Writing, on the patio at Calgary's Oolong Tea House

At work on the patio at Calgary’s Oolong Tea House

These days, I’ve been working on my new novel, narrated by a young woman called Melonie Barnett (unless, of course, I decide to change her name).

The story grew out of three linked short stories – Empty Nest, which you can read in the latest issue of The New Quarterly; Rhubarb, which will be in Oberon Press‘s 15: Best Canadian Stories (and appeared in Prairie Fire, Summer ’14); and Stories, which you can read online at This Magazine.

All of these stories revolve around Melonie and her two best friends, Lara and Josie, but here’s the thing: like all made-up people, like all artistic creations, they’ve changed. And I don’t just mean their maturity level or how they wear their hair. As I’ve been working with them, their biographical details have shifted, so the question I’ve been asking myself is: can I still call them by the same names?

Because, to me, they are still the same people. They are still, strongly, Mel, Josie, and Lara. I can see them in my head. They have their ways of talking and particular inflections and interests. Lara is an artist; Josie likes to cook. So, maybe, they’re a bit like actors, and I can put them into whatever roles I want.

Online, I found a vast compendium of all of the characters from Faulkner’s fictional Yoknapatawpha County, and discussion of his “need to tell and retell the events of the past, from several different points of view, and with versions by several characters.” These characters appear in various novels, and according to the encyclopedia, he was fairly consistent with their biographies.

So, I suppose, for me, the question is this: what makes a person who they are? Is it what happens to them, or is it some deeper essence?

And, in a weird way, I’m asking this question in my novel as well. How do we overcome traumatic events to grow and move forward? How do we claim our own lives while still recognizing the links we have with others?

While you chew on all that (and please let me know how it digests), I’m going to dive back into my work, on this rainy day in Calgary, as I push towards completion of draft two. Because no matter the questions that arise, even those that don’t have easy answers, the work still needs to get done.

(If you’re in this fine city, I’ll be reading tonight at the Flywheel Reading Series at Pages Books on Kensington, at 7:30. Poetry, this time, from my newest collection, including the piece that won the 2014 ROOM Magazine poetry prize – my interview about that was just posted today).