Read Local: Interview with Janet Turpin Myers

Wednesday 18 December 2013

There are still a few shopping days left before Christmas, and as always, I’m preaching that buying books by local authors is a fantastic away to support local culture while buying a great gift. One that I would definitely recommend is Nightswimming, which I reviewed earlier this year in Hamilton Magazine. Nightswimming, the most recent release by local author Janet Turpin Myers, takes readers inside the lives of three youth as they navigate life in the late 1960s. It’s a beautiful tale of fleeting innocence set against the backdrop of Ontario’s cottage country.

Janet was kind enough to agree to an interview, my first, I hope of many, here on the blog.

Not My Typewriter: You're active on Twitter (It's how we first connected!) How would you summarize Nightswimming in a tweet (140 characters or less)?

Janet Turpin Myers: The power of memory to spin truth & untruth. The lacy intensity of first love. The wonder of Man-on-Moon. The sweet dishevelment of summer.

NMT: Nightswimming takes place in the 1960s in rural Ontario. Why did you settle on this time and place, and how did your own experiences influence this choice?

JTM: It was never my intention to write about this place and time. I did not sit down one day and say to myself ... hmm, I think I’ll explore cottage country in the late 1960s in a thoughtfully rendered novel etc. etc.

What happened was this; and this, I have to say, is the magic of the creative process and the essential reason why I love to write.  An image simply dropped into my mind and hung there with clarity and persistence for days.  The image was of the whole earth the famous picture taken from outer space which I had seen throughout my life. Since I knew nothing about that photo's essential facts, I Googled it and discovered that it was taken by Apollo 8 astronauts on Christmas eve, 1968, while orbiting the moon in preparation for the moon landing mission of Apollo 11. I also discovered this wasn’t just any picture of the whole earth, that it was in fact, the first ever photograph of the entire planet. It was the first time in eons of human evolution, of war and peace, of catastrophes and cleverness, of this and that, where we citizens of the earth could finally nourish our imaginations with the truth, with the FACT, of our world as a singular, beautiful oneness, and not a thing fragmented by territorial boundaries, or ideologies, or religions.

So, because of that persistent image, I knew that my next novel had something to do with the Apollo moon mission (hence the 1960's) and something to do with the settling into human consciousness of this first picture of the wholeness of our planet. The next thing I knew was that the novel would be set in the cottage country of Muskoka because that’s where I happened to be in 1969, a little kid crowded around a TV in a tiny cottage, watching, wondering at, the wavering images of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the lunar surface. Much of what sunk into me from my childhood awarenesses at that time: Vietnam war, women’s lib, beauty pageants, hippies, the whole earth, the moon landing, apparently swam around in the dark waters of my subconscious for decades, eventually surfacing  40 years later in this novel, Nightswimming.

NMT: How might Nightswimming differ if it took place in 2013? How might it be the same?

JTM: Nightswimming is set in the last two summers of the 1960s, and on a single day in 2009, on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The novel moves back and forth in time between the narrator getting drunk on ice wine in her office in 2009, and her summer memories of the late 1960's. I was interested in writing about the differences between these two time periods, and exploring any changes in the human condition brought about by the universal jolt of optimism that came with the moon landing. Equally as important, I wanted to write about the illusions our memories spin us over stretches of time, and particularly about the long-term effects of a singular tragic event on a person's life. Given that, I can't imagine this novel being set only in the present in the year 2013. The story needed to move back and forth over the chasm of those forty years between 1969 and 2009 to do what I wanted it to do. Had I set it solely in 2013, it would have been a much smaller story about the obsessive delicateness of first love, but without the richness of all those deeper themes, which Nightswimming is so essentially about.

NMT: Nightswimming is very character driven with some memorable and eccentric characters found along the way. Which character was the most enjoyable for you to write, and why?

JTM: Like a good mother, I love all my characters; however if pressed to choose the one I most enjoyed creating, I would choose “the twins.”  I know they're really two characters, but they're such a Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee pair, I can't pick one over the other. These two tubby, middle-aged, phlegmatic, judgemental, reliable, resourceful and emotionally restrained spinsters are very different from me, so imagining them was truly an adventure. I think it's similar to the delight actors experience when  playing against type; the chance to embrace, at least temporarily, the persona of someone completely unlike one's self.

NMT: 2014 is right around the corner. What does it have in store for you? Are you one to make resolutions, especially when it comes to writing?

JTM: I'm not one to make yearly resolutions because the process of novel writing is such a long one, and a year hardly seems like much time to me. I do set goals, though, in terms of my work. Most definitely.

My current goal is to finish the novel I'm writing now, which is titled UnPredator. I'm about a third of the way through and expect it will take me the better part of 2014 to finish. I'm also hoping to have my second novel published in the spring of 2015.  It's called The Last Year of Confusion and is the book I wrote after Nightswimming.

In 2014 I have events lined up to promote Nightswimming: readings, book club visits, and hopefully, participation in some writers' festivals. I will have to balance the need to support my first book-baby, Nightswimming, as it makes its way, wide-eyed in the bigger world, with  the editing and publication process for book-baby-two, The Last Year of Confusion, and finishing writing UnPredator. 2014 is going to be crazy-busy all in a good way.

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