The Unlikely Redemption of John Alexander MacNeil is a compelling, witty and heart-warming novel by renowned Nova Scotia author Lesley Choyce. Recently we spoke with the scribe about the book and all things literary.
When and why did you want to be a writer?
When I was thirteen, I decided that I never wanted a real job so, one day sitting in the school library it occurred to me that people made up stories and the stories became books and you could earn a living that way. I liked making up stories and it didn’t seem like work, so I decided to be a writer.
Are they the same reasons you do it today?
Yes, I write to avoid work if at all possible.
How have your grown as a writer over that time?
I think I’ve regressed a bit. I once was young, confident and understood everything about the world. Now that I am older (66, I think) I understand very little about the world and don’t have the wonderful smart-alecky confidence I once had. But I continue to write anyway, hoping something interesting will come from it.
What makes a good book?
A really good cover. I love a book with a great cover even if the contents don’t live up to the quality of the artwork. A really good title helps as well.
Is your creative process more 'inspirational' or 'perspirational'?
Mostly seat of the pants inspirational. I rewrite but that seems like hard work and I smack myself in the head that I tricked myself into this ungodly form of work after all. I wish Kerouac was right in saying that the first draft is sacred. But he was wrong. In fact, he was dear wrong about a lot of things, but I like the crazy creative chaos of his stories.
What inspired you to write The Unlikely Redemption of John Alexander MacNeil ?
I thought that one day I too will be 80 years old like my protagonist and I should explore that age via fiction. So I would literarily practice being old and crazy.
What was the most challenging aspect of the process?
Walking away from the story when it was done. It’s a kind of writer’s post-partum depression.
What was the most rewarding part of the experience?
Living vicariously through the eyes of John Alexander/
What did you learn during the process?
I learned that the unpredictable is always more interesting and exciting than the predictable.
How much research was involved?
I had to interview bootleggers, Mounties, octogenarians, librarians who run bookmobiles, video gamblers, priests, coal miners and most of the people living in rural Cape Breton,
What has the response been like so far from those that have read it?
One reviewer found wonderful some amazing symbolism in the book that I didn’t know was there. It made me feel much smarter and more accomplished than I really am.
What's next on your creative agenda?
I should be hitting my 100th book within 3- 5 years. I do believe you are only as good as your next book… or something like that. I’m currently writing an adult literary novel.
What are your thoughts on the current state of literature in Atlantic Canada?
This is a very exciting time. Publishing is at a high point in Nova Scotia.
Any advice for younger writers?
Put your ass in the chair and write.