Interview with Angie Abdou

angie abdouAngie Abdou is a Canadian author whose publication record includes the novels The Bone Cage (a CBC Canada Reads finalist in 2011 defended by NHL star Georges Laraque) and In Case I Go (2017, Arsenal Press).  Chatelaine magazine named In Case I Go one of the most-riveting mysteries of 2017 and The Vancouver Sun called it a “spectacularly successful” novel.  It was a finalist for the Banff Mountain Book Award in the fiction and poetry category.  With her seventh book, Abdou turns her attention to nonfiction. Home Ice: Reflections of a Reluctant Hockey Mom chronicles the year in the life of a busy sport family.  A starred review in Booklist calls Home Ice a first-rate memoir, a fine example of narrative nonfiction, and a must-read for for parents with youngsters in organized sport. Angie is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Athabasca University.

Shauna Kosoris: Your first book, Anything Boys Can Do, was a collection of short stories. You now write mainly novels. Do you still write short fiction?

Angie Abdou: No, I don’t write short stories any more. I really enjoy reading short fiction, but for writing I feel more drawn toward the novel. Even when I think I have a good short story idea, it just … grows. I guess I’ve always been more of an endurance athlete.

It’s interesting that you describe yourself as an endurance athlete because sports feature so heavily in your writing. Why are you so drawn to athletics?

My main interest is identity: who are we? In Anything Boys Can Do, I think about how relationships make us who we are (and as we change, certain relationships – like marriages – might not work any more).  In The Bone Cage, I think about how our bodies determine who we are and as our bodies change (whether through injury or aging, for example), our fundamental selves also change. The Canterbury Trail is interested in environment and identity as well as community and identity, Between in motherhood, class, and identity, and In Case I Go in the way our identity is already informed by our ancestors, particularly our ancestors’ mistakes. Sports come up often in my work because they offer a way to address key components of identity: physicality, community, goals & dreams.

That’s fair. Your first novel, The Bone Cage, was a finalist on Canada Reads; what was that experience like?

That was really exciting, the most flat-out fun I’ve had as a writer. Georges Laraque was a generous and enthusiastic celebrity defender, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him. Plus, I made friends with the other authors (Ami McKay, Terry Fallis, Jeff Lemire, and Anne Giardini for her mother Carol Shields). It’s been great staying in touch and following their careers. Being on Canada Reads, of course, was nothing like the day-to-day life of being a writer, the farthest thing from it. But we all enjoy a little excitement now and then, our fifteen minutes of fame.

Your second novel, The Canterbury Trail, originated as your dissertation project in 2011. What was that process like, changing your dissertation into a published novel?

Really, it wasn’t much different than any other novel.  Suzette Mayr was my editor for The Bone Cage, and I enjoyed working with her so much that I decided to finish my Ph.D. at University of Calgary with her as supervisor. I entered the program knowing I would write another novel with her as supervisor. I also knew that my end goal would be to publish the novel.  The way she and I worked together during the Ph.D. project was not much different than the way we worked together on The Bone Cage. Also, I had a publishing contract almost immediately after my defense. So I didn’t approach the process differently – I went into the program and the dissertation project with the same goals as I take into any book-length writing project.

And now you’re an associate professor of creative writing at Athabasca University. What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of teaching?

I love the students’ enthusiasm and their excitement at different stages of success. They really want to be writers and I enjoy helping them towards publication. Seeing the improvement as they learn to create energetic and engaging scenes is very rewarding. Getting those emails that they’ve had their first publication – thrilling! I get more excited now at my students’ publishing news than my own.  I suppose the challenge is knowing how hard it is to get published and how limited the (financial) remuneration is. I always have to remind students that writing is not the way to fame and fortune. Often, writing well has to be its own reward.

You’ve also co-edited a nonfiction book on sports, Writing the Body in Motion: A Critical Anthology on Canadian Sport with Jamie Dopp, which was released last May. What was that process like?

Oh boy, I went into that blindly. I’d never done anything like it before, and I forgot that I dislike group work.  I’m a novelist because I prefer working alone. Rallying ten writers — and managing all their deadlines — had its challenges. Jamie was a great co-editor – a perfect match for me. He brought the experience and wisdom and calmness and I brought the intensity. With that combo, it came together. We had a great team and are happy with the end result. I hope the anthology gets used in classrooms. Best of all, teachers and students can download any and all of the essays here (for free!):

So what are you working on now?

I’m in my earliest stages of a new project so I worry that to say anything about it would be to jinx it.  I will say it’s another nonfiction. My first five books are fiction, and, recently, Home Ice is my first attempt at nonfiction. While I do hope to go back to novels eventually, I feel I’m on a bit of a creative nonfiction roll. I have more to say. This one, though, will not be about hockey, at all. But it will be in conversation with Home Ice in other ways.

What book or author inspired you to write?

The first was probably Margaret Laurence. I grew up in Moose Jaw so her prairie settings spoke to me – and made me think: Wow, you can write fiction about the kinds of people and places I know! Other prairie writers fed that enthusiasm. More recently, a different set of writers inspired Home Ice. I have been liking memoirs – ones that are honest and personal but also weave in research, so that readers get a voyeuristic peek into a writer’s life but also get the benefit of the writer’s research on a given topic. Here I’m thinking of books like Drunk Mom by Jowita Bydlowska, Sixty by Ian  Brown, This is Happy by Camilla Gibb, Between Gods by Alison Pick, and Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter by Alison Wearing.  Those are the books that inspired Home Ice.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese.

And what book are you currently reading?

I’ve been on a good reading roll lately. I’ve just finished Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black, Ali Bryan’s The Figgs, Fran Kimmel’s No Good Asking, and Ian Reid’s Foe.  I’ve been told to read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, and it’s next on my list.

angie abdou with home ice

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