Last week we published the e-book version of Walking the Labyrinth by Lois Cloarec Hart. On this occasion, we interviewed Lois. So, here is the chance for all her readers to get to know her a bit better.
First of all, thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions.
It was a natural melding of my fondness for the character of Lee, whom I created for my novel Broken Faith, and my fascination with metaphysical matters. I’ve been deeply engaged in metaphysical studies and experiences for about the last decade. A large part of the impetus for that passion was the death of my late husband, BJ, whom I portrayed as ‘Rob’ in Coming Home. BJ is still very much in my life and uses a signal that is personal to our life together to let me know when he’s around. He always had a great sense of humour and style, and he still does.
How many years have you been writing now, and how did you come to it?
I started writing in the fall of 1999. For eight months I’d resisted a dear friend’s urging to give it a try. I insisted that I was a reader, not a writer, but because she and I wrote each other daily, and I beta read her stories, she was convinced I could do it. By that fall, BJ’s chronic-progressive multiple sclerosis had taken most of his physical and cognitive abilities. He was a quadriplegic with severe MS-related dementia. Family and friends who’d been in Calgary when we first came there in ’93 had moved to other cities, so we were mostly alone together on a daily basis. The internet and my friend’s letters were the keys to my sanity as, other than medical appointments, we were housebound. Additionally, at that time, we had a very attractive postal carrier, and I used to enjoy interacting with her for a few moments when she brought the mail each day. When I finally gave in to my friend’s urging and began to compose a story, it felt natural to involve elements of my life—a disabled husband, his outwardly ‘straight’ wife, the attractive postal carrier and a large, loving group of family and friends—to populate the story. With my friend’s coaching and encouragement, within a year I had the first draft of Coming Home.
Why do you write? What does it mean to you?
After Coming Home I continued to write in part because it was an excellent way to take my mind off a complicated and occasionally stressful life. I’d been an avid reader for as long as I could remember, and every night I would put myself to sleep by composing a story. I never stayed awake long enough to make much plot progress, but I was accustomed to characters speaking to me. It wasn’t difficult to let them speak through my fingers on a keyboard, and I delighted in creating complete stories. As for what it means to me, it’s no longer the escape that it once was. I’m in a really good place in my life and have no need to ‘escape.’ It is, however, deeply satisfying to begin a project and carry it through to a conclusion. My greatest flaw is procrastination, and when I can overcome that flaw enough to finish a story or a novel, I feel like I’m making progress.
What puts you in a bad mood?
Very little, to tell you the truth. There was a time that political injustice and stupidity could send me into a fury—one of my wife’s sisters probably still has vivid memories of me erupting over our diverging views when Bush and company were leading the U.S. into the Iraq war. But the more I’ve gotten into metaphysics, the less things upset me. My wife would say that it’s occasionally aggravating how upbeat I am from day to day. What can I say? I’m a contented woman.
How long does it take you to write a novel?
It’s taken me anywhere from five years (Kicker’s Journey—a good example of the way I can procrastinate) to three weeks (the first draft of Walking the Labyrinth.) It really depends on whether I can keep my focus and take time away from pursuits that interest me every bit as much as writing.
How much time per week do you spend writing?
That depends—do you consider correspondence writing? I’m not a disciplined writer. When a story or writing project engages me, I can spend ten or twelve hours a day on it until it’s done. But I can also go for months without writing fiction.
Coffee or tea?
Diet Coke. It’s my daily staple. In particular I love fountain Diet Coke, which I prefer to canned Coke. I don’t drink either coffee or tea, not for any particular health or religious reason, but just because I never cared for the taste. My wife and best friends are all tea drinkers, and my mom and siblings are huge coffee drinkers, but I’ve found my beverage niche and I’m happy with it.
When and where do you write the most?
When I write, I need absolute silence in the house. As much as I love music, I don’t even want the radio on when I’m writing. The one sound that is conducive to my productivity is that of running water, so when it’s warm enough, I keep my front window open to hear my fountain. For that reason, my most prolific writing takes place when I’m in my Canadian home from April to October, more specifically, when I’m in my rocker-recliner overlooking my gardens and fountain. Time of day doesn’t really matter, though I probably get most of my work done in the afternoon.
How would you describe yourself?
Easy-going, amiable, reasonably intelligent and well-read, occasionally driven to the point of near-mania (if I have a paint brush in my hand and a project on the go, you probably shouldn’t stand still in my vicinity,) and most importantly to me, spiritually aware and evolving. My circle of loved ones loves me back in full measure, and that’s always a good sign that there’s balance in your life.
How much of yourself is in your characters?
It depends on the character and the story. For example, while I based the character of Jan in Coming Home on my own experiences, Terry’s loving relationships with her family in that novel were much closer to my reality. When I originally wrote Broken Faith, I put some of my surface attributes into Lee (physical build, military background, etc.), but by the time Lee reappeared in Walking the Labyrinth, there was less of me in her, and far more of me in Gaëlle. In fact, I’d have to say of every character I’ve ever written, Gaëlle most closely reflects my beliefs, experiences, and outlook on life.
What do you find the most challenging part of writing?
The act of actually sitting down to write. It’s the procrastination thing again. Once I do start, it’s a very easy, natural process for me. That said, I always need to have the opening line of a new story before I begin to create. For me, everything seems to flow from a good first line.
What are you reading right now?
The New York Times, Globe and Mail, Washington Post…did I mention I’m a news addict? There’s also a stack of metaphysical books on my bedside table. The one I’m halfway through at the moment is Kim O’Neill’s How to Talk With Your Angels. The most recent lesbian fiction I read was Siri Caldwell’s Angel’s Touch. (I think I’m seeing a pattern here.) I read Angel’s Touch to my wife over the phone, as talking on the phone several times a day and sharing novels are some of the ways we stay emotionally connected when we have to be physically apart.
What do you think makes a good romance novel?
Plot is important, of course, and I like to include a meaningful theme along with the romance. But to me, creating characters that live on long after the last page is turned is the most rewarding part. You want your characters to plant themselves in a reader’s psyche, so that while they may not remember all the details of a story, they will remember a character’s emotional resonance. My stepson once told me that I’d captured his dad perfectly in the character of Rob (Coming Home.) BJ’s cousin told me that Kicker (Kicker’s Journey) will always remain one of her favourite heroines of all time, right up there with Scarlett O‘Hara. I hold both of those comments dear to my heart.
What themes have you included in your novels?
The underlying theme in all my writing is that love can endure almost everything, including separation and death. In Coming Home, Jan and Terry fell in love under impossible circumstances in which Jan was never going to leave Rob, who was not the bad guy by any means. In Broken Faith, Marika and Rhiannon rose above horrendous childhoods and some nasty villains, to find love together. In Kicker’s Journey, Kicker and Madelyn fell in love easily, but then had to battle the era and environment of early 20th century Canada, not to mention each other, to find their happy ending. Most poignant to me, in Walking the Labyrinth, Lee had to endure the loss of her beloved wife and find a way back to where she could love again.
What advice would you give new authors?
Find a great editor. You don’t have to marry your first editor, the way I did, but good editing and honest input are crucial to a polished final product. A skilled editor will gently re-direct you when you’ve gone off in the wrong direction, guide you to shore up the weak points in your plot, polish your prose, and generally make you look far better as an author than you’d ever look on your own. I’ve been extremely fortunate in the editors I’ve had, beginning with my first. I fell head over heels in love with her, and to this day she edits every word I write. I trust and respect her abilities, and she never steers me wrong. I also benefit from having other editorial eyes on my writing, and I’m grateful for their professionalism and skill, as well. When I view a completed story and feel pride in its creation, I’m deeply aware I did not do it by myself.
What are you working on right now?
I’m in the process of revising Broken Faith for re-issue later this fall. Then I’ll be revising Coming Home for re-issue next spring.
What future writing projects can we look forward to?
The next new novel will involve two characters I’ve written short stories about—Ruby and Hazel, from Coming Attractions and Country Mouse. I don’t normally write sequels to my short stories, but I love these characters and wanted to know more about them. When the first story began, they were elderly women, then I used the second story to tell how they met and fell in love as much younger women. The new novel will explore their whole story as they fight to make a life together in an intolerant time and an intolerant place.
My novels to date have been of a roman-fleuve nature, in that they share some characters and a setting, but each stands alone and can be read independent of the others. For example, Coming Home featured Jan and Terry, with Marika as secondary character. Marika went on to her own starring role in Broken Faith, which also added Rhiannon, and Lee as a secondary character. Lee’s great-grandmother, Wynne Glenn, was a secondary character in Kicker’s Journey. In Walking the Labyrinth, we learn that Wynne’s son, Laird, was the grandfather that raised Lee after her parents died when she was a child. I enjoy making character connections between my novels, which are all set in western Canada. My short stories range much further afield and are often set in the U.S. The new Ruby and Hazel novel will take place in Atlanta, Georgia, where I’ve spent six months a year for the last twelve years, so it will diverge from the roman-fleuve style. But the idea I have for the novel after that returns to the same western Canadian setting, with Lee and Gaëlle making a guest appearance.
It was a pleasure talking to you. Again, thank you very much.