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Author! Author! Valerie Compton

Born and raised on Prince Edward Island, Valerie Compton now lives in Halifax, where she writes and teaches fiction writing. Her stories have appeared in numerous publications, including The New Quarterly, The Malahat Review, and Riddle Fence. Her articles and reviews have appeared in The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Gourmet Magazine, The Ottawa Citizen, and Quill & Quire.

Hot off the press, Tide Road (published by Goose Lane) was launched March 4, 2011.

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On a strangely warm day in January, Stella vanishes without a trace, leaving behind a young daughter and a husband bewildered by her sudden departure. The police officially label her absence an accident, a drowning, Stella somehow slipping beneath the thin ice of a nearby river. As her mother Sonia clings to the remnants of her family, she begins to harbour a deepening suspicion that Stella’s disappearance was no accident.

With the deceptive drag of an undertow, the chaotic flotsam of misplaced dreams, bruised hopes and buried loves of Sonia’s past wells up to overwhelm her. Confronted with her own history of ill-considered choices and failures, Sonia is compelled to revise her preconceptions of her daughter’s life and dramatically alter the way she lives her own.

*         *         *

Your book is published by Goose Lane–a publishing house that many would give their left arm and firstborn to be associated with. What contributed to your success in landing a contract, and why Goose Lane?

I worked on the book for about twice as long as I ever imagined I would need to. It took eight years to get this novel from initial idea to published book. Before that, I spent about five years writing and publishing short fiction, and with every story, I set new challenges for myself. Altogether the novel represents thirteen years of fairly concerted practice and continual development as a fiction writer.

I had a lot of help along the way. I participated in workshops with senior writers at Humber College, UBC and The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. I was lucky to have the mentorship of several seasoned writers. Olive Senior guided me when I was just beginning to write stories. Catherine Bush, Richard Cumyn and Margot Livesey kept me company through the years of novel drafts. My agent, Denise Bukowski, read the novel and advised me at a mid-point. And of course I had the guidance of many dozens or hundreds of other senior writers in the form of their books. Careful reading is the most effective writing workshop there is.

Why Goose Lane in particular? I think personal taste comes into play. An editor chooses a book because something mysterious in the manuscript calls to her. And the writer, if she is lucky, chooses between editors in the same way.

Once a contract is signed, then what? There must be many steps along the way.

I signed a contract with Goose Lane twelve months before the book appeared in its final form. For six months, I worked diligently with Goose Lane’s fiction editor, Bethany Gibson, to get the manuscript into shape. Bethany began by gently but firmly asking me to consider changing the novel from two alternating voices to a single point of view. I waffled for a few weeks, trying other things in order to avoid this massive job. Finally, I tried writing one chapter as Bethany suggested; the novel popped to life! From that point on, I rewrote like a fiend and the plot and structure problems I’d been wrestling with disappeared.

When the revision was complete, Bethany and I passed the manuscript back and forth one final time, smoothing transitions and fixing flaws in plot and logic that arose during the rewrite. Then she handed me on to Goose Lane’s copyeditor and then to its proofreader so that we could ensure that the novel’s sentences were logical, grammatically flawless and spelled consistently.

Lovely outdoor writing chair handmade by the author's father.

Tide Road was officially launched on March 4. What’s involved in launching a book?

As many writers before me have observed, it’s very strange to spend years in solitude, inventing situations and spending time with imaginary people, and then have to come out into the real world and behave like a normal person. Perhaps even stranger than this is the odd change in one’s relationship to the book itself. For years I was its writer, and now I am just one of its many readers. It’s been hard to know what to make of it, in the face of other people’s differing interpretations. So I have spent some time in the past few weeks trying to understand this thing I’ve made, in order that I can talk about it coherently on radio and in conversation with journalists. This part of the process is remarkable and confusing!

What have you learned about getting a book published?

I’ve learned that publishing is a complex process, that a publisher is a well-oiled machine and that a good editor is worth her weight in gold. I’ve learned that people are impressed by the tangible published book, but not by the mostly-invisible years of labour that necessarily goes into it, and without which it could not exist. I’ve learned that many, many people continue to care deeply about books.

Most importantly, I have learned that the yearning for publication is not really about the contract, the advance cheque, or the attention that attends the book and author leading up to the launch. What we really, deeply yearn for is the final perfection of the finished story.

I’ve learned that this is worth laboring for, that it is under the writer’s own control and that it offers its own satisfaction.


  1. March 21, 2011    

    I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing.

  2. March 25, 2011    

    Valerie, you’ve beautifully put into words exactly how I’ve been feeling about my own Goose Lane book, Sanctuary.

    Thank you for sharing with others all the work and heart that goes into the creation of a story in book form. In particular, your comments about moving from writer to reader resonate. I, too, find it difficult seeing my book from the other side of the page.

  3. March 25, 2011    

    Good to hear from you both (Riel and Deborah). And I love your comment about finding it difficult to see your book from the other side of the page Deborah. Much food for thought on these posts!

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