Alice Soon

My Literary Life & other obsessions…



I’m pleased to feature an interview with a fellow author and Torontonian, Eddie Mark, as he discusses the process of writing his debut novel, THE GARDEN OF UNFORTUNATE SOULS.

But first, here is a brief synopsis:

In 1980s Buffalo, New York, the recession has transformed the city’s proudest African American neighborhood into a ghetto. Loretta Ford, an eccentric single mother and religious fanatic, survives for years by masquerading as the owner of a dead woman’s house. Her reclusive life is interrupted when an unlikely incident brings the mayor of Buffalo to her home in the middle of the night. Their secret meeting sets off a chain of events that will leave two families altered forever. With all the passion of a Shakespearean tragedy and a cast of characters never to be forgotten, The Garden of Unfortunate Souls vividly depicts the consequences of violence, sex, and gender conflict in African American communities.

Now, the fun part – THE INTERVIEW:

1) Where did you get the concept for this novel and what inspired you to write it?

For years, I taught in an inner city public school where I knew quite a few children who were being physically and emotionally scarred by their parents’ use of corporal punishment against them. Often I would hear parents speak of it as a necessary evil to protect their children from the greater dangers of the urban environment (gangs, drugs, police violence, etc.). I’ve always questioned that theory and wanted to write a novel that explored this issue from the perspectives of the children and their parents—sort of present both sides of the debate. And then I wanted to look at it through the eyes of two culturally different African American families.

As for the specific scenes and characters, all of those are completely imagined. Some writers construct their storylines from actual experience. I get most of my mine from daydreaming, although the scene with the young man crashing into the main character’s home was inspired by a real-life event back in the nineties when this actually happened at a house I was living in at the time.

2) You have developed many conflicted and interesting characters – How do you conceive and develop your characters and decide how they will interact with one another?

For me, the key is to take an interest in people. Developing convincing characters is less about what I do on paper and more about how I handle my interpersonal relationships with others. The more a writer understands the motivations and backstories of real-life human beings, the more authentic and interesting his or her characters will be when it’s time to write the story. All people interest me, regardless of their backgrounds. I’ll meet and have a conversation with a university professor just as easily I’ll have one with a homeless man on the street. It helps me understand people in the world better, which leads to more complex and convincing characters on paper.
3) You are originally from Buffalo, NY. How much of this contributed to the setting of your novel?

Well, naturally, I’ve always found it easier to be authentic when I write about a place I know well. But Buffalo is the kind of city I’d love to write about even if it weren’t my hometown. It has its challenges, but few cities have as much history and scenic beauty. And the people are genuine. I think all of that is reflected in my novel.

4) What do you want readers to take away from reading your novel?

I’d want them to consider the long-term consequences of corporal punishment. Because in many ways, the rampant violence in our urban streets is simply an outgrowth of the violence practiced in our homes. When children are whipped, slapped, pinched, grabbed, and beaten with weapons, we’re teaching them that the way to handle conflict is to somehow hurt the offending person. So we need to find alternatives to corporal punishment. Sure, society often condones and celebrates it. But if the exact same level of force were turned against an adult, it would be a criminal assault. Just because the victim is a minor doesn’t make it better or right.

5) What is your favourite part about writing? What is your least favourite part?

My favourite part is probably the revision process. I don’t write very good first drafts. So it’s fun to watch all that bad writing morph into something more presentable. It takes a long time, but it’s worth it. My least favourite part is the long, drawn-out process of actually trying to get stories into print. Not a lot of fun.

6) What books are you reading right now?

As far as non-academic literature, I’m currently reading Dear Life by Alice Munro. I’ve actually been reading a number of Canadian authors lately, which is fitting since my next novel will most likely be set in Canada.

7) What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Be patient. Writing something worthwhile and getting it published is not a quick process. Actually, it’s quite long and exhausting—full of rejections, revisions, and delays. But don’t give up. Good writing will get published eventually. Maybe not today. But eventually.

Thanks Eddie for your time!

Rosa Wang Photography (

Rosa Wang Photography

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Interview with Brenda Corey Dunne – Author of DEPENDENT

I’m pleased to have a chance to speak to the author of DEPENDENT – Brenda Corey Dunne!
But first, a bit about the book:

When 45-year-old Ellen Michaels loses her husband to a tragic military accident, she is left in a world of gray. For 25 years her life has been dictated by the ubiquitous They—the military establishment that has included her like chattel with John’s worldly goods—his Dependents, Furniture, and Effects. They—who have stolen her hopes, her dreams and her innocence, and now in mere months will take away the roof over her head. Ellen is left with nothing to hold on to but memories and guilt and an awful secret that has held her in its grip since she was 19. John’s untimely death takes away her anchor, and now, without the military, there is no one to tell her where to go, what to do— no one to dictate who she is. Dependent deals with issues ever-present in today’s service families—early marriage, frequent long absences, the culture of rank, and posttraumatic stress, as well as harassment and abuse of power by higher-ranking officials. It presents a raw and realistic view of life for the lives of the invisible support behind the uniform.
A terse, no-holds-barred and uncompromising view of spousal life within the military. Dunne paints a realistic portrait of the husbands and wives who stay behind when those in the uniform go on to serve their country, illuminating the silent sacrifices demanded of a military spouse.

Elegantly structured, Dunne chooses to organize her book in chapters based upon her family’s multiple military relocations. (i.e. House #1, House #8, House #13, etc…) This works, because it clearly illustrates the challenge all military families must face when attempting to find stability amidst a career filled with uncertainty and potential chaos.

Ultimately, the novel explores one woman’s journey to realize her own identity and self-worth after years of being overshadowed by her husband’s accomplishments, while bravely attempting to conceal a terrible secret. Ellen Michaels must reach deep within herself to reclaim the strength and the vitality she once knew she had.

Overall, this book exposes difficult, but worthwhile themes that are essential for discussion, particularly in light of our contemporary political and societal landscape.

(My only suggestion is I would have liked the setting to be more concrete. I felt the locations where untethered, flopping about in some vague ‘North American” city or village or town that may or may not have snow. I would have liked the settings to be more specific. i.e. We are in New Brunswick, in the town of XXX. Or we are in Wisconsin, etc…It helps to keep the reader more oriented in the story.)

Otherwise, a swift read and faithful representation of the valiant spouses who support our men and women in uniform every single day.


And now, to the best part – THE INTERVIEW:

1) What inspired you to write this book?

About 8 years ago I was a stay-at-home mom and military spouse. My husband was a military pilot who was away for months at a time, and my kids were young. But I was also an ex-military physiotherapist who had let all of her personal achievements slide. One day I took a really good look at my life and realized that if I didn’t do something—and quickly—I was going to be in my forties, and still home with no kids to look after and nothing but my husband’s military status to base my self worth on. It terrified me. And so I sat down and wrote those fears in fictional form—what later became DEPENDENT.

2) What was your favourite part about writing this book?

DEPENDENT was not an easy book to write. There is a lot of emotion in the book and I had to put down the manuscript down many, many times as I wrote it. I think my favourite moments were those moments when I picked it up again, re-read what I had written, and recognized that I had succesfully captured the feel of being a military spouse in a certain situation—moving with toddlers, missing a spouse who is away, dealing with broken household equipment on your own, or meeting new spouses at a new base. It’s very rewarding to recognize reality in your own writing.

3) The structure of the book (using the various houses) was very compelling & interesting. What prompted you to structure the chapters this way?

Military spouses move frequently (case in point, my family and I spent early July driving from Ottawa to Vancouver Island—a 5000 km trip—to our 10th house), and we often remember the timing of life events by what house we were in at the time, or what city we were living in. I thought it was appropriate to use this structure because this is the way military spouses describe the timeline of their lives.

4) Were there any drawbacks to this structure?

Many. When I finished writing the first draft, DEPENDENT was really just a jumbled bunch of snapshots. I printed the manuscript off, paper-clipped each section off, and then reorganized them into some sort of structure. It was difficult to make the story flow and not confuse the reader. I wanted to move the story forward in both past and present, eventually colliding the two. Hopefully I succeeded.

5) Who is your favourite character in the book & why?

I do love John…his joie de vivre, and his love of his wife. He’s really just a happy guy doing his job, and in his defense, it’s not really his fault that he doesn’t recognize his wife’s troubles. I also love the steady friendship of Jennifer. She has qualities of several of my closest military spouse friends—quiet strength, patience, and the intuition to offer help when it’s needed most.

6) What are some of your favourite books of all time?

I have so many! Books are friends that never change, they just reflect the changes in my perception. I really love a good escape book and I’ve read just about everything by Anne McCaffery. I loved her DRAGONSINGER/DRAGONSONG/DRAGONDRUMS trilogy. Tammara Webber’s BETWEEN THE LINES series—a wonderful relationship series that was originally self pubbed—encouraged me to go the self-publication route for my first novel. And who can beat PRIDE AND PREJUDICE for wit, dialogue and dreamy romance? I could read it a hundred times and never be bored.

7) Where and when do you prefer to write?

My absolute favourite place to write is the kitchen table. With a fresh cup of coffee, the kids off to school and some quiet piano music playing in the background. Heaven.

8) How long have you been writing? When did you start?

I wrote for the school newspaper in high-school, and had several small articles published in local newspapers through the years. As mentioned above, I also wrote a few chapters of DEPENDENT in 2004, but I didn’t consider writing a real, honest-to-goodness novel until I was living in the Cotswolds in England about 6 years ago. The scenery around me screamed WRITE! And so I did. I sat down and started my first full-length manuscript, a middle grade fantasy, which I completed about eleven months later. It’s an amazing feeling writing those two words: The End. I was hooked and haven’t looked back.

9) What other books are you currently working on? What are they about (if you’re allowed to say)?

I have two completed YA manuscripts in the hands of Jennifer Mishler, my agent—one is an urban fantasy about selkies, the other is a pre-dystopian similar to THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. And I’m working on two others. One is a YA historical fiction—a sequel to my self published debut, TREASURE IN THE FLAME. It’s set in early eastern Canada, and has a mix of pirates, romance and magic. Kind of like PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN meets ANNE OF GREEN GABLES. The other that I’m working on is a story about the meaning of ‘home’ to military families who move around every few years.

10) What advice do you have to aspiring authors?

I think all authors need to figure out what they want from their writing. To make goals—realistic goals—and stick with them just like with any other career. Short term, long term and dream goals. If your goal is just to write your memoirs that’s one thing. But writing as an actual career rarely happens without many, many years of work, patience and perseverance. If that’s what you want it’s up to you to find the way to make it happen.
My other advice, ironically, is to take all advice with a grain of salt. There are SO MANY conflicting opinions out there…about everything from query letters to numbering your manuscript pages. The internet is full of 20 easy steps to making a million as a writer! It just about drove me insane when I was starting out. Now I realize that there are few hard rules in writing. And sometimes the people who break the rules are the ones that are the most successful. The key is to find what makes your writing unique, and stick with it.

Brenda grew up in rural New Brunswick, Canada. She originally trained as a physiotherapist and worked several years as a Physiotherapy Officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force before meeting the love of her life and taking her release.


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