Nova Scotia author Laura Best generously agreed to answer a few questions about her brand-spanking-new novel Flying with a Broken Wing.
Basic Details: Nimbus Publishing; September 2013; Paperback; 216 pages; 7.75 x 5.25 inches; ISBN: 9781771080385
1) What inspired you to write Flying with a Broken Wing?
When I’m writing a story, a line will often come to me right out of the blue. It was the case with Flying with a Broken Wing. Years ago, my mother and I had a conversation about reincarnation. She made the comment that, as a child, she always wondered what her next life would be like. Her words stayed with me, and years later sparked the idea for the first sentence of the book. “From as far back as I can remember I’d lie in bed at night and wonder what my next life would be like.” Although I immediately knew the character wasn’t speaking about reincarnation, I was interested in knowing why a young girl would even be thinking about a brand new life. What was so terribly wrong with the one she had?
I was also inspired to create a character that is visually impaired since my mother is visually impaired. I wasn’t sure there were many books out there with a visually impaired protagonist, so I decided to create one. It was important to me. Many years ago I wanted to write my mother’s story, but I soon discovered that creating fiction from fact is not as easy as it sounds. I eventually gave up the idea. But once that first sentence came to me, the character of Cammie quickly emerged all on her own. As I continued to write I began to learn the details of her life; not only was she visually impaired, but she’d been abandoned at birth and was being raised by her bootlegging aunt. It was easy then to imagine why she’d want a brand new life.
2) The story takes place in Tanner, Nova Scotia. The only place I can find with that name in the province is Tanner Settlement, Lunenburg County. Does this indicate Tanner is a fictitious place? What about Sheppard Square?
Both Tanner and Sheppard Square are fictitious places. I envision Tanner as being somewhere in Lunenburg County since New Ross is mentioned in the book a few times, and New Ross is in Lunenburg County. My first novel, Bitter, Sweet, was set in the community I live in, so I decided to create a totally fictitious setting this time.
3) When you’re choosing character names, do you consider the location and which ethnic groups settled the area? The surnames Deveau, Turple, Merry, Hanover, Muise, Hurshman and Bordmann all appear in Flying with a Broken Wing. Are these names common on the South Shore of Nova Scotia?
I’m horrible at choosing names, especially last names. If I didn’t have a little help most of my characters would end up having the same last name! It would be a little dull to say the least. From time to time, I glean interesting names from the obituary column. Most often, I turn to the telephone directory to help me out. So I’m sure some of the names in the book would be found along the South Shore of Nova Scotia. I’m not sure how many of them would be considered “common” to the area, however. For this particular book I didn’t consider location and which ethnic groups settled in the area. It didn’t seem an important element to the story itself.
The last name “Merry” came to me one day when I overheard a phone conversation a coworker was having with someone whose last name was Merry. I knew right away it would be Evelyn’s last name as there was so much irony in it. Evelyn’s life is anything but merry, and I liked the way the two names sounded together. “Deveau” came right out of the blue when Aunt Millie suddenly crooned out the name Cammie Deveau. I had no idea why or where that name came from, but it slid from Aunt Millie’s lips like it was the most natural thing in the world. It seemed a bit strange to me at the time, and I wasn’t sure if I should use it, but I’ve learned to listen to my characters. They usually know what’s best!
4) Right away, Aunt Millie got ugly about it. “So much for us going to the dance. Ed, you should have known better. It’s not like Cammie can do regular things like the rest of us. Birds can’t fly with broken wings” (Page 162-163)
How did you come up with the title? It appears in the quote above, so was it simply liking the line and seeing it as a great title?
I liked that particular line in the book and it seemed rather fitting since Cammie uses a bird as a metaphor to describe her feelings through-out the book. The title also describes Cammie’s determination to make the changes she wants in her own life, regardless of the obstacles she has to overcome. The original title was “Fly with a Broken Wing,” until it was mentioned by a writer friend, as well as my editor, Penelope Jackson, that the title could be misinterpreted to mean “A Fly with a Broken Wing.” This would definitely have given a whole new meaning to the title! It makes me giggle now, but at the time I was just too close to the story to see it. That’s why editors and writing friends are so wonderful. They are quick to point out those little things we just can’t see ourselves.
5) Is there a particular connection between you and the blind school in Halifax that Cammie desperately wanted to attend?
My mother attended the Halifax School for the Blind during the fifties. I grew up hearing all sorts of stories about her time there. Like Cammie, my mother began school in the public school system, but once she heard about the school in Halifax she was anxious to go. The school taught so much more than the regular subjects; there was manual labour, first aid, and Braille. The boys also learned things like piano tuning and chair caning. The school is no longer there, but a plaque had been put in place to mark the spot where it once stood.
Right from the start, I connected with the main character Cammie. I love writing/reading stories that are written in first person. It feels so natural. I put myself in Cammie’s shoes through-out the telling of this story. I felt Cammie’s disappointment, her fear, her anger and her determination to change the circumstances of her life. She’s my hero. She’s not about to wait for life to happen, she’s ready and willing to do something about it. For me, writing is a lot like playing make-believe. We all did it as children, but writers do it as adults.
7) I read something the other day that suggested a second book containing the characters from Flying with a Broken Wing may be in the works. Certainly the ending leaves a lot of room to continue the story. What are your thoughts on this? Will there be a second book?
The book certainly does leave a lot of room to continue the story. I purposely wrote it that way with the idea that one day I might decide to pick the story up where it left off. There is so much more to this story than Flying with a Broken Wing reveals, things even I’m not sure about right now. At the moment I’m trying to sort all these things out in my mind. While I do feel there’s at least another book waiting to be written, time will tell what Cammie and Aunt Millie actually have up their sleeves.
8) What possessed you to call Cammie’s best friend Evelyn? I thought there might be a reason provided in the book for this uncommon name for a boy to wear but there wasn’t. Or do readers have to wait until the next book (if there is one) to learn the reason behind this? At first, thinking of Evelyn as a boy was a little difficult, but half way through the novel it felt natural.
I like unusual names, especially for the characters I create. I’ve thought for some time now that people with unusual names go on to do unusual things in life. I’m not sure if that’s true or if it’s because I tend to remember unusual names more than I do an ordinary ones. When I was looking about for a boy’s name I came across the name Evelyn. Apparently, it was quite popular in England at one time. I thought I’d try it out even though I wasn’t at all sure if I’d like it. It did feel awkward in the beginning, but quite quickly became a name I adored. Now, I couldn’t imagine him having some common name like John or Ralph. Evelyn just sounds right. We have a preconceived notion about names, which ones sound feminine and which ones sound masculine even though some names we readily accept as both. Shirley, Laurie, Marion, Beverly and Kelly are names that are often thought of as feminine even though they are also masculine. Now Evelyn is another one added to that list. Will the reason for Evelyn’s name come out in a future story? I’m not really sure. We’ll have to see about that!
9) Cammie’s Aunt Millie is a bootlegger in Tanner. Is there any particular reason you chose this profession for her?
I recall a few lady bootleggers in the area when I was growing up and I thought it would be an interesting profession for Aunt Millie. I knew Cammie’s caretaker had to be tough, someone who was a master at hiding her true feelings, crusty to the point where some people might even describe her as down right mean. Being visually impaired wasn’t a strong enough reason for Cammie to want a brand new life. There had to be more to it than that. I had to make Cammie’s home life miserable or else she wouldn’t have been so determined to change it.
10) How would you describe Flying with a Broken Wing to someone who has not read the novel?
I’d say Flying with a Broken Wing is a book about hope. It’s about going after your dreams regardless of the obstacles that stand in your way. We all have our own broken wings, but that doesn’t mean it should stop us from flying.
11) What is the working title of the project you’re currently working on?
I actually have several projects I’m work on at the moment. I keep shifting back and forth. I can say the working title of one of them is Cammie’s Flight.
12) Do you have any advice for other writers?
The best advice I can give other writers is to understand that writing takes time to perfect. It’s not a craft that can be rushed. The more you write, the more your writing improves, but it all takes time. Read what other authors are writing and read in the genre you plan to write in. Find out who you are as a writer, your own unique way of seeing the world. That all takes time. No matter how good you think your writing is there is always room for improvement. And remember, those words we read in books that flow so smoothly took many hours to polish and perfect. All writers become discouraged from time to time, but the thing to remember is not to let that discouragement stop you from creating. Writing is a way of self-expression, and the stories we write are uniquely our own. We all came to the planet to create. If creating through words is what you’re meant to do, there’s nothing out there that can stop you.
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Visit Laura Best’s website to learn more and to keep up-to-date with her writing.