Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
My name is Wayne Clark. I’m 71 years old.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I’m Canadian. I was born in Ottawa but we moved around a lot when I was a kid because my dad was in the armed forces. Except for 15 years in Vancouver, I’ve lived most of my life in Montreal, which I consider home.
Fiona: A little about your self (i.e., your education, family life, etc.).
I’m single. I have two wonderful daughters who are both working and attending university at the moment. As for me, I have spent about 30 years of my career working as a journalist, writing and editing at newspapers and magazines. In the 1980s I worked as an advertising copywriter for a Montreal agency. While there I started translating from French to English. Although I returned to journalism in the 1990s I studied to become a university-certified translator and since 2004 translating as a freelancer has put bread on the table while I write fiction.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
My last book, That Woman: Beating the Odds in Colonial New York, was published in May of this year. I’m still trying to get it one the map. I’ve entered a million and one contests and I’ve got my fingers crossed because a win or even an honourable mention goes a long way when promoting a book. I was lucky enough to win an international award for my previous novel, he & She, not long after it was published and that certainly had an effect on sales. Many of the contests will be announcing their results in the next four months. In the meantime, I’ve sprung for an ad in the New York Review of Books, in time for the Frankfurt Book Fair in October. Since my book is almost entirely set in pre-Revolutionary New York, I want to do whatever I can to make the book visible there. In fact I’m in New York now and will be staying for about two months.
I was also recently interviewed by the Authors Show about my current book. The interview is rebroadcast regularly. You can find it at their site, https://wnbnetworkwest.com. You’ll find my name under Featured Authors.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
In the 1930s, my father took a correspondence course based in New York for becoming a newspaperman, which he became. When I was about 14, I found that course, in a trunk in the basement. In my mind, it was a black binder about six inches thick. From that moment on I wanted to become a journalist.I started typing up stories about mostly sporting events on scrapbook paper, which I divided into columns like a real paper. I’d listen to a game on radio and write an account of it for my parents to read the next morning. The first fiction I wrote came around the age of about 21, when I wrote an hour-long play for radio. It was never produced because my script called for something like 20 characters, which made it far too expensive. Though that was half a century ago, I remember how hard I found writing the first 30 minutes of the script, but how the second 30 minutes ended up on paper with what seemed hardly any effort. The characters had come alive in my head and were speaking to me. I’ll never forget that first experience.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
By my early 20s I had left newspapers to work on a national magazine. I remember that novels were a frequent subject of conversation during and after work. I started attempting novels at that time.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I published my first book in 2013. During the decades prior to that I wrote about four novels. A couple were never finished. In the end, I never liked any of them enough to want to publish. That all changed in 2013 when I self-published he & She, a literary fiction novel.It was inspired by meeting a young woman who could no longer bear the idea of working as a store clerk or in some menial office job. To get out of that trap she answered an ad offering in a Montreal paperlooking for young women who wanted to learn how to become a dominatrix. She found out she loved it. We talked about her clients, most of whom were older people. I ended up writing a story about a middle-aged man desperate to escape the midlife crisis that was rendering his life all but meaningless.
My second novel, entitled That Woman: Beating the Odds in Colonial New York, the one I published in the Spring, came about quite differently. I’ve always been interested in history, and in the 1990s I spent several years researching a historical novel set in New France before the English defeated the French in 1759. I had so much material I was even considering turning it into a series of novels. What I ended up was boxes and boxes of research and an exhaustive outline, and no desire to write. The detailed outline for the novel removed the adventure of writing fiction. I knew what was going to happen, so there was nothing to discover while writing. I learned a big lesson from that, at least one that certainly applies to me. Though they were thoroughly researched, both my recent novels were written with the barest of outlines. I loved writing both of them, at least the first drafts.
I never lost the desire to write a historical novel. For many years my favorite escape was reading books set in the Age of Sail, 17th and 18th century naval adventures, and of course pirate tales. I loved the idea of being captain of my own ship, free of any restraints, with the whole ocean to wander. So, after publishing he & She I toyed with the idea of indulging myself by writing a pirate novel just for the fun of it. However before a pirate story solidified in my head I found myself remembering a visit I once made to the waterfront in Bordeaux, France. In the 18th century the city was booming and its port was the most important one economically in France. The French would trade with anyone and on its waterfront you would hear a babble of languages from seamen and merchants from around the world. For some reason, the character of Sarah started to rapidly take shape. I started seeing Sarah very clearly on those congested docks and that’s why in the book I gave her the gift of learning languages, which facilitated her father’s business.
I must admit that in the early days of planning the book, the idea behind having Sarah kidnapped and taken to New York as a virtual slave was primarily to give myself the chance to write about life at sea. Even though the story moves to New York, the focus remains connected to the sea, on the docks of the East River waterfront and the international trade that flowed in and out of the city. Sarah ends up doing what her father did in France. She becomes what in those days was often called a she-merchant.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
At the beginning, before I actually started to write, as Sarah was evolving in my mind , she didn’t have a name. I began to think of her as That Woman as a kind of shorthand. It stuck and became the title.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
That’s hard to answer because I now consider my writing style to be just me. I have a voice. I recognize it when it’s sounding right. The rhythms are mine somehow, although ultimately they’re based on how the words and scenes of a particular story present themselves in my mind.
With the current novel, someone pointed out that my style had changed compared to the previous novel, that my sentences were shorter. I think the reason was that the last book was literary fiction and much of the story took place inside the protagonist’s head. That Woman is day-and-night different. There’s a lot going on externally. For example, my sentences are shorter because action has replaced meandering thought. Perhaps a reader could better answer that question because style for me is now just what feels right for the story.
In terms of style, I don’t think the genre was a factor. Language, yes, but style, no. By that I mean that I did my best to make sure I didn’t use words or expressions that weren’t used in the first half of the 18th century.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
The book is pure fiction. The descriptions of the setting and era are realistic but the characters are mostly invented. I now wonder whether, when writing historical fiction, the natural temptation to draw from people you know might be blunted by the fact you’d have to contort them to fit in a world that predated them by hundreds of years.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
I don’t know whether you have to travel. So much information, visual and factual, is available online nowadays, but I think it helps a lot. My story begins in France, which I’ve visited a many times, and mostly takes place in New York City. I spend a lot of time there. In fact, I’m there as we do this interview. Part of the book also takes place in Saint-Domingue, which is today’s Haiti. I’ve been to the Caribbean but never to Haiti. However I was fortunate to be able to pick the brain of a dear friend who is Haitian. She was born in the part of Haiti where my story takes place.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
The covers for both he & She and That Woman were designed by Nell Chitty, an excellent graphic designer in Toronto.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I think readers might find different messages, but the single most important theme is that women can be as strong as men, as clever, as persistent, as brave and as noble, even someone small in stature like my protagonist who lived in what was entirely a man’s world.
An equally important message is the reminder of how omnipresent slavery was in America’s past.
I think is important today. Those who thought that racism in America was pretty much a thing of the past are finding out that this is far from the case. In the book, I highlight two kinds of slavery.
You can’t call Sarah and her brother immigrants because they were kidnapped and forced to come here. But like countless immigrants, they arrived as indentured servants. Such immigrants were owned by the men who bought their contracts. Their owner dictated every moment of their lives for years until the contract came to an end and the immigrants found themselves free but, more often than not, penniless and without work.The immigrants who ended up building this country faced horrible conditions at the outset.
The better known kind of slavery is of course race-based. In the book, at her lowest moment, Sarah is befriended by a free black who works the New York docks. He lives with the constant fear that he will be kidnapped and thrown back into slavery by any white man who wants to sell him as slave, or that he will be falsely accused of committing some sort of crime just because he was black and in the neighborhood when the crime was committed.
As you know, many people who live in the northeastern states today like to believe that slavery was a primarily a southern horror. We now know that was not at all true. Slavery in New York looked different because slaves didn’t work in fields, but they were still slaves. Slaves were bought and sold daily at the foot of Wall Street. Slave burial grounds are still being discovered in the city. At the time of my story, one fifth of the city’s population was made of up slaves, so many that the city’s leaders and their British governors wanted to stop the purchase of slaves not for moral reasons but because they feared there would soon be so many blacks that they would overrun the white population.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
Outside of research, I’ve done relatively little reading in recent years. When I’m writing I rarely read other fiction. I’ve written two novels in the past five years and I’m working on another now. If I were to name a few of my favorite authors over time they would include Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel García Márquez. I was mesmerized by their writing.It struck me as entirely new. There is something magical in their stories. Time and place don’t need to tie you down.As for other writers, I loved some of Philip Roth’s work, and for quite some time Henry Miller held sway, along with Saul Bellow and Vladimir Nabokov. When I was young, I couldn’t get enough of Fyodor Dostoevsky
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
I can’t really say much beyond the fact that it is encouraging these days to read blogs about writing and interviews with other authors, learning about their tribulations during the writing process or as their efforts to get published. There is a very large community out there of writers and book lovers. For example, Goodreads. It’s a fine resource. When I started writing 50 years ago these kinds of support were harder to find.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
No. As I said, I’m 71 now. But if I were young I would be depressed to see how books are now being priced like toilet paper in North America. Make sure you have a regular gig that pays.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
At the moment, I’m still very happy with it overall. However, I’ll never get rid of my life-long habit of fiddling with everything I read.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I think most of what I learned has to do with the writing process. I confirmed my realization that I need to feel I’m discovering something while writing. The potential for discovery is what whets my appetite when I sit down to write in the morning. Of course I know generally where I’m going, but I let my imagination dictate. If I don’t like the result the next day I can always start anew. I’d like to mention that while I’m writing, I don’t throw much away. Too often I’ve found that what can seem like a tangent ends up being useful in some way later on. In my life outside of writing, I try to remind myself that if we keep our minds open each day can bring things we never could have anticipated.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
I confess to not being all that familiar with young actresses, ones around Sarah’s age. So I asked around among people who have read the book. One suggestion, from my youngest daughter, was Emma Watson. I think they would have to darken her hair and complexion a little, but what I like about her is that she comes across as intelligent, which Sarah is. While I was writing the book, I watched a TV series called StartUp. The lead actress did a wonderful job portraying the tenacity and drive against tough odds that Sarah does. She’s a Cuban-American actress named Otmara Marrero, but if she were in the role of Sarah I think she would have to avoid coming across as particularly Latina. Sarah was French, born of Portuguese parents. Although some Portuguese identify as Hispanic I think most identify as Caucasian. I suggest her anyway because I’m always amazed at how actors can transform themselves for roles.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
I think I would recommend simply to keep writing. Write every day. You don’t have to be writing a novel but try to express something, an idea, a feeling, a scene. Some days you will surprise yourself. You will actually like what you wrote that day.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Thanks for being readers. The world needs readers.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
A non-fiction book called Heirs to Dirty Linen and Harlem Ghosts: Whitewashing Prohibition with Black Soap. Yesterday I finished Streets by Bella Spewack, her memoir about growing up on the Lower East Side of New York in the early part of the 20th Century.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Not really, although I sometimes see my young self reading The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. I can still see the cover.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
As strange as it sounds I often feel tears welling up when I see happy young children. I don’t know whether it’s because they’re so innocent and beautiful or because I know a lot of unhappiness awaits them after childhood ends.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
Bird. Charlie Parker, the greatest alto player ever.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
Playing alto sax. I’ve loved jazz since I was a teenager. Unfortunately, it’s not my talent in life.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Whenever I have the chance, I still love watching film noir from the 1940s and early 50s. As for today’s films and shows, I think HBO and Netflix have produced a ton of great series in recent years, shows like Shameless, Orange is the New Black, to name just a couple.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
Steak au poivre (green pepper, of course), jazz, blues and classical.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
If I figured that out now I’d end up wasting what remains of my life endlessly rewriting.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
I have a website—http://www.wayne-clark.com
That Woman on Amazon:
he & She on Smashwords: