complete your look. Wear them to your high school reunion.


What’s Coming Up Next?

Heads up! We’re winding down Briny Books V. 1 this week and going on a brief hiatus before our return in October with a brand new lineup of excellent fiction. If you’re subscribed to our newsletter, you’re going to find out FIRST when the new selections are announced and therefore get a head-start on our FREE DELIVERY DEAL (which will only be available for a limited time). See you in the Fall.

3 Novel Accessories: FRYING PLANTAIN, by Zalika Reid-Benta

Next up to be accessorized is Frying Plantain, by Zalika Reid-Benta, which has been one of CanLit’s most buzzed-about titles of the summer. We scoped out the stock at Toronto-based online accessory boutique Inner Muse to find gorgeous items that complement the book both in theme and aesthetic.

“[FRYING PLANTAIN] IS AN UNFORGETTABLE DEBUT.” — PAUL BEATTY, BOOKER PRIZE–WINNING AUTHOR OF THE SELLOUT


Machete Mini Hoop—Lemon

Pairing well with the book’s red and yellow cover, I also think that Kara would like the look she catches of herself in these earrings as she’s trying on lipstick in the mirror at Shopper’s Drug Mart.


Shashi Tilu Bracelet—Rainbow

The bright colours in this bracelet conjure Kara’s Jamaican heritage, and make for a fun and playful accessory.


Leah Alexandra—Love Token Necklace

Based on Rosemonde Gerard’s 19th century French poem, this necklace is stamped with the French sentiment “+ qu’hier – que demain”. It is a symbol of growing love which translates from the poem’s French verse meaning “I love you more than yesterday and less than tomorrow,” and signifies the strong but complicated bond that resides between Kara and her mother.


Three Books With…Melissa Barbeau, Author of THE LUMINOUS SEA

We asked Melissa Barbeau, author of The Luminous Sea, to name three books she considers essential titles, the books that come to mind first when she’s asked to recommend an excellent read. 

Dear Missy Marston, author of Bad Ideas and fellow Briny Books-er (Briner?), you are right. What an impossibly hard task to come up with a list of three essential books. Books have been pulled from the bookshelves. Books are all over my writing desk, books are all over the floor. Kurt Vonnegut and Karen Russell and Jeannette Winterson and Moby Dick are pulling at my sweater. I have cheated (just a little bit) but here, finally, and for completely arbitrary reasons, are my three:

The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje

The book that changed my life. I read The English Patient in my very early 20s and it shifted my worldview on what writing could be. I had grown up a voracious and indiscriminate reader—Madeline L’Engle, Harlequin romances, Nancy Drew—but this book took my breath away and made me say, oh this. This is what writing can be. It’s the book that started me on the road to being a serious reader and it made me believe that writer is a thing I could be. It’s luscious. 

With ravishing beauty and unsettling intelligence, Michael Ondaatje’s Booker Prize-winning novel traces the intersection of four damaged lives in an Italian villa at the end of World War II. Hana, the exhausted nurse; the maimed thief, Caravaggio; the wary sapper, Kip: each is haunted by the riddle of the English patient, the nameless, burned man who lies in an upstairs room and whose memories of passion, betrayal,and rescue illuminates this book like flashes of heat lightening.

*

100 Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez

A very close finisher over Márquez’s book of short stories Leaf Storm. Solitude is a masterpiece of magic realism but I picked it because of all those yellow butterflies. The yellow butterflies have stayed with me like no other image from a book. All that colour and movement flitting towards me. I feel like I’ve caught them inside of me somehow.

The brilliant, bestselling, landmark novel that tells the story of the Buendia family, and chronicles the irreconcilable conflict between the desire for solitude and the need for love—in rich, imaginative prose that has come to define an entire genre known as “magical realism.”

*

A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf

My very most-battered book. It is funny, conversational, sly, and a brilliant treatise on writing and the conditions necessary for making art. Ultimately, though, it is Woolf’s attempt to answer the simplest question: “Why did men drink wine and women water? Why was one sex so prosperous and the other so poor?” This is a book about the poverty of women and is every bit as relevant today as the day it was written.

A Room of One’s Own, based on a lecture given at Girton College, Cambridge, is one of the great feminist polemics, ranging in its themes from Jane Austen and Carlotte Brontë to the silent fate of Shakespeare’s gifted (imaginary) sister and the effects of poverty and sexual constraint on female creativity.

Bonus Books!

I could not leave this list as it is without mentioning the canon of Newfoundland writers. To write from this place is to write from a deep tradition of storytelling—it is absolutely essential to my craft and to my identity as a writer. Start anywhere! Lisa Moore, Michael Crummey, Kathleen Winter, Jessica Grant, Sharon Bala, Andy Jones, Megan Gail Coles. I always have Straight Razor Days, Joel Thomas Hynes’ book of raw and elegant poetry, close at hand.

A Conversation with Missy Marston, Author of BAD IDEAS

Missy Marston’s second novel Bad Ideas has been winning over readers since it was published in the spring, and it’s this year’s selection for the City of Markham’s Markham Reads Program AND the August Pick for All Lit Up’s Summer book club. If you haven’t read it yet, you’ll want to after checking out our Q&A with the author.

Briny Books: What’s the part of your book that you’re most proud of—the scene you can’t believe you pulled off, the part you most want to highlight, the passage you’d like to enclose in brackets with a note underlined: I WROTE THIS?

Missy Marston: Without a doubt my favourite part of Bad Ideas is the ending, those last two pages. Sometimes—rarely, for me—the best writing comes fast and furious and fully formed. This was like that. I couldn’t bear to change a word. 

Briny Books: Was there a part of your narrative that surprised you as your book came together, suggesting that the author isn’t always completely in charge of her work and something deeper and weirder is going on? 

Missy Marston: I had a pretty good idea where this book was going from the beginning, so there weren’t a lot of surprising turns in the plot. What did surprise me was how I felt writing the Jules Tremblay scenes. There is an obvious distance between my life and that of a ’70s daredevil, but every time I wrote from his perspective, it felt vivid and real. I was not expecting that.

Briny Books: Public readings (and learning to do them) are a big part of an author’s experience. But is there a part of your book that you know you’ll never have the nerve to read out loud? 

Missy Marston: I like reading from this book—the characters are boisterous and rowdy, and therefore pretty entertaining. The only thing that stops me from reading certain passages is a fear of giving too much away. It is meant to be a pretty brisk, suspenseful read. Revealing a key detail too early could easily pop that balloon, I think. 

Briny Books: What has been your favourite reader response to your book so far? 

Missy Marston: There have been some good ones. Jules Tremblay was inspired by Ken Carter, who built a giant ramp down the road from my childhood home so he could jump the St. Lawrence River in a rocket car. An early reader from my home town sent me a nice note and a picture of the book at the original site of the (now torn down) ramp. Even though the book is set in a fictional town, it is deeply reassuring to hear from people from the Seaway Valley who like it and find it authentic. 

I also had a book blogger, Naomi MacKinnon of Consumed by Ink, read the book and liked Bad Ideas so much she also read my first novel, The Love Monster, and gave both books glowing reviews in a single post. That was pretty sweet. 

Briny Books: What book(s) is/are you reading at the moment? 

Missy Marston I am reading Who I Am, by Pete Townsend and Close Range, by Annie Proulx and am loving both. Pete Townsend is fascinating and eloquent, and Annie Proulx is an incredibly effective risk taker. A young woman falls in love with a tractor in one of the stories in this collection and Proulx somehow manages to make it heartbreaking and believable. How?

Get tickets for Missy Marston’s event at the Markham Village Library on Thursday August 15 at 7pm.

3 Novel Accessories: THE LUMINOUS SEA, by Melissa Barbeau

The gorgeousness of Briny Books’ cover designs has inspired our collaboration with Inner Muse, a Toronto-based online accessory boutique. (Don’t miss our first instalment, featuring Missy Marston’s Bad Ideas.) These accessories were selected to complement each book’s themes and aesthetic.

“A radiant debut, [The Luminous Sea is] full of sly wit and gorgeous imagery.” —Sharon Bala

Machete Kate Hoops—Rosarie

The incredible cover art for The Luminous Sea is taken from Ernst Haeckel’s 1904 book Art Forms in Nature, and these hoop earrings from Machete are a perfect match. Even better, they’re made from cellulose acetate, which is natural and renewable, providing an eco-friendly alternative to petroleum-based material.

*

Shashi Caroline Chain Slide

Perfect for a novel about the wonders and mysteries of the sea is this bracelet, which features three cowrie shells on a gold chain. Cowrie shells have been used for currency and charms by peoples all over the world, and represent powerful goddess protection & connection with the strength of the ocean.

*

Shashi Caroline Shell Necklace

And match your bracelet with this gorgeous necklace, which conjures a beachy vibe, and reminds us of the richness of The Luminous Sea. There is such a generous expansiveness at the heart of the book, doorways onto doorways, but it never grows too strange and mystical and stays controlled, anchored in the physical world, with such attention to accuracy and detail, as scientific as it is richly imagined.

*

Three Books With…Amy Spurway, author of CROW

We asked Amy Spurway, author of Crow, to name three books she considers essential titles, the books that come to mind first when she’s asked to recommend an excellent read. 

Tough question, because I think different books are—or become—essential at different points in our lives. What was essential for me two years ago, seems less so now, and the criteria for what makes a book important to me at any given time is also always shifting. 

That being said, the following titles have an enduring place in my heart because they teach me something new every time I pick them up:

Dr. Seuss books, especially Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, Horton Hatches the Egg, and The Lorax. Because you are never too old or too serious to learn something from Dr. Seuss..

Dr. Seuss presents three modern fables in the rhyming favorite Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories. The collection features tales about greed (“Yertle the Turtle”), vanity (“Gertrude McFuzz”), and pride (“The Big Brag”). In no other book does a small burp have such political importance! Yet again, Dr. Seuss proves that he and classic picture books go hand in hand.

*

Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, one of most comically heartbreaking, beautifully human books I’ve ever encountered.

Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the world’s great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous World War II firebombing of Dresden, the novel is the result of what Vonnegut describes as a twenty-three-year struggle to write a book about what he himself witnessed as an American prisoner of war. It combines science fiction, autobiography, humor, historical fiction, and satire in an account of the life of Billy Pilgrim, a barber’s son turned draftee turned optometrist turned alien abductee. Billy, like Vonnegut, experiences the destruction of Dresden as a POW, and, as with Vonnegut, it is the defining moment of his life. Unlike the author, he also experiences time travel, or coming “unstuck in time.” Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.

*

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World, by Peter Wohlleben is absolutely mind-blowing, and it profoundly changed the way I relate to nature in general, and trees in particular. 

Are trees social beings? In this international bestseller, forester and author Peter Wohlleben convincingly makes the case that, yes, the forest is a social network. He draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers. Wohlleben also shares his deep love of woods and forests, explaining the amazing processes of life, death, and regeneration he has observed in his woodland.

After learning about the complex life of trees, a walk in the woods will never be the same again.


A Conversation with Zalika Reid-Benta, author of FRYING PLANTAIN

No less than Booker-winner Paul Beatty has called Zalika Reid-Benta’s FRYING PLANTAIN “an unforgettable debut.This coming-of-age story about a young girl growing up in Toronto has resonated with readers for its specificity of its experience, as well as the universal qualities. Learn more about the book here, and also in our Q&A with the author.

Briny Books:  What’s the part of your book that you’re most proud of—the scene you can’t believe you pulled off, the part you most want to highlight, the passage you’d like to enclose in brackets with a note underlined: I WROTE THIS?

Zalika Reid-Benta: I don’t think I have that. I’m not trying to be humble, I am of course proud of my collection and proud of the stories I wrote and I am particularly proud of my dialogue. I love writing dialogue and I’m happy with how realistic people tell me it sounds, but I don’t think there’s a particular passage or story where I’m just blown away by my own work. I wish there was!

Briny Books: Was there a part of your narrative that surprised you as your book came together, suggesting that the author isn’t always completely in charge of her work and something deeper and weirder is going on? 

Zalika Reid-Benta: Hmm, I think it’s more the responses I’ve gotten to a particular story—“Snow Day” — have consistently surprised me because I wrote it to capture a particular time in a girl’s life but I didn’t think it would resonate with so many women because they all had a version of those events happen to them. So far it seems to be a favourite and I just didn’t expect that. 

Briny Books: Public readings (and learning to do them) are a big part of an author’s experience. But is there a part of your book that you know you’ll never have the nerve to read out loud? 

Zalika Reid-Benta: I’ll never read any of the grandmother’s dialogue out loud because that requires a pitch perfect Jamaican accent, which I do not have!

Briny Books: What has been your favourite reader response to your book so far? 

Zalika Reid-Benta: When readers can relate to the book and that comes in many forms. I feel it in my heart when readers of Jamaican and Caribbean descent freak out over the title because they understand what it means without any explanation, when they can relate to the experiences I’ve written because they can see the ‘dutchpot’ or hear the slang, hear the dialogue and just know exactly what Kara is going through.

On the other hand, it’s also been great listening to non-Caribbean readers relate to certain aspects of the book as well, like the cruelty of teenhood and friendship and the insecurity of growing up. 

Briny Books: What book(s) is/are you reading at the moment? 

Zalika Reid-Benta: Right now I’m actually not reading anything! I’m trying to get into my second project and I generally don’t read when I write.