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New mystery novel a collaborative effort
Walking onto Marjorie Anderson’s back deck and being presented with a purple wine glass to drink orange-slice-flavoured water is like walking into the realm of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.
The table is filled with sweets and fruit while the smell of Anderson’s garden wafts through the 30C summer air.
Anderson, along with Deborah Schnitzer, wrote and edited At The Edge, a novel with 16 writers and 13 chapters. It’s a mystery based on a frightening situation Anderson encountered in real life.
"I was walking along a university campus one day, and I look down, and my foot is over a big gaping construction hole nearly six feet deep. There were no barriers, there were no warning signs around," said Anderson. "I just pulled back in time, so I was left shaken. It stayed with me, it haunted me."
Recruiting the help of her old friend Schnitzer, the women decided to write a novel about a near-miss, but not in the usual way.
Instead of writing the entire novel themselves, they decided to do it co-operatively, and as a community, with writers as famous as Gail Anderson-Dargatz (A Rhinestone Button, A Recipe For Bees) and Governor General Literary Award winner Jack Hodgins (The Master of Happy Endings, Damage Done by the Storm), as well as writers who had never been published.
"We established the central incident, which was that on a university quadrangle, there was a gaping construction hole that went unguarded at a very busy time and one person ends at the bottom of that hole," said Anderson.
Sixty writers, who range in age from their mid-30s to their late 80s, all submitted a possible chapter for the novel. Each chapter is centred around a character that could have been at the quadrangle at the time of the incident.
Anderson and Schnitzer then narrowed the selection of chapters down to ‘yes’ ‘maybe,’ and ‘not for this project.’
"We wanted a range of how these people were, how they may have been (connected) to the university, what they would have been in terms of their age, where they were coming from in terms of the issues they were facing," said Schnitzer. "Then the tone, or the mood, whether it was humorous, those kinds of things, so there was a type of variety."
Then came the challenge of finding an ending for the mystery novel.
So, once again, they put the call out for a possible ending. They sent the novel, unfinished, to 20 different writers who then submitted their proposed ending.
"But then how do you choose an ending?" said Schnitzer. "That became the most provocative experience."
So instead of choosing, the women decided to have two.
"We decided that two of them had two very interesting endings," said Anderson. "So now we have a book with two endings."
Schnitzer and Anderson also wrote a chapter together. Little did they know how difficult it would end up being.
"It was challenging and riotous and oh my goodness..." said Schnitzer,Anderson finishes her sentence.
"Definitely challenging and riotous," she said.
It took the women a year to write the chapter. As well as reading and editing and working full-time, they would pass the chapter back and forth to each other.
"Because you have two different ways of writing," said Schnitzer.
In the end, both Schnitzer and Anderson want the reader to be able to relate to a character and to feel the rush of the moment around which the novel revolves.
"We want them to feel invested in the characters’ lives that the book has presented," said Anderson. "And to see that we’re all on the edge."
To publicize the book Anderson, Schnitzer, and their "goddesses" of editors and social media wizards have come up with a scavenger hunt of sorts.
In the coming weeks they will be hiding the book all over Winnipeg. Using social media, they will give out hints as to its location. For more information and to watch for hints, visit Facebook.com/AtTheEdgeNovel and twitter.com/_at_the_edge_
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(1 of 13 articles for this week)