A Conversation With
ANDREA MCKENZIE RAINE
Martin Sourdough is a homeless person who has chosen to turn his back on the corporate, material world; Willis Hancocks, Jr. is a barrister, an alcoholic philanderer, and a misogynist; and Evelyn (aka Yvonne) is a prostitute. Turnstiles speaks to these social problems through the smaller scope of each character’s individual trials. There is a struggle that exists between the need to serve one’s own needs and the expectation to participate in the larger social scheme. Martin and Willis are both trying to fit into the world, but on their own terms. They are naïve, searching for an Eden-like state of being. Through a broader experience of personal fortune, misfortune, travel, and social interactions, they each learn to accept their path and take control of their own destinies.
How would describe your book, its genre? Do you write in more than one genre?
The genre of my debut novel, Turnstiles, is literary fiction. I also write poetry, and my poetic voice definitely influences my fiction writing. Many fiction writers also write poetry.
How long have you been writing? How long did it take to write your book? And what motivated you to write it?
I have been writing ever since I could hold a pen. I’m serious. I remember being given assignments in grade one, two and three to keep journals and write stories. While the other kids groaned, I got really excited.
It took me fifteen years to write Turnstiles. I wrote it in the midst of work, university, relationships, kids, and life in general, but I never dropped the thread. I always wanted to write a novel. When I returned from a two-month solo backpacking trip through Western Europe and the UK in the summer of 1998, I felt like I had something more important to say.
Is Turnstiles a stand-alone novel or part of a series?
Turnstiles is a stand-alone novel, but I am also working on a prequel novella.
If it is a stand-alone book, would you consider making it a series? Why or why not?
I do believe that Turnstiles has more legs. As I mentioned, I am working on a prequel novella to lend a back story to a main character who is deceased from the beginning of Turnstiles, but still has a large influence on the characters and events that unfold in the story. I also have an idea to write another novel or novella that focuses on the lives of a group of secondary characters in Turnstiles. Friends who have read my drafts-in-progress have commented that they are intrigued by those characters and would be interested in reading a book solely about them.
Who are your main characters in Turnstiles and how would you describe them?
The main characters are Willis Hancocks, Jr., Martin Sourdough and Evelyn (aka Yvonne). Willis is a barrister and a Londoner. He is a cocky, white collar, womanizing, alcoholic misogynist who is in his mid-twenties and emotionally stunted. Martin is a naïve, idealistic youth (early twenties) who is disenchanted with the corporate, money-grubbing, career-seeking world. He is trying to find his own way. Evelyn (aka Yvonne) is a young prostitute who was handed a less than ideal life from day one and consequently has been pulled down a bleak path. She is smart, but she doesn’t believe she has the tools or the choices to make a positive change.
Is there any symbolism in your book that you’d care to share with potential readers?
I think the idea of turnstiles is symbolic in the book: going through a passage, embarking on a journey of place and self, and coming out on the other side of something; figuratively and literally.
Do any of the characters resemble you? How about friends or relatives?
I believe that Martin most closely resembles me. I’ve never been entirely in his situation (i.e. homeless), but I have had times when I felt pretty worn down and fed up with the whole ‘rat race’.
Have you tried submitting your book to publishers? If so, how many? Would you still want to work with a traditional publisher now that you have self-published?
I tried submitting my book to three literary agencies. I received positive feedback: they enjoyed reading the first few chapters, but the subject matter was not what they were seeking, or they weren’t taking on any new projects. I would still like to work with a traditional publisher in the future, although my experience in self-publishing my first novel was a joy.
What has been the most difficult part of your writing experience? Dealing with publishers, agents, editors, getting reviews, query letters?
I think writing the query letter was the biggest challenge after writing the novel itself. However, I feel that I managed to summarize the plot, characters, and motivations in a concise and compelling way.
Do any of your characters have secrets you can share with our readers?
Not really. All of the main characters and most of the secondary characters are quite open, and reveal themselves to the reader. One of the secondary characters, Maury, is a bit more dark and complicated. I do think he has one or two secrets up his sleeve.
If you were to be offered a movie deal, who would you like to see play the main characters?
I won’t deny that I haven’t thought about this happening. Especially since many people who have read the earlier drafts have commented that the novel is very descriptive and ‘plays out’ like a movie. Let’s see… the actors would all have to be young and not necessarily big Hollywood actors. Although I do have some ideas about who could play the main characters, I would rather not put any preconceived images of the characters in the readers’ minds before they read Turnstiles.
Describe your writing process. Do you outline, create rough synopses, do you do detailed biographies of the characters before starting to write?
I have done some character sketches, and I do tend to write brief outlines or make notes as I approach each chapter. I don’t have a clear sense of the whole story before I start writing… I find out what is going to happen as I write.
How much research do you do before starting to write? Where do you find most of your background materials? How do you fact check?
I concentrate on getting inside the heads of the characters, which doesn’t require much research, only trust. After a ‘zero draft’, I go back and check what I’ve written—places, cultural references, etc.—for accuracy. Mostly, I use the Internet to fact check (I do check more than one source!), or I ask my brilliant husband who is a walking encyclopedia and stickler for details.
What didn’t you mention in the synopsis that you can reveal here?
Willis Hancocks, Jr. is struggling with the passing of his estranged, wealthy father who, in the wake of his death, has left him an obscene amount of money. Willis is trying to reconcile his father’s parting gift while grieving his unrequited feelings and the emotional bond they never shared.
If you had to do the experience of writing your work over, would you still write it? Would you change it?
I would write it all over again, and I would write it all the same to the best of my memory.
How did you choose the story you wrote?
I think the story chose me. My first spark of inspiration for the story came from when I was in London, going through an underground walkway to get to the other side of a street beside Hyde Park. I walked past a man who was in a sleeping bag in the tunnel. He had a backpack with him. Of course, I’ve seen many homeless people on sidewalks in sleeping bags, but I just happened to think “what if he isn’t homeless? What if he is just a young guy backpacking around?” He stayed with me, so I came home and started writing about him. Then the other characters just came along and jumped on board.
How did you choose the title?
The title really just came to me in a flash. I thought about the symbolism of turnstiles: destinations, going through certain rites of discovery, rites of passage, trains, being turned around. Yes, Turnstiles.
How did you decide on the cover and did you design it or did you use a professional designer?
I had the opportunity to choose my own book cover, but the decision was also made through consulting with a professional designer at Inkwater Press. I wanted an image that represents the book in a way that is symbolic and intriguing, but also simple and concrete.
Can you summarize your book in 140 characters or less (Tweet size)?
Through personal fortune, misfortune, travel and social interactions, the characters learn to accept their path and take control of their destiny.
Who were the authors that influenced you? What about them and their style appeals to you?
Patrick Lane, Diana Gabaldon, and Dostoyevsky. I believe I have found my own voice in my writing, but these authors gave me permission, in a sense, to go a little deeper: to explore the dark, the sad, and the honest; to explore the human inner workings of the heart and mind. They write simply and colourfully.
What did you learn that surprised you while writing your book? What was the most difficult part?
I was surprised by how I could pull little threads of my own life into the book—experiences, lessons, books I’ve read, places I’ve visited, ideas—and make it work as fiction.
What types of hobbies do you have? Do these activities find their way into your books?
Aside from reading books and writing, I like to play piano. I also like to work on scrapbooks. I’m not sure these activities find a tangible way into my writing, but I am a nostalgic person, and I navigate through life based on sensory and feeling.
What is your favorite time of the year and why? And did you incorporate that into your story? How?
I love summer. Yes, summer is depicted in Turnstiles—I believe that people are more free and open to explore and interact when they are in warm, comfortable weather. Summer gives way to movement.
Have you traveled at all? How has that experience helped in your writing career? How has the type of employment you’ve had helped to enhance your writing career?
I have traveled extensively, but I’ve never lived anywhere else. I’ve been to Europe and the UK numerous times, across Canada, New York, California, Hawaii, Cuba, Mexico, Norway, Morocco and Estonia. Experiencing other places, cultures and meeting people from all over the world has definitely influenced my writing and the way I perceive the world as a community.
I’ve also been fortunate to be employed in many writing positions: publishing assistant, copywriter, and communications officer. Currently I am working as a correspondence writer in government. It helps to work with people, situations, and words all day long.
What do you feel is the best personal quality you bring to your writing career?
I feel that my intuition is the best quality I bring to my writing.
Who are your top five favorite authors? And which book of theirs is your favorite?
Patrick Lane (There Is A Season: a memoir), Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice; Sense and Sensibility), Diana Gabaldon (The entire Outlander Series), Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes, ’Tis, Teacher Man), Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment).
Tell us something about yourself that you don’t usually share with anyone but close friends.
I come across as being quiet and a bit shy. I do tend to like staying in my comfort zones, but I’m also quite social. People close to me know that my mind is always buzzing, and I am just busy taking in the world, reflecting and formulating my thoughts. Another little secret of mine that I usually only discuss with people who are close to me is that I am quite interested in the paranormal and feel that I am slightly more receptive or closer to spiritual energies.
Where do you see your writing career going? Why do you think that?
I hope to see my writing career flourish. My ultimate goal would be to write full-time and stay home with my boys. There are more books in me to write—both fiction and poetry.
Do you have a special theme, or design that you intend to continue throughout your career as your signature item?
I am drawn to writing about the internal lives of my characters. I believe my stories are more character-driven than plot-driven; it is the choices the characters make that dictate the way they change, think, and behave. In turn, these choices cause a shift in the way everything outside of them changes, too.
What is your end goal for your writing career?
I simply hope I am able to publish more books and that my books are enjoyed.
Do you use a pen name, why? What is your real name?
My pen name is Andrea McKenzie Raine, which isn’t a stretch from my real name. McKenzie is my maiden name and my first book of poetry, A Mother’s String, was published under that name. When I got married, I didn’t want the trail of my previously published poems to vanish for future readers; my husband also reminded me that I had been writing Turnstiles long before I set my eyes on him.
Turnstiles by Andrea McKenzie Raine is available on Amazon now. Pick up your copy today!