Thanks for joining us at the book club Lisa. Can we begin by having you tell us how you got into writing?
It’s the only thing I have ever been naturally good at! I had a love of books from a very early age and I just instinctively knew that that was what I wanted to do with my life. That was my place in the world, being a storyteller.
Why did you choose to write novels in the suspense thriller genre?
Actually I didn’t! Suspense and thrillers are just one kind of book that I write. I write about whatever fascinates me or holds my interest and it doesn’t have to be suspense thrillers. Although that said, five of the seven books that I have written are suspense thrillers, as is the 8th novel that I am working on. I think that the suspense thriller framework is such a great one device to showcase characters and it’s a great way to test morality. I am all about morality – what is absolute morality? Is there even such a thing? And what do ‘good’ people do when they are put in situations that test their ethics and their religions and all the things that they hold dear? That would be the main thrust of my writing, the main focus, studying what people will sacrifice by way of morality, when they are thrust into difficult circumstances.
Where is your book set and why did you choose that location?
The idea came from urban exploration. I love being an urban explorer and I have set off alarms more than once, I can tell you! I truly do live by the code; go in if you can find a way, don’t break things, don’t destroy, don’t steal, leave everything as you found it.
I often search websites looking for places that other explorers have posted and I found a mentioned of an old school a couple of hours outside of Toronto and I persuaded my husband to take a trip.
The first time we went was in the middle of winter and there was definitely enough there to pique our interest in returning in the spring.
In the meantime, I did some research and found that the school had been many things in its time; a prisoner-of-war camp for German officers in the Second World War, an English school for Chinese immigrants and an Islamic school, the last of which had fallen to bankruptcy and the local government was trying to figure out what should be done with it.
When we returned to the school, it was very easy to get into all the buildings (of which there were many). In one room, I found some scraps of paper written by a former student, some ramblings, a poem and some homework and that made me wonder about the kids who had boarded there.
I’d like to know more about Between The Cracks She Fell. Can you give us a little background into why you wrote the novel?
The idea for this book came from three ideas that intersected.
The first idea presented itself via me a young man who had been disowned by his family. I had recently started a new job and I had immediately felt a connection with this guy – let’s call him Ashley – because he, like me, was originally from South Africa and he had come to Canada in 2000, as had I.
When I asked him about his family, he told me that he didn’t see them any more, that they had disowned him, he was excommunicated.
I was incredibly shocked. I come from a very close-knit family and I can’t imagine something like that.
“But why on earth would they do that?” I asked.
“Because I’m gay,” he said to which I replied that wasn’t any reason at all to kick him out.
“They’re Jehovah’s Witnesses,” he said as if that explained everything but I still didn’t understand and he explained their way of thinking, that homosexuality is a sin and he needed to repent, or he would not go to heaven along with his family.
“But surely they speak to you in secret?” I asked, simply unable to grasp the concept of one’s family just abandoning a member like that. “How old are you?” I asked him.
“I’m twenty-two,” he said, “and they don’t speak to me. Not even my twin sister. My Mom meets me for coffee every six months or so, to see if I have repented, or if she can persuade me to.”
“Not even your twin sister,” I echoed. “I just can’t get my head around that. How long ago did this happen?”
“Two years ago. I’ve been fine really. I couldn’t live a lie. The funny thing was, or maybe it’s not so funny, I was actually going to propose to my long-time girlfriend, ask her to marry me but then instead, I ended up telling her I am gay.” He grinned. “Not exactly what she was expecting. But I needed to do it. I didn’t have a choice. Or, I did have a choice, I could live my whole life a lie or I could be myself.”
I just knew that I would find a way to write about his story. He was so lovely, so gentle and so kind, a talented artist and we soon became good friends. I asked him if I could use him as a muse in a story that was forming in my head and he agreed.
The second idea came from urban exploration. I love being an urban explorer and I have set off alarms more than once, I can tell you! I do live by the code; go in if you can find a way, don’t break things, don’t destroy, don’t steal, leave everything as you found it.
I often search websites looking for places that other explorers have posted and I found a mention of an old school a couple of hours outside of Toronto and I persuaded my husband to take a trip.
The first time we went was in the middle of winter and there was definitely enough there to pique our interest in returning in the spring.
In the meantime, I did some research and found that the school had been many things in its time; a prisoner-of-war camp for German officers in the Second World War, an English school for Chinese immigrants and an Islamic school, the last of which had fallen into bankruptcy and the local government was trying to figure out what should be done with it.
When we returned to the school, it was very easy to get into all the buildings (of which there were many). In one room, I found some scraps of paper written by a former student; some ramblings, a poem and some homework and that made me wonder about the kids who had boarded there.
So I had three things which converged into a single book idea… firstly, Ashley being disfellowshipped. Then the school with the Islamic kid’s jottings (Islam, a religion with which I was unfamiliar, a religion which is clearly having a powerful impact on the world and about which I wanted to learn more), and then, the school itself.
The history of the buildings was so remarkable, and so was the destruction that had been wrecked upon them; violent damage that had taken concentration and work and focus and I found myself wondering about the perpetrators of all that ruin.
What kind of kids (or young adults) would have that much anger, and that much time to invest in the almost-systematic destruction of a place?
I knew I had good ideas for an overall story but I still needed a protagonist and I found her fairly easily.
A friend of mine had been talking about her primary reason for marrying her husband and it was because she could trace his genealogy back to the first settlers of Canada – he came from a solid bloodline and she wanted that for her children.
“Imagine,” she said, “not knowing the genetic pool from which you’ve sprung. It’s unthinkable!”
At least, it was unthinkable to her. Her comments immediately made me want to develop a character obsessed with her ancestry because this was something that couldn’t have interested (or worried) me less in my real life.
I think that’s why I write books – I try to explore themes about things that I really am unperturbed by but which seem to cause others a lot of distress, and religion is surely one of them, along with family trees.
I’d like to know more about your main character. Can you tell us more about him/her?
I had decided that my main character, an immigrant young woman from England, would take a summer to live off the grid in the old school and somehow become involved with the young Islamic student and a fellow who echoed my disfellowshipped friend.
Homelessness, religion… surely the kiss of death for a novel? I did have other aspects for sure, the young kids who destroyed the school were to play a large role, headed up by Lenny, one of my favourite fictional bad boys ever, and there was also the ex-boyfriend of my protagonist; he was the main reason she ended up homeless and alone. And there would be crime, of course there would, Ashley’s boyfriend was a shady realtor, Imran (the Islamic student) seemed intent on jihad (or was that just an idle threat?) and Lenny’s crime-driven lifestyle would result in a young girl being murdered – all crimes which Joscelyn (the protagonist) solves. All she wants is some time to be left alone, to regroup and think, but she ends up sorting out a whole bunch of crimes and finding resolution in the things that have happened to her.
She also believed that her mother killed her father by hitting him over the head with a cast-iron frying pan and she gets to the bottom of this once and for all.
Can you tell us a little about the other supporting characters?
There’s a group of young kids who destroyed the school my protagonist goes to live in, and they are headed up by Lenny, one of my favourite fictional bad boys ever. And there is also the ex-boyfriend of my protagonist; he is the main reason she ended up homeless and alone. And there is crime, of course there is, Ashley (Joscelyn’s new friend) doesn’t realize his boyfriend is a shady realtor, Imran (the Islamic student) seems intent on jihad (or is that just an idle threat?) and Lenny’s crime-driven lifestyle will result in a young girl being murdered – all crimes which Joscelyn solves. All she wants is some time to be left alone, to regroup and think, but she ends up sorting out a whole bunch of crimes and finding resolution in the things that have happened to her.
She also believes that her mother killed her father by hitting him over the head with a cast-iron frying pan and she gets to the bottom of this once and for all.
So there is a strong supporting cast of intriguingly different characters.
They say all fiction books have pivotal points in the book where the reader just can’t put the book down. What’s one pivotal point in Between The Cracks She Fell?
When Joss discovers who her real father is, and where he is living. She has been trying to find out her entire life and when she learns the truth, it is not what she expected at all.
What’s next on the agenda for you, Lisa?
I am working on three novels: The Nearly Girl (which will be published by Inanna in Fall 2016), No Fury Like That (which is being considered for publication by Inanna for Fall 2017) and Rotten Peaches which I have written to rough first draft and which needs a lot of work. The Nearly Girl is about a girl with a rare psychological disorder; she gets things right but only nearly. For example, she will set off to take a bus to work and she does get on a bus, only it’s the wrong one. She also has no way of feeling extreme heat or cold and is quite happy to take picnics in the snow, wearing only a t-shirt and sandals. As you can imagine, this makes normal life impossible for her, and in order to be eligible for welfare, she has to attend therapy sessions by Dr. Carroll. But Dr. Carroll is a man with secrets of his own – he keeps his family drugged and locked up because they are so untidy and noisy – and Amelia (the protagonist in The Nearly Girl), discovers this and puts her own life in danger by setting them free. The book also features Henry, a poet trying to prove propositional logic with his poems, Meghan, (Amelia’s mother) who is a body-builder, as well as a cast of characters who join Amelia for Dr. Carroll’s unusual brand of therapy, Do The Opposite Thing.
I had such fun writing that book – it’s quite light-hearted and the characters, while somewhat quirky, are all very funny and loveable. I love John Irving’s early works so very much and I sometimes think that some of my characters and plots are reminiscent of Cider House Rules or The World According To Garp, or A Prayer for Owen Meany – although I would never categorize myself in that great writer’s level.
What would you like to say to your readers and fans?
Thank you! Thank you with all my heart. What is the point of writing if there is no one to enjoy it? I appreciate every single reader, every comment, all the feedback. It never ceases to amaze me and I never run out of gratitude.
About The Book
Title: Between The Cracks She Fell
Author: Lisa de Nikolits
Publisher: Inanna Publications
Publication Date: September 15, 2015
Format: Paperback / PDF
Genre: Suspense Thriller
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The award-winning author of the Hungry Mirror, West of Wawa, Glittering Chaos and The Witchdoctor's Bones delivers an original and riveting new novel about societal betrayal, familial loss and religious jihad. A suspenseful and lyrical read, Between The Cracks She Fell is a powerful - first person narrative about the explosive consequences of betrayal, survival in troubled times and the pervasiveness of religious domination.
When Joss finds herself having to make mortgage payments without help from her depressed, stoner boyfriend who has just moved out, and the company she works for folds leaving her suddenly unemployed, she is forced to sell her house, on which she takes a financial loss. She decides to camp out in a vacant complex of school buildings to give herself time to decide what to do next. It turns out the building is used by a gang of teenagers for wild, drug-fueled parties and Jess soon finds herself both repelled by their charismatic evil leader, as well as sexually attracted to him. She knows he is dangerous even before she finds his girlfriend's dead and violently abused body in the school library. During this time, she meets and befriends two other people in difficulty: Emma, a narcissistic thief living with her dog in a stolen car and Ashley, a young homosexual who is heartbroken by the fact that he has been expelled from the Jehovah's Witness church because he is gay. When her former boyfriend reappears as a born again Christian, Joss is immersed in a journal she found that contains the thoughts of a Muslim teenager who becomes increasingly radicalized. Her struggle to understand her former boyfriend and this young man's spiritual quests prepare her to make some hard decisions about her future. Between The Cracks She Fell is about a woman who falls off the grid and the explosive consequences of betrayal, survival in troubled times, and the pervasiveness of religious domination.
I reached my destination with no great sense of joy but at least I wasn't crying.
A purple, red and black pentagram marked the path ahead of me and the sea of grass rolled this way and that and my throat closed and my eyes stung but I swallowed the tears.
I tried to pretend I was Gibreel Farishta, a hero bigger than me; that tuneless soloist tumbling out og thin air; what an entrance, yaar.
First you have to die. Ho ji! Ho ji! How to ever smile again, if first you won't cry?
But there would be no more crying for me. My former life was dead. I needed to escape for a while, hide out and then, once I got my energy back. I would figure out what came next.
Right now all I could say was that I was alive, and that is the point I guess, much like Gibreel, standing, with pigs falling out of his face and no God to help him.
I held my arms aloft and waded through the knotty field, as if paddling through an upward flowing river, pushing forward against the current.
The summer offered shoulder-high fragrant grasses laced with thistles and weeds and despite the misfortunes of past events, I was not blind to the beauty of the tiny lilac flowers or the red roses that grew wild and free.
I could see the buildings in the distances. It had been a while since I had seen them but they sprawled low at the other end of the playing fields, just as I remembered.
I had packed for the task at hand; knife, bottled water, flashlight, pillow. Kind of funny really, how natural this solution felt, like it was some kind of okay. It wasn't the first time I'd purposefully left the grid; my first solo adventure had taken place when I was eleven. Tired of school, friends, mother, swimming lessons, and tuck shop lunches, I hid out in a farmer's shed, armed with books and apples and bars of chocolate. i stayed for two nights and two days, sleeping in a hairy horse blanket that I shook free of cobwebs and drew close around me, breathing in that rich scent of dry sage, dust, leather, sweat and all the other good things that horses smell of. I returned home when I ran out of food and reading material. Mum was furious but I wasn't sorry; I'd done what I needed to do and it was the same this time, although there was less choice in a sense, as I had in fact lost my house to the bank and my job to the recession and my boyfriend to a nervous breakdown.
I could think of no other way to heal, to regroup and to find the solo me that I could rely on. I had made a mistake, relying on Shayne but I would get over that. I would get over everything.
Book Trailer: http://bit.ly/1h9oqnN
About The Author
Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits has been a Canadian citizen since 2003. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Philosophy and has lived in the U.S.A., Australia and Britain.
Her first novel, The Hungry Mirror, won the 2011 IPPY Awards Gold Medal for Women's Issues Fiction and was ling-listed for a Relit Award. Her second novel, West of Wawa, won the 2012 IPPY Silver Medal Winner for Popular Fiction and was one of Chatelaine's four Editor's Picks. West of Wawa is available in bookstores and online.
Her third novel, A Glittering Chaos, launched in Spring 2013 to reader and review acclaim, and is about murder, madness, illicit love and poetry.
Her fourth novel, The Witchdoctor's Bones was launched Spring 2014 to reader and literary acclaim. The Witchdoctor's Bones is a thriller about the darkest secrets of African evil; the novel seamlessly weaves witchcraft and ancient folklore into a plot of loss, passion and intrigue and a holiday becomes a test of moral character.
Her fifth novel, Between The Cracks She Fell, was published in Fall 2015 and has been called "a whirligig-ride into the dark recesses of "what-next?" It is a compelling and multi-layered penetrating and twisty tale of insurrection."
"A lyrical and deeply moving examination of emotional pain and faith on a collision course with organized religion. Lisa de Nikolits highly believable and human characters are outsiders struggling to find meaning, and perhaps hope, in contemporary urban society. With a deft and confident clarity of style, she explores the complex interplay of faith, crime and social isolation. Highly recommended." - M.H. Callway, award-winning author of Windigo Fire (Seraphim Editions).
Connect with Lisa:
Author Website: http://www.lisadenikolitswriter.com/
The Mesdames of Mayhem: http://mesdamesofmayhem.com/about/
Virtual Book Tour Event Page