Sunday, March 24, 2019

Book Review: A Wake for the Dreamland by Laurel Deedrick-Mayne (historical fiction) and interview with the author

Set in Alberta, Canada--and England and Italy--before, during and after the Second World War, A Wake for the Dreamland is about the faithfulness and devotion of enduring friendship.

(Laurel Deedrick-Mayne sent me a copy to review)

Published in 2015
Printed by Friesen Press

on the Edmonton Journal Bestseller list for 35 weeks
won the Alberta Readers' Choice Award (2016)
and the Whistler Independent Book Prize (2018)

Annie, Robert, and William--the trio of twenty-somethings meet the way people do. Robert meets William in music school. Robert meets Annie and then introduces her to William. They bond by going to movies at the Dreamland theatre. Through the horrors of war and self-discovery, they remain close. A well-crafted multi-layered character, William is clearly the star of the book. 

Interview with the author

How/why did you start writing?

I have been writing in one form or another most of my life. My family, going back many generations on both sides, were terrific correspondents. My maternal grandfather was a broadcaster and journalist. My father, his family: mother and aunts especially, were letter writers and yarn spinners with a particular penchant for poetry. By that I mean they would conjure all the mundane reportage of the day into fantastic verse. My parents wrote those crazy family Christmas newsletters and we kids were raised to have thank-you notes written by the end of Boxing Day. Whenever possible I turned school assignments into creative writing projects. 

Sometimes I wrote because spoken words failed me. Writing a book was always something I hoped and wanted to do but, as you know, life can get in the way of many of our aspirations. It took years (decades really) for the stars to align. And it took a triad of lightening bolts of inspiration before I fully committed. 

What was your first published piece?

I hope this doesn’t shock you too much but A Wake For The Dreamland is my first published piece. Unless you count the program copy from my stint as a publicist for Alberta Ballet or CBC’s Bill Richardson reading the story I wrote about losing my dress (I was wearing it at the time) on the corner of Vancouver’s Broadway and Granville streets.

Where was it published?

I was writing publicity material for Alberta Ballet back in the early 80’s. The CBC story was nationally broadcast on their afternoon show, Richardson’s Roundup, some time in the 90’s. All this to say I’m a late bloomer.

What inspires you?

I’m inspired by people just living their lives — from the little tiny gems of day to day existence to the huge capacity of the human spirit to endure and prevail in the most trying of circumstances. People never cease to amaze and fascinate me. I’m a writer whose day job has been practicing massage therapy for over thirty years. I have learned a great deal by the privilege of working one on one with folks. 

Why did you choose to self-publish? What are the benefits and challenges?

I shopped the manuscript around to a couple of places that turned it down. I had thought that the book would primarily be read by my parents’ generation and they (like me) were getting older. One afternoon I realized that even if I miraculously got a book deal that very day, it would probably be at least 3 years before it hit a bookstore shelf and that’s when I started exploring independent publishing. At least it could be available to readers within a year. 

The challenges and benefits are many. 

The author has control.
The author has control.

Hahaha — But it’s true. The responsibility is huge and there were many skills I simply did not possess (or have time to learn) which is why I went through a company that could see the project through and who I felt I could count on to produce a good looking book that could hold its own among traditionally published ones. I needed their expertise but one needs to have the resources or willingness to go into debt to see their dream book become reality. That’s a scary prospect. Sure, they produce it and make it available but ultimately it is up to the author to make it sell. Writers are often quite introverted and authors need to don their shameless hussy pants. Fortunately I think I fall in the category of ‘gregarious hermit’ so with deep breaths, I embarked on book promotion, not knowing if I had a hope in a windstorm of recovering my costs. 

Reflect on your writing process

We’re in a deep freeze here in Alberta as I write this so I’m going to use the analogy of getting up in the morning and hoping to goodness the car will start. Does that sound cheesy? Yes, I think so but it was true for me. Often, when I had a little time I was lacking inspiration. Or the mountain just seemed too high to climb. Nothing I tried seemed to work and that beautiful story that was so rich and fully formed in my head couldn’t seem to find its way to the page. I had so many other balls in the air at the time, which I don’t want to sound like a ‘the dog ate my homework’ excuse but —  I had kids in school, aging parents, the aforementioned massage therapy practice and, just to top things off, the attention span of a flea. I mentioned mountains a few lines back. One of my saving graces was periodically abandoning life as I knew it and retreating to the Banff Centre in the Rocky Mountains where I could hole up for days or weeks at a time and soldier through.

Are you working on another book (my fingers are crossed)?

My great aunt was THE district nurse for the Indigenous people of the Yukon in the 40’s and 50’s. The entire territory was her district. I have all her correspondence, field notes, photos, sketches and poetry as well as the memoir she published. I’m hoping to create something from this material. Maybe a biography. Maybe a series of novellas of her episodic adventures. Or, maybe I bundle up all that material and take it to the Yukon archives for the descendants of people she served to access and create something from. Is that vague enough?

Why did you choose to set your book in the years before, during and after World War II?

I had no choice and here’s why: 
The first bolt of inspiration came the one Remembrance Day we weren’t taking in any ceremony and I was in a Safeway spaghetti aisle at the 11th hour. An announcement came on to stop for 2 minutes of silence. I stood there weeping. Something opened up inside me. 

Then, on December 26, 2003 a feature came on the 11 o’clock news about the 60th anniversary of the crucible Battle of Ortona. I hadn’t even known there’d been an Italian campaign and that the Loyal Edmonton Regiment was instrumental in its success. Again, I was deeply moved. 

A couple of months later, driving to pick up my kids from school, which happened to be right next door to an Armoury that I’d hardly given a moment’s notice of before, the three primary characters of the novel sprang to mind. I felt they were whispering their life story in my ear as I drove. Their story came so fully formed: a spark, a flash. I knew it would begin with the Royal Visit of 1939 and end with the (spoiler alert) demolition of the Dreamland Theatre in 1979. I just didn’t know how the hell I was going to do it.

 When I first started writing A Wake For The Dreamland, I knew nothing about the second world war. Not really. Not much. My dad had been in the RCAF but not overseas. I’d only been to one war movie, and only because I had to —  social studies class went to see Bridge on the River Kwai. In fact, I consciously chose NOT to see war movies. And I’d certainly never read any war fiction. I thought it would break my heart.  Writing the book nearly did. But I don’t regret a single step of the journey.

Words of advice for the yet-to-be-published

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for anyone contemplating self-publishing to take a good hard look at all the ways and means they will get the book into readers’ hands. You only have to step into a bookstore or library to realize the world will keep on spinning with or without your book.  In addition to my own hard work, I also got lucky. I am incredibly fortunate that enough people liked it and began telling their friends, who told their friends, that it started to gain some momentum. 

It doesn’t matter how good your book looks if what’s between the covers isn’t the very best it can be. This is where taking your time and spending the money to work with a really good editor is absolutely essential. It is the best money one can spend. People ask me why it took ten years to get this book from the brain to the bookshelf and, aside from it being very heavily researched (although that should not be too blatantly obvious on the page — boring!) I had to take the time to raise the money to take the steps to find and pay for the workshop or manuscript consultant or editor to help me make it as good as possible. I’d tuck it away for awhile. Bring it out and work through it again. Do not try to take a shortcut on this part of the process. Whew! Went on a bit of a rant there.

I would add that distribution is a huge challenge. Being available and widely distributed and promoted are different things and one kind of needs all three to make sales. Even traditionally published authors now have to do a lot of their own legwork on the promotional side. Most bookstores (think Chapters/Indigo) are not likely to take an Indie author’s book. They’ll order it for customers but not stock it. 

Let’s talk about money, even though my mother would have said that’s gauche. Self publishing a book is very expensive. Promoting it and distributing is costly. You will see a very tiny return on e-book and amazon sales. The more books you print and distribute yourself, the more likely you will cover your costs or make a little money but you must give a great deal of thought to how you’re going to do that. It’s very hard to get traditional media coverage now. Even traditionally published authors struggle to get reviews or coverage. 

None of this is meant to be discouraging. Only realistic. Most people only dream about writing a book. Very few actually do. Have courage. Have patience. Persevere.


Are you writing a historical fiction novel? I just found this helpful article:  Three Ways to Make the Historical Real by Katia Raina 

'February 2019 on Mayne Island' photo by ldyck

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Sunday, March 31 at approximately 5 PM PST

I recently penned a short poem about the transition from winter to spring--Let the Sunshine in.