What gave you the idea to make your most recent book?

My debut novel, BIRTH ROAD is loosely based on my grandmother’s life. When I was a little girl growing up in Truro, she told me the story of how she walked for miles – from Pictou Road to the end of Queen Street – the day she gave birth to my mother. It was a hot day in July in 1946 and she wore a coat to conceal her stomach. I heard this story many times. This image, of her walking that road, always stayed with me. When I decided to write a story based on her life, I knew it would have to be about a woman walking the “birth road” and remembering the key moments of her life that brought her to that day. Through my writing process a work of fiction emerged. I added fictional characters and plot twists, and ultimately the story that came to me was not grandmother’s factual life story. In the end I had a beautiful hybrid, where her story is woven through these fictional pages and her sprit is present throughout.

Do you think there is value in fiction set in the Maritimes?

Definitely! There is always value in seeing ourselves and our communities reflected in stories. I have heard from many people who enjoyed reading about their hometowns of Truro and Amherst and being able to visualize the story as it unfolds in a familiar setting. I also think, in terms of historical fiction, that readers enjoy learning about the events that took place in their own back yards, with characters who resemble their own ancestors. Many readers have contacted me to tell me about their own family members who worked at Stanfields, who went to work in Boston, or who were in the North Novas.

Was any character the most fun or most difficult to write?

Aunt Gertie was probably the most fun to write. She is such a great character and I just love her. I enjoyed coming up with her many great one liners, and her endless words of wisdom. She makes me laugh and she makes me cry. I found Edgar difficult to write. There were challenging scenes to create for his character. It was a struggle to portray someone who could be so abusive, and yet still try and convey that person’s own history of pain and struggles.

How long have you been working on it?

This story lived within me for over a decade. I had written little short stories about my grandmother’s life many years ago, with no intention of ever writing a novel. But, in 2013 I decided to try and write a book and expand on the few little stories I had done. I was lucky enough to get a six month mentorship with Donna Morrissey and so I wrote for 6 months. Having deadlines and someone I was accountable to were key to my writing practice and that is how I was able to get the story started. When this ended, unfortunately I stopped writing. I started a new job and was pulled in other directions. Helen’s story never left me. It haunted me for years. In 2019 I started writing seriously again. I found another person to give me deadlines. Chris Benjamin was the writer in residence at the Lunenburg Library at that time. I met with Chris and had deadlines once again. This helped me to complete my manuscript, which I did during that six month period. Obviously I seem to write much more effectively when I have deadlines and someone whom I am accountable to!

What do you hope people get from your work?

I would like to see people learn to embrace forgiveness - and try to remember that we really never know what others are going through, so we should not be so quick to judge. I hope Helen becomes someone people admire. She was a strong woman and I hope this story is an inspiration to other women.

What are some of your favourite books/authors?

I recently discovered Elizabeth Strout – and I just can’t get enough of her. One of my favorite books is The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss. I have read it so many times – there is something about her characters that I find extremely comforting. Michael Crummy is also one of my favorites – I think his book The Innocents is amazing.

Is there any non-book media that influences your writing?

I would say yes, as I LOVE movies. When I wrote this story I could see it playing out in my mind like a movie and I often just followed the characters and wrote their actions and words – so it may be safe to say that the visual medium of movies has had an affect on me.

Do you listen to music when you write?

If so, what? No, I do not listen to music when I write. I need complete silence – no music, no TV, no people around.

What is a book that you think is underread/underappreciated?

I can’t think of an exact title, but I do know there are so many books that don’t achieve success just because the writer did not get the right publisher, or they were published at the wrong time – like during the pandemic. There are so many wonderful stories out there that just don’t get the attention they deserve and unfortunately sometimes it just comes down to luck and chance. And then there are the thousands of books sitting in peoples drawers because they never were published – maybe they never even tried to be published. I think there is an abundance of art out in the world that never gets to see the light of day, and we are all the lesser for that.

When did you start writing?

I didn’t start writing fiction until about fifteen years ago. But, I have always been a writer. I went to journalism school and I was a communications specialist for many years – so I did write for a living, it was just a different kind of writing.

What is the best and/or worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

I would say the best advice I received was from a friend, who is also a writer. When my manuscript was finally finished I told her I wasn’t ready to send it out to publishers. I had a few weak excuses – needs more work, should be read by a few people first. But deep down, I know the reason I did not want to send it - I was terrified of showing someone my work, learning it was no good, and being rejected. ( It has since been comforting to know most writers initially feel this way.) My friend told me to send it out to publishers right away. To just do it! I listened to her. And, I am so glad I did!

What is your favourite genre to write?

Do you want to try writing in other genres? So far, it seems to be historical/literary fiction. Research is one of my favorite parts of the writing process and I seem to be drawn to the past. I am currently working on another novel, and it is also historical fiction. I also write short fiction as well and have had a couple of stories published.

Tea or coffee?

Definitely tea. I am a big tea drinker, but only decaf. It is hard to believe, but I have never had a cup of coffee. I tried it once when I was about twenty, and I didn’t like it.

January 15, 2024 — Vonda Hazzard

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