Toronto-based author Karen Connelly has written award-winning fiction, non-fiction and poetry for years, much of it probing serious, heavy subjects. And in the middle of writing a novel about human rights, child trafficking and the sex trade in South East Asia, she hit a wall.

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Toronto-based author Karen Connelly has written award-winning fiction, non-fiction and poetry for years, much of it probing serious, heavy subjects. And in the middle of writing a novel about human rights, child trafficking and the sex trade in South East Asia, she hit a wall.

"It was so depressing. I realized I wasn’t getting any pleasure out of working on (the novel)," she explains. "And, at the time, my son was about five or six years old and the subject matter was just too disturbing and sad."

Supplied</p><p>Author Karen Connelly turned to the works of Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Annie Sprinkle and Henry Miller for guidence with her new novel The Change Room.</p>

Supplied

Author Karen Connelly turned to the works of Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Annie Sprinkle and Henry Miller for guidence with her new novel The Change Room.

Connelly took a break from the now-shelved novel and decided to write about something that would make her happy — sex.

"I started working on a sexy, flirtatious scene of two women in the shower room of a local pool and I had so much fun that I thought ‘OK, why not — I’m going to write a book about these two people and find out what’s going on.’ "

The result is The Change Room, Connelly’s new novel she’s launching today at McNally Robinson Booksellers at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Winnipeg International Writers Festival’s spring literary series, where she’ll be joined in conversation by Red River College creative communications instructor Joanne Kelly.

The Change Room is a novel that follows Eliza Keenan, a married mother of two young boys who has just such an encounter with Shar, whom she nicknames "the Amazon." As the affair intensifies, the landscape of Eliza’s relationship with her husband as well as with Shar become increasingly complicated.

"I took what was essentially a happy fantasy and turned it into a serious novel — an exploration of my own life in some ways as a mom and as a wife, and I just let the whole thing unravel as it would."

Supplied </p><p>The Change Room is a novel that follows a married mother of two young boys who has a romantic encounter with another woman.</p>

Supplied

The Change Room is a novel that follows a married mother of two young boys who has a romantic encounter with another woman.

In writing The Change Room, Connelly cites the work of writers such as Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Annie Sprinkle, Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin as well as Sallie Tisdale’s Talk Dirty to Me: An Intimate Philosophy of Sex as touchstones that guided and informed her new book.

"Their exuberance and their willingness to explore sexuality... even if (Henry) Miller’s work offends us now, he was revolutionary in the sense that he was willing — just like Anaïs Nin was willing — to make sexuality a part of the larger whole, the whole life — political life, intellectual life, artistic life and to actually take it seriously."

In researching her initial book, Connelly made a discovery that informed The Change Room, especially as it pertained to Shar.

"When you start to research the sex trade, you discover that there is an entire world of activism working on behalf of women who are trafficked but who don’t necessarily want to get out of the sex trade," she says. "What I carried over from the other novel was more nuanced interest in sex work — what it is, who does it and how we stigmatize it as a society and a culture.

Supplied </p><p>Toronto author Karen Connelly decided to write about something that would make her happy — sex. The result is her new book The Change Room</p>

Supplied

Toronto author Karen Connelly decided to write about something that would make her happy — sex. The result is her new book The Change Room

"And it was a great education to find out about another vision of sex work that most of us, women or men, don’t really have. The people who choose this work and what they seek within their work is what everybody else seeks — respect, safe labour practices, a safe place to do their work and to not be condemned for doing that work."

On a more personal and widely relatable level, Connelly sees sexuality as something inherently political that doesn’t garner enough discussion as such.

"Even though we don’t ascribe it with the same importance as we do news about war and empire-building and corporate takeovers, sexuality is part of everybody’s life," she says.

"Everybody has to find a place for sex — or no sex — in their personal lives. We’re all curious about sex to a greater or lesser degree."

ben.macphee-sigurdson@freepress.mb.ca