Story collection inspired by life of Waterloo author up for Gov-Gen Award
Governor General David Johnston addresses the audience after being installed as Canada's 28th Governor General next to his wife Sharon during a ceremony in the Senate on Parliament Hill, Friday, Oct. 1, 2010. (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Tuesday, October 2, 2012 6:45PM EDT
TORONTO -- Before the short list for the Governor General's Literary Awards came out Tuesday morning, author Carrie Snyder cranked up the stereo and did some work around her home in Waterloo, Ont.
Even though her real-life-inspired collection "The Juliet Stories" (House of Anansi Press) was eligible for the $25,000 fiction prize, she didn't want to pay attention to the announcement and be disappointed, as was the case when finalists for the Scotiabank Giller Prize were revealed Monday.
Plus, she wanted to take advantage of her alone time, which is scarce these days as the 37-year-old attempts to keep up with the schedules of her four children (ages 11, 9, 7 and 4) while doing also doing readings and freelance writing.
"All of a sudden I noticed that my inbox was filling up around 10 o'clock. I was like, 'Oh my goodness, is it possible?"' Snyder recalled in an interview Tuesday.
Sure enough, Snyder made the short list for the fiction award, alongside authors including former Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Vincent Lam for his sweeping Vietnam saga "The Headmaster's Wager."
"I can't believe it," said Snyder, adding with a laugh: "I was so inarticulate, honestly, my husband had no idea what I was saying when I got a hold of him this morning.
"It took me about a minute before I could actually spit out what I was trying to tell him."
Others who made the fiction short list Tuesday include Tamas Dobozy of Kitchener, Ont., for the Second World War-themed short story collection "Siege 13" (Thomas Allen Publishers), which is also up for the $25,000 Rogers Writers' Trust of Canada Fiction Prize.
Also a finalist for both the Governor General's fiction award and the Writers' Trust prize is Toronto's Linda Spalding for "The Purchase" (McClelland & Stewart), about a young Quaker father and widower in 1798.
Rounding out the Governor General's fiction list is Toronto's Robert Hough for "Dr. Brinkley's Tower" (House of Anansi Press), which is set in a tiny Mexican border town.
Snyder -- who was born in Hamilton -- didn't expect to have much time to celebrate Tuesday night.
"I've got to take my daughter to swimming," she said with a laugh, noting she also had to do a reading at a new local literary festival.
Coincidentally, Dobozy was also slated to appear at the same festival.
"Here's another little local, funny coincidence: both of our sons were on the same soccer team two years ago," Snyder said of Dobozy, noting her husband was the team's coach.
"I remember we met on the sidelines, found out we were both writers, and at that time neither of us had a publisher for these manuscripts. We were both searching around and wondering if they were going to get picked up, and so it's kind of cool."
Though structured as a short story collection, "The Juliet Stories" (Snyder's second collection after 2004's "Hair Hat") reads much like a novel in that it's based around the same characters and largely from the point of view of the titular protagonist.
In the first section of the book, Juliet is 10 years old and living with her peace-activist parents in Managua, Nicaragua during the Contras war in 1984. The book's second section follows Juliet through her 30s.
The story, which explores the themes of fractured memories and family life, was inspired by Snyder's own childhood experience.
"My parents were also peace activists and we lived in Managua, Nicaragua at the same time period," said Snyder, who explained that she chose short stories because they fit into her harried lifestyle.
"I spent a number of years trying to figure out how to make a story out of it and how I wanted to tell the story. I even at one point considered trying to write a memoir but there's not enough material in my own family's history to add up to a memoir."
Finalists for the Governor General's non-fiction prize, also worth $25,000, include CBC reporter Nahlah Ayed of Toronto for her memoir "A Thousand Farewells: A Reporter's Journey from Refugee Camp to the Arab Spring" (Viking) and Toronto-based Noah Richler for "What We Talk About When We Talk About War" (Goose Lane Editions).
Also on that list is Ross King of Woodstock, U.K. (originally from North Portal, Sask.) for "Leonardo and the Last Supper" (Bond Street Books); Vancouver's Wade Davis for "Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest" (Alfred A. Knopf Canada); and Carol Bishop-Gwyn of Toronto for "The Pursuit of Perfection: A Life of Celia Franca" (Cormorant Books).
English and French-language finalists were also announced in the categories of drama, poetry, children's literature (text and illustration), and translation.
Canada Council's peer assessment committees picked this year's finalists out of approximately 1,700 books.
The winners will be announced Nov. 13 in Montreal.