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Miracle Writer: A Conversation with Amanda Leduc

What happens when someone is visited by an angel of God? Canadian writer Amanda Leduc’s writing explores miracles, faith, and penance, among other themes. Her novel The Miracles of Ordinary Men was published earlier this month by Toronto’s ECW Press to wide acclaim. She’s an exciting, multi-faceted writer whose short story “Asking For Change” also appeared this month over at Little Fiction.

Amanda is also one of the co-creators of Bare It For Books, a calendar of nearly-nude Canadian writers that acts as a fundraising project for PEN Canada. Amanda recently took time from her schedule to answer a few questions about her writing, Bare It For Books, and literary dream dates.

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Tell us about your new novel, The Miracles of Ordinary Men. Where did the story come from? How long have you been working on it?

Miracles originally came out of two short stories—one of the stories was written when I was sixteen, and underwent a number of revisions over the next decade or so. It was a story about a man who was visited by an angel of God, and ten years or so later I took that original story and wrote another piece inspired by it. That piece became the short story “Evolution”, which won First Runner Up in PRISM International’s 2008 Short Fiction contest. After the story won the contest, I took those two stories and tried to see if there was a novel I could make from them. That became my Master’s thesis, and the manuscript—only four years or so later!—eventually became The Miracles of Ordinary Men.

 All told, from initial “hey-let’s-see-if-this-could-become-a-novel” thought to finally being on bookshelves, the book took five years to come into being.

How does it feel, now that the novel is out there in the world? What has the reception been like?

Great, and strange, and wonderful. I’ve talked about this to a number of different people—it’s so bizarre to see your book on store shelves after so long. You get so used to thinking that your book is never *actually* going to make it into stores, even in spite of that book contract. You always think, “Well, something will happen to screw it all up. The publisher will change their mind. Or someone else will publish another book like this one before mine gets out and publishing it will then seem useless. Or the world will end.” You know, the usual stuff. [Side note – when we were all counting down the days to the Mayan Apocalypse, all I could think was, “Of course! Of course the world will end. Just before my book has time to breathe. I mean, why not?”]

But it’s out there now, and the world didn’t end after all. Phew! The greatest part of all of it for me has been listening to people talk about the book, and hearing what they’ve taken away from it. That’s been so humbling, and so magical.

When did you first start writing? When did you know that you wanted to be a writer, or was it something you fell into?

I have one of those “Schoolday Memories” scrapbooks—you know, the kind where you save your school photos and different projects you worked on in elementary school—and in Grade One, I wrote “AUTHOR” in the space where you were supposed to write what you wanted to be when you grew up. I would have been six when that happened. I also have a whole bunch of “books” that I wrote when I was in first grade. They have covers made out of construction paper and most of them were illustrated, because I apparently fancied myself an artist at the time as well.  Then I got a little black notebook when I was seven and started writing poems in it. They were terribly awful poems, but I carried the book everywhere with me and wrote whenever I could.

So I guess, looking at the above, you could say I always wanted to be a writer. The question for a long time was what I would do in order to support the writing. For a while I thought I would be an editor of some sort. Then I thought I would teach. And for a brief stint of time early in university I thought I might go into marketing.

It wasn’t until I reached my thirties that I realized the answer to the “what-kind-of-career-will-you-have” question, for me, was simply this: any kind of job that would allow me time to write.

Tell me more about your writing process and routine. Are you someone who writes every day? Are you a superstitious writer?

I tend to do most of my writing in the morning, so my peak hours of writing time are between 7am and 1pm during the week. It helps that my day job usually sees me working a 3-11 shift – that way I have time to write in the morning before I go into work.

I try hard to write every day, even if it’s only a few hundred words. I aim for 1,000 words written every day but sometimes this is easier said than done—I’m a terrible procrastinator and there are days when anything at all can pull me away from my notebook or computer. Sometimes this leads to me feeling so far behind in the goals that I’ve set for myself that I have to do a few days of binge writing in order to get myself back in the game.

In terms of a routine, it pretty much revolves around tea and music. I have to have a mug of something by my side when I write, and there’s either music or white noise playing in the background as I work.

I don’t think I’d call myself a superstitious writer, but I do feel a constant pressure to get those words out, and I worry that not being on top of EVERYTHING, all of the time—ie. social media, blogging, and all of that in addition to those stories and essays and new-novel-in-progress—will somehow detrimentally affect my path as a writer. I think you could call that a kind of superstition. “If I don’t tweet at least ten times a day I will fail on all counts!”

It’s silly, I know, but there you have it.

I’m always interested in influence. Can you say if you have been influenced by any writers in particular?

I am a huge fan of Arundhati Roy—both her novel, which is one of my favourite books, and her essays—and I also love Audrey Niffenegger specifically for The Time Traveller’s Wife. I was obsessed with Flannery O’Connor’s writing and her dark, twisted stories when I was an undergrad, and I also really enjoy Marquez for the same reason.

More influences: Shirley Jackson, Guy Gavriel Kay, Jennifer Egan, Annie Dillard, Joan Didion. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the work and style of Carla Funk, Bill Gaston, John Gould, and Lorna Jackson, who were all people I was lucky enough to study with at UVic, as well as John Burnside and Meaghan Delahunt, who supervised my thesis at St. Andrews. All of these writers taught me different ways of seeing, and I wouldn’t be doing the work that I am today if it hadn’t been for their insight and guidance.

Which writer, living or dead, would be your dream date?

What a question! There are so many names that come to mind. I’d forego the date part of things just for the opportunity to sit at a table with Flannery O’Connor and talk all things God and sacrifice for a night. And a night out with Anton Chekhov would be pretty dreamy, except for the fact that he’d probably want a date, like his wife, who “like the moon, won’t appear in my sky every day.”

In terms of a living dream date author—I have someone in mind, but the answer would probably get me in trouble. So we’ll stick with Dreams of Chekhov.

You’ve been working over the past year on a project called Bare It For Books. Can you tell me more about it? Where did the idea come from?

Bare it For Books is a love-of-Canadian-literature campaign that’s going to see twelve Canadian authors pose in the nearly-nude for a charity calendar. We’ve had a tremendously positive response to the project thus far, and working on it has been a lot of fun. My co-founder, Allegra Young, has been a joy to work with, and it’s our fervent hope that this little calendar will inspire people to really delve into Canadian literature.

The idea for the calendar itself started out in the simplest way possible—via tweet. I was avoiding my own writing one day last summer (see #4, paragraph 2), and suddenly found myself wondering why we hadn’t seen Canadian authors posing for a charity calendar before. I took to Twitter with the idea and things just snowballed from there.

We’re just a few months away from launching the calendar now, which is really exciting. And also a great deal of work! But I’ve met so many enthusiastic people over the course of this little project, and it’s reinforced my love for and faith in the Canadian literary landscape. We’re a small country in terms of our literary influence, but the depth of support in our literary community is really something to be proud of. I’m very thankful for it, and I look forward to seeing what other literary projects people will cook up in our country over the next few years.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on revisions for my new novel, which I hope to have in workable-draft form (ie. something I’d be comfortable showing to my agent) by the end of the summer. I’m also working on a number of personal essays, and starting to jot down sketches for another book. The Grand Plan is to get a goodly amount of writing done over the summer on all of these projects. As usual, however, I am probably being wildly optimistic.

You have a new story this month in Little Fiction. Tell me about that.

It’s called “Asking For Change”, and it came out of a line that I wrote in The Miracles of Ordinary Men. The line goes like this: “Tomorrow, the Tooth Fairy would show up at his door, dressed in rags and asking for change.” As I progressed further in the novel I found myself thinking more and more about that line, and what it could mean. I jotted down some thoughts about what a story based around that line might look like, and when Miracles was finally proofed and finished and ready to go, I went back to the story and rewrote it into something presentable. And then the fine folks at Little Fiction said they would publish it, which was pretty cool.

Asking For Change follows a man named Trevor (coincidentally enough) who is visited by the Tooth Fairy. She’s fixated on teeth, like any proper Tooth Fairy would be, but she’s also fixated on something else in addition to Trevor’s molars, and the journey to discover what that something is made for a strange, sad little story.

If you were on a desert island with only three books, what would they be?

The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay (the edition that prints all three books in one—is that cheating?); The Art of the Personal Essay, edited by Philip Lopate; and Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, as the loops and turns in that book would offer a great way to while away the island hours.

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To learn more about Amanda and to buy The Miracles of Ordinary Men, visit her online. Listen to Xe Sands read clips from the novel over at Little Fiction. You can also check Amanda out on Twitter.

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