It gives me enormous pleasure to welcome Elle Wild to Linda’s Book Bag. Elle’s novel Strange Things Done is published today 24th September 2016 by Dundurn in e-book and will be released in October in paperback. Strange Things Done is available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon and all good book sellers.
In celebration of publication day, Elle agreed to be interviewed for Linda’s Book Bag. I found her answers to my questions utterly fascinating.
Strange Things Done
As winter closes in and the roads snow over in Dawson City, Yukon, newly arrived journalist Jo Silver investigates the dubious suicide of a local politician and quickly discovers that not everything in the sleepy tourist town is what it seems. Before long, law enforcement begins treating the death as a possible murder and Jo is the prime suspect.
Strange Things Done is a top-notch thriller — a tense and stylish crime novel that explores the double themes of trust and betrayal.
An Interview with Elle Wild
Hi Elle. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and about Strange Things Done which is published today.
Hello! Thank you for hosting me.
Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?
Certainly. In my “former lives”, I’ve been a short filmmaker, freelance journalist, copywriter, and radio host. I wrote and hosted a 20-episode program called “Wide Awake” for the CBC’s Early Edition on Radio One in Vancouver. The latter was one of the strangest jobs I ever had – I stayed up all night recording sound bites from various events around the city, then spun them into stories and added voice over narration and music. (The CBC referred to me as their “Resident Insomniac”.) The stories would play as the sun was coming up over the city. I loved it, though it was exhausting and I had to go straight on to work (at an advertising agency) in the morning.
(Crikey, that sounds really crazy!)
When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?
Oh, I think I always knew that I was going to be a writer or a painter. For a while I tried to balance my two passions by making films, which is really a marriage of story and images. When I was a kid, I used to keep a school journal where you would put your class picture and check off little boxes to indicate what you wanted to be when you grew up. Every year the boxes I checked were: writer, detective, and cowboy. (I guess there was no box for painter.) At any rate, now I write detective stories, so I wasn’t far off – just missing the horse.
If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?
Definitely I would have been a painter. I still might be one day, I hope.
How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your narratives are realistic?
I interview a lot of people. My debut novel is set in Dawson City, Yukon (in Canada) and I secured an Artist in Residence position there to immerse myself in the place, have an opportunity to study the locals, and ask a lot of questions. I met with members of the Dawson RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) to ask procedural questions, and have since been speaking to local police in my area. I also met with the town coroner, the mayor, and members of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in (the First Nations band in Dawson City). One of my main characters is First Nations, so I particularly wanted to be well informed about where he might live and what kind of background he might have come from, and why he might make any choices he was going to have to make.
(Blog readers will find that link fascinating too, Elle)
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
I’ve learned so much in writing my first novel. I find it relatively easy to come up with ideas, but I’ve learned to be harder on my ideas in the beginning and to pitch a lot of different ideas to colleagues, friends, family and also my agent in order to learn which idea is easiest to pitch – because the pitch is everything. If the story doesn’t have a unique angle in a one sentence pitch, it will be very difficult to sell through to an agent or for the agent to sell through to a publisher. The writing word-by-word or line-by-line is important, of course, but no one will ever get that far if they don’t like your 1-line pitch.
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
Well, my writing routines adapt according to what’s happening in my life. I started out by writing when my baby was sleeping, then he stopped napping. For a while I tried writing instead of sleeping. Once my son started school, I wrote while he learned. Since he’s been home for the summer, I’ve taken to setting my alarm for 5am every day and write until he wakes up. This year will be different again, because my husband and I have made the choice to homeschool our son – so I’ll need to keep my monastic 5am start. Not ideal, but hopefully it just shows you that you can always make time when you think you have none.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
Oh, I read everything I can get my hands on, but mainly a balance of what would be termed straight “literary fiction” and “literary mystery”. I just finished Anna Mazzola’s wonderful debut, The Unseeing, and I’m currently reading another terrific and very whimsical historical mystery called Edgar Allan Poe and the London Monster. Some of my favourite writers include Margaret Atwood, Karen Russell, Michael Chabon, and Alan Bradley. I’m also really looking forward to reading Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien and All That Man Is by David Szalay.
Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?
I think I’m interested in everything. Sometimes I get ideas from strange stories I find in the newspaper. I recently wrote a short story (published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine) based on a news article that suggested Japan was considering using robots to care for its elderly.
Strange Things Done has a very cold looking cover. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?
Well, I’m afraid I can’t take credit for the cover of the book, as it was designed by the publisher, though I like it.
Dawson City, your setting for Strange Things Done, is a small community. Why did you choose this rather than a large city for the location of your novel?
I wanted to experiment with the conventions of noir. Generally speaking, “noir” makes me think of a large, dark city, and of things happening in shadowy alleys, so there was something interesting to me about setting a noir in a very bright, snowy place, and in a small town. Also, I like the pressure the setting puts on the characters – they know a local must be responsible for what has happened, and that there’s really nowhere to run once freeze-up hits. It all felt very claustrophobic. Dawson City is surrounded by mountains and by the Yukon River. In the winter, when the river freezes, the ferry is dry-docked and the Top of the World highway to Alaska closes, meaning that there is really only one route out to the south. If the road snows in, you’re pretty trapped and isolated. I find that scary.
You’ve recently returned to Canada after a spell in the UK. What similarities and differences in attitudes to reading and to writers did you notice?
We have internationally renowned writers in Canada, like Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje. In fact, there are currently two Canadians on the Man Booker Prize shortlist, Madeleine Thien and David Szalay, so we definitely produce writers here. That said, there probably aren’t as many prizes available for writers in Canada, and there are significantly less literary agencies. According to the Writers’ Union of Canada, there are only about thirty agents in Canada, so the competition to find representation is quite stiff. (I count myself very lucky to have an agent – I’m represented by Westwood Creative Artists.)
It’s also much more difficult to feel connected to the literary hotspots because of the sheer geographical size of Canada. Most of the agents and publishers are in Toronto, which is a long way away if you live on the West Coast like I do. I have never met my agent or publisher in person. When I lived in England, I lived very close to Bath, and was close enough to Bristol to attend events like CrimeFest, or I could take a train into London fairly easily where, as you know, everything happens. I definitely feel less connected here, and I do miss that sense of being in the centre of it all in England.
How important is Canada to you as an inspiration for writing?
Ironically, I think that sense of isolation and distance that I’ve experienced in Canada is also something that informs my writing, and in a way, connects me to other Canadians. That said, I’m not always going to write about Canada – my last story was set in Tokyo and my upcoming novel is set in Victorian London and Dorset – but I think the importance of landscape and sense of place will always influence my work, and perhaps the sense of being on the outside looking in.
Strange Things Done has been described as Nordic style noir in genre. What is your response to that epithet?
I would take that as a compliment, as I’m a huge fan of Nordic noir. I particularly loved Peter Hoeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow and S.J. Gazan’s The Dinosaur Feather. I would count count them as influences.
Poetry has been the inspiration for the title of Strange Things Done. What part does poetry play in your life?
I come from a family of storytellers. My mother was a librarian and was also the library’s storyteller, so I grew up listening to her entertain kids at circle time. My father had memorized tracts of poetry in his youth and liked to break them out around the campfire like a party trick, his favourite being The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service. That poem made me very curious about the Yukon, and eventually I wound up doing an Artist in Residency there for a couple of months in Dawson City, as I said. I’d like poetry to play a bigger part in my life than it does currently. I think it’s fair to say that I’m still learning, but I’m in awe of the way a poem can create a mood or tell a story in just a few short lines.
(The Cremation of Sam McGee is here if blog readers would like to read it)
If you could choose to be a character from Strange Things Done, who would you be and why?
Oh, I’d definitely choose Sally because she is so comfortable in her own skin and has such a good time being herself, without any kind of judgement. That’s pretty far away from how I am myself, and probably how most writers are. I think writers drown themselves in their own tiresome self-analysis and judgement.
If Strange Things Done became a film, who would you like to play Jo and why?
I’d love to see someone in the vein of Eva Green (Penny Dreadful) or Rachel McAdams (The Notebook) play Jo Silver. I think both women have an interesting balance of fragility and strength. Either are capable of convincing you that, despite appearances, they have a kind of inner steel running through them. Oh, I also love Ellen Page (Juno). She has wonderful comedic timing and would bring a certain frankness to the role.
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Strange Things Done should be their next read, what would you say?
I’d say, “Strange Things Done is an award-winning northern noir in the vein of Peter Hoeg.”
Or I’d quote someone else:
“What a wonderful dark, quirky, and complex debut novel this is.”
– Ian Hamilton, internationally bestselling author
Thank you so much, Elle, for your time in answering my questions.
Thank you! And thank you to anyone who reads the novel.
About Elle Wild
Elle Wild grew up in a dark, rambling farmhouse in the wilds of Canada where there was nothing to do but read Edgar Allan Poe and watch PBS mysteries. She is an award-winning short filmmaker and the former writer/host of the radio program Wide Awake on CBC Radio One. Her short fiction has been published in Ellery Queen Magazine and her articles have appeared in The Toronto Star, Georgia Straight, and Westender. Wild’s debut novel, Strange Things Done, won the Arthur Ellis Award 2015 for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel, and was shortlisted in multiple contests internationally. Recently returned from the U.K., Wild currently resides on an island in the Salish Sea named after the bones of dead whales.