Behind the Scenes of The Nearly Girl – It’s Nearly 1986 Again!
I am neither a poet nor a philosopher. I don’t take drugs and I don’t smoke. I am neither a psychiatrist nor a hoarder. And I am not a body-builder or a mother.
But while writing The Nearly Girl, I was all of these things, and more!
And not only that, but I got to hang out in my favourite decade, the 1980’s! 1986, to be exact.
And while it was fun to travel back in time to the land of Joan Collins, Linda Evans and the Ewing family, back to shoulder pads, Madonna in her youth, fingerless lace gloves and big hair, it was harder than I had thought it would be, to not let anachronisms creep in.
There were the obvious things to look out for, of course, like no internet, no email, no cell phones (well, there were a few cell phones but they weighed as much as a Hummer and cost a king’s ransom) but a few things slipped by me that I would have died of chagrin had they been published.
For example, Marvel comic bed linen for kids, and Booster Juice. Neither of those existed! Video games were a whole different thing and no one wandered around attached to an electronic device. (Please note, I am not making a judgment statement here – I am one of the most attached-to-my-devices people I know! I justify it to myself by calling my phone my ‘portable office’ but that doesn’t really explain checking Facebook at midnight!)
And if you smoked in the 1980’s, it was a completely different experience – you could smoke anywhere and any time.
In the book, I had a group of people leave a poetry reading to go outside for a smoke, only to realize that there was no need for them to do that – why would people go outside in the middle of winter if they didn’t need to smoke?
But in truth, apart from the smoking, the Internet, Booster Juice and the contemporary bed-linen design, there isn’t that much in The Nearly Girl that directly places you in 1986 because the novel is about people who don’t fit in, as opposed to those who do, regardless of the year, or the fashions or the trends.
Most of my research on 1986 went towards creating the backstory and while gathering it was fun, I only ended using a very small percentage of it.
Which is par for the course, for writing, isn’t it? We amass reams of information all of which is vital for the story’s foundation but, like most foundations, it lies hidden beneath the surface. Without a strong foundation, your book is like a house of cards balancing on a hillside, with a tropical storm in the forecast.
Researching backstory is one of my favourite parts of writing a novel. I admit that I can easily over-research and I have to stop myself and sometimes, for this reason, I only do the research once a particular passage actually calls for something specific.
The Internet is a blessing and a curse for the wealth of information you can find and there’s so much awesome stuff out there that you’re tempted to work into a story and it can take a tremendous amount of discipline (or a very good editor!) to chop the extraneous bits out.
A lot of people are interested in where I got the idea for The Nearly Girl and it came from two things.
The first was my own inability to get certain things right (but I did get them very wrong) like cleaning the dishes with Vim or keeping all my manuscripts in the oven (I really don’t cook much and this seemed like a sound use of otherwise wasted storage space).
But as every author knows, while our own idiosyncrasies can sow the seeds of a good tale, we are generally way too boring to feature as any kind of central character and therefore, I developed Amelia, a lovely girl of whom I am very fond; a robust, Joan of Arc heroine.
Admittedly, she is a heroine in need of therapy in order to keep her welfare benefits and that’s where Dr. Frances Carroll comes in.
I read The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart in my early twenties and since that time, I wanted to create a therapist with his own unique brand of treatment and that is why I came up with Dr. Carroll and his Do The Opposite Thing therapy.
In The Dice Man, the psychiatrist uses the dice to make decisions for himself and his patients, and as you can imagine, the consequences are disastrous – but fascinating. And in The Nearly Girl, Dr. Carroll urges his patients to take the opposite action – also, with disastrous and fascinating consequences.
I imagined Dr. Carroll as Paul Giamatti in a cross between his roles in Barney’s Version and Sideways and as such, I found him very amusing.
As a result, a lot of the dialogue in the book is really very funny – we have Dr. Carroll and his unorthodox methods, speaking frankly and challenging his patients with his disarming honesty, not hiding behind ‘therapy-speak’.
I really enjoyed working with the characters in this book; Alexei, the angry blond Russian giant, Whitney, the sex-starved middle-aged housewife, David, who has to discover the secrets behind his marriage, Angelina the hoarder (one of my favourite characters) and of course Amelia and Mike and their love affair.
And I truly loved the relationship between Megan (Amelia’s mother) and Henry the Poet (Amelia’s father). It’s an impossible, improbable love, but a true love despite the circumstance.
I feel there is a purity and an honesty to the emotions and actions in this book, a simplicity that I would liken to Miriam Toews’s A Complicated Kindness and, before readers leap up in horror to protest the comparison of my book to Miriam Toews’, let me get there before they do! Sadly for me, I am no Miriam Toews but she is one of the writers that I strive to emulate and when it comes to The Nearly Girl, I feel that perhaps I was somewhere on the Google map vicinity of trying to achieve what A Complicated Kindness so fully did achieve. (Of course, it depends on your level of zoom!)
I would like to say a huge thanks to Mandy Eve Barnett for having me as a guest on this blog and also for blurbing the book and having faith in it – I felt you summed it up exactly with your blurb:
“A fast paced and illuminating story where endeavouring to conform to society’s perception of normal, exposes the masks of illusion. Amelia Fisher’s unconventional upbringing with an LSD addicted poet father and an emotionally distant body building mother leads her to attending sessions with a crazy doctor. Whose unorthodox method called D.T.O.T. – ‘Do the Opposite Thing” has significant repercussions on his patients including Amelia. A chance discovery propels Amelia and fellow attendee, Mike with whom she is in love, are plunged into a life-threatening situation instigated by the doctor’s own dark secret. Hidden twists abound with growing tension culminating in a surprising ending.”
I feel that, with this book, my truest writerly voice that I have been working on all these years, is finally making itself heard and I very much hope that the readers will enjoy the novel. And I hope, readers, that you will let me know what you think – I would really love that!
Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits has lived in Canada since 2000. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Philosophy and has lived in the U.S.A., Australia and Britain. Lisa lives and writes in Toronto. The Nearly Girl is her sixth novel. Previous works include: The Hungry Mirror (2011 IPPY Awards Gold Medal for Women’s Issues Fiction and long-listed for a ReLit Award); West of Wawa (2012 IPPY Silver Medal Winner for Popular Fiction and a Chatelaine Editor’s Pick); A Glittering Chaos (tied to win the 2014 Silver IPPY for Popular Fiction); The Witchdoctor’s Bones launched in Spring 2014 to literary acclaim. Between The Cracks She Fell was reviewed by the Quill & Quire, was on the recommended reading lists for Open Book Toronto and 49th Shelf. Between The Cracks She Fell was also reviewed by Canadian Living magazine and called ‘a must-read book of 2015’. Between The Cracks She Fell won a Bronze IPPY Award 2016 for Contemporary Fiction. No Fury Like That is scheduled to be published in 2017 and Rotten Peaches in 2018. All books by Inanna Publications.
Lisa has a short story in Postscripts To Darkness, Volume 6, 2015, and flash fiction and a short story in the debut issue of Maud.Lin House as well as poetry in the Canadian Women Studies Journal (Remembering, 2013, and Water, 2015). Her short stories have also appeared on Lynn Crosbie’s site, Hood and the Jellyfish Review. She has a short story coming out in the anthology PAC’HEAT, a Ms. Pac-Man noir collection and a short story in the Sisters In Crime anthology, November 2016, The Whole She-Bang 3.
Author website: lisadenikolitswriter.com
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/lisadenikolitsauthor/
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