Insecure Writer's Support Group Day and Who Is Frances Rain?

Happy Insecure Writer's Support Group Day!

I was thinking for IWSG Day, that it's a good idea to allow ourselves to take a break once in a while -- and to not feel guilty when we do so!

In that spirit, and in honour of the 30th anniversary next year of the publication of Who Is Frances Rain? by Margaret Buffie, I'm reposting my interview with the author!

Visit Buffie's blog for more information about her books, as well as some gorgeous photography!

I'm very pleased to be hosting Margaret Buffie herself here today! I asked her all sorts of random questions and she obliged me...

On Writing

Where do you do most of your writing?

I do most of my writing in my second floor office in my home. The house was built in 1910, and I love to look out at the old elms along the street as I work and think about the history of my city. I also write at my lake cottage.

What do you need to help you write?

I start with a pencil and lined notebook for the first few chapters. Then I go to my computer. I also set up music to create the mood for each different storyline. Hard to explain. But it works for me. Add many cups of tea and I'm good.

Do you have stories that might never see light of day?

I have many ideas that I doubt will get published. I have two "adult" manuscripts from years ago that I still "intend to work on" but I find I'm always working on a YA novel first. One of them is on the second burner as I write this newest YA. Actually I am kind of writing both at once... new idea for me, but fun...

What's your earliest memory related to writing?

I was in grade four and I had written a story for my much adored teacher, Miss Day. I was walking beside her during recess and she said to me, "You know, Margaret, I think you may be a writer one day." I'm sure she was just being sweet, but I believed her.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I spend a lot of time with my family. I am also an artist and a photographer – and I love to cook. (And of course I read a lot!)

Which of your characters is most like you?

Mmm. Tough one. I know I put a part of me into every character. I "feel" as if I am that character while I am writing their story. In Who is Frances Rain?, for instance, I am part of all three modern characters – Lizzie, her mom and her gran. But I am not Frances Rain. I would never be as independent and brave as she was. But I admire her tremendously, because she paid a big price for her independence.

Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?

I think what makes them believable is my deep connection with them. To me they are very real as I explore their stories.

Names are very important to me. The name Frances, for instance, means "free" which suits my character to a "T". I chose Lizzie McGill for the main character, because that was my grandmother's name. Every name I choose is carefully picked. I also avoid trendy "modern" names and stick to names that are more traditional, yet powerful. (To me.)

On Reading

Who is your favourite literary character not your own?

My favourite literary character is Barbara Pym's character Mildred Lathsbury in Excellent Women. Mildred has always observed life from a distance, but the new people who arrive to live in her house somehow change how she looks at everything. I also love another of her characters, Jane, in Jane and Prudence. Jane is so honest, messy, intuitive and funny. I adore her. I also love Inspector Maigret who is the creation of French writer Georges Simenon. His second best character in that amazing series is Paris!

Who is your favourite author?

I have many. But when the chips are down, I bet you can guess who it is. Yep. Barbara Pym! She's brilliant.

Who inspired you to write?

Me! (And Miss Day...) But I didn't start writing until my late thirties. Up to then I was a visual artist. No one even knew I was writing except my husband and daughter. I was reading YA books along with my daughter and loving so many of them, that soon, I was reading many on my own. An idea for my own novel kind of dropped into my lap – and I decided to try writing it. Fell in love with the whole process. Kept going. Haven't stopped yet!

Do you have a favourite writing-related quote?

I saw this quote by Barbara Kingsolver once, in a book of quotes, and I copied it and put it up on my bulletin board, because it is exactly how I feel about my own writing.

"Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer."

On Research

Do you do all your own research or have others help you?

I do all my own research.

What's the weirdest thing you've researched?

"Box privies" – or outdoor toilets that did not have a hole in the ground at all! Ack! They were supposed to be cleared out by city workers which was not regularly done. These were still in use in the early 1900's on city streets in Canada, and the fetid waste and hoards of flies were the cause of much illness and death in the poorest areas of those cities.

On Who Is Frances Rain?

Have you ever considered writing a sequel to the story, perhaps something that happens to a child of Lizzie's?

I have been asked this question often by readers. I did consider it, but I simply don't have a story to tell...yet.

Do you still feel close to the story and characters?

Yes, very much. Maybe that's why I felt that this story was "complete" because when it was finished I felt I could move on to something different.

Was the story written in linear fashion?

In way yes .. and in a way no. I wrote the first few chapters pretty quickly. Then the story ground to a halt. It became clear to me that I had no idea how to take this story where I wanted it to go. So I decided to do a plan or general outline of it and test some ideas. This fluid outline changed many times as the story evolved. But I kept reworking it. A few times I changed the plan here and there to the point where I had to go back and rework sections of the manuscript. I still work this way. I think it keeps the story fresh - and open to change.

What was the first image or scene that inspired this story?

I was cleaning up a small island near our lake cabin, so my daughter and her cousin's kids could play on it safely. There was a very old refuse dump on it and I became an archeologist in a way as I sifted through it. I found some gorgeous bottles, medical and old fruit syrup types etc. and a lot of broken china. But I did find an old heavy mug still intact with debris in it. When I dropped the little pile onto my lap, I found an object wrapped in shattered pieces of oil cloth. Out dropped a pair of wire glasses. I held them to my eyes and looked across the water, and wondered what it would be like to see a canoe paddling toward me from out of the past. I still have the glasses and the mug. (And the bottles and other things I found.) I knew there was the remains of a trapper's cabin across the lake under a small circle of trees and I wondered if the glasses belonged to him. But what if the trapper was a woman in my story? That was the kernel of the idea for Who is Frances Rain?

What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?

For me organizing the story is always the biggest challenge. But once I wrestled Who is Frances Rain? back on track - so that I was able to have my characters say what they really wanted to say; to develop the story; and present the setting almost as another character - it became a complete joy to write.

Is there anything you would change in Lizzie's story if you could?

No. Nothing. I could probably write it a bit better today, I suppose, but it is what it is and I am very proud of it.

What are some of the most memorable events that have happened to you as a result of this story?

The first memorable thing that happened was that Who is Frances Rain? was nominated for the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year award – and was the runner up in that – and it also got great reviews. But best of all, shortly after, it was also nominated for the Young Adult Canadian Book Award by the same group and it won!

[How wonderful!]

Another memorable event and a very nasty one for me, happened just after I had finished a reading to a class in Montreal during Children's Book week (put on by The Canadian Book Centre) a year or so after "Frances Rain" was published. A reporter called there, asking how I felt about bring banned from an Ottawa school, where my next reading was to take place a few days later.

This kicked off a news event of sorts across Canada's newspapers. The Ottawa principal began to slur my name calling me a "difficult" author and that I had "demanded" unreasonable things etc. He had not read the book, of course, (these people rarely do) because his librarian highlighted words and scenes and dialogue for him that she decided might make it a problem. As I had never spoken to anyone from the school at all, his comments were completely false. I did have one supporter besides my family – a public librarian from Montreal who stood by me all the way - and I will always be grateful for her support.

When I came back to Winnipeg, another librarian from a local school, who had asked me to do a reading there, read the "banning" news in the papers, and showed them to her principal. He, of course, also did not read the book. I was consequently "uninvited" from his school. When challenged by local media, this second principal also blamed me, saying I was "difficult." Of course, I had had no personal contact with either him or the librarian. Ironically, the article about the censoring of my novel was written up in a Canadian children's lit periodical a few months later and they talked about the events - adding comments from the principal in Ottawa. However, no one from that periodical thought to talk to me! I protested in writing, and they then asked me to write about my experience. Which I did!

[I hadn't heard any of this before! Lucky for me that I had no trouble getting my hands on a copy in our school library!]

If this story was made into a film (and I wish it would be!), who would you have as the leading actors?

It was actually discussed – once with Anna Paquin as a possible Lizzie. She is now a grown adult of course! Sadly the people involved in the US negotiations could not come to an agreement with my publisher regarding the contract. However My Mother's Ghost was ultimately the book that was made into a film. Maybe someday Frances Rain will live on the screen. I would have to see who would suit the roll in the future, as young actors grow up so quickly!

Which of your favourite books are celebrating a long-term anniversary this year?


Crystal Collier said…
Honestly, I don't know if any of my favorite books are the type people "celebrate." They're all fiction stories that set my mind on fire when I was young. Granted, one of them is a bigger deal for younger audiences (The Whipping Boy).
Yolanda Renée said…
I completed my trilogy this year. All three books published. Now I just want to move on and begin new things, and I have, but will I finish them, that's the question!
Great interview!
Box Privies! I have to tell my family that one. My hubby filled ours in a few years ago. I miss it when the grandkids are here. Great interview, Deniz. You asked some great questions.
Michael Di Gesu said…
Hi, Denize...

Those were such great questions. WOW... Impressive interview.

2017 will be the 20th anniversary of JK Rowlings first book, HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE...

ITs still one of my favs that I read at leas one every few years.
emaginette said…
I love the close the door quote and always have. :-)

Anna from elements of emaginette
Well, now I know what a box privy is! Sounds awful.
Margaret would cringe at the rapid-fire way I chose names for my characters...
Nas said…
Great interview and good questions/answers. Was fun to read this! Thanks Deniz for posting!
Denise Covey said…
Great interview. Well, Shakespeare celebrated being dead 400 years this year, or at least his fans did. He's pretty much up there for me! And I adore the Barbara Kingsolver quote. Nails it.
Hope your writing goes well, Deniz! :-)
Denise D. Young said…
I love this interview! I feel bad for what this author suffered at the hands of people who didn't even take the time to read her book--seriously, ugh. I love the image of writing in a home office/study overlooking rows of old elm trees. Fantastic!
dolorah said…
Awesome interview; and great writing inspirations and motivation. Good luck Ms Buffie :)
A pencil and lined notebook sounds about right. I love long hand.
The Kingsolver quote is spot on!
Writer In Transit
Zan Marie said…
I'm all about taking a break. In fact, I'm just trying to sneak in a look out at the wider world this morning since my cataract surgery on Wednesday. I'm taking the week off and I'm loving the downtime. Reading, anyone?
Deniz Bevan said…
So glad you all enjoyed the interview!

I can't believe it's already been 20 years, Michael. Where does all the time go??

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