Leila has chosen a rerun by another really supportive author and visitor to the site. We are all fans of Mitchell and so this is what she said:
Mr. Toews compares well with three other LS authors, by name, Tom Sheehan, David Henson and Douglas Hawley. He has the humanity and humor of the three as well as a keen eye for the absurd. The Business of Saving Souls displays this nicely. And the only reason I haven’t picked it before is that I thought I had; but it turns out that I had crossed this up with a different story by Mr. Toews, which involved an extremely low priced sewing machine.
Q: Your stories seem, to me, situation driven. Yet the characters aren’t under-developed paper dolls who just serve the conceit. Please describe how you arrived at the particular storyline as well as the selection of the “cast.”
Q: Do you deliberately contrast the social mores of Canadians with those of other nationalities in your work as to get a better understanding of people in the overall sense, or is that something that just happens? (My mother is Canadian. She politely refuses “Americanization.” You can almost see the big holographic “C” on her forehead.)
The Business of Saving Souls
Thank you. It’s special to be rerun, but dbl-poutine-on-top-extra-special to be so honoured by the revered L.A.!
A favourite Cdn novelist–with whom I played a bit of old-fart basketball–named David Bergen once said something like, “Fiction lets me address subjects I might otherwise avoid.”
For many writers I suspect this is so. I fumble and rant when I try a non-fiction approach or engage in coffee shop convo. But in a made-up world, with me as omnipotent being, I get to serve it up just as I please. The characters are part of this; part of creating an immersive sketch that brings readers to the jumping-off point I try to offer. The “what would I do?” brink. I find this an interesting question to think about as a writer and as a reader.
In the story, Jason Halpnuscht, is kind of earnest Frankenstein’s monster. He’s a hybrid of many traits, many selves I have known or been. His surname, btw, means “helps nothing” in Plautdietsch and he goes from that ignoble role to a decisive, self-directed individualist. O, omnipotence, thy power knows no bounds!
The cast (spoiler alert): a big-ass mega church with a Mighty Oz type of secret-puppeteer; the secular leader who calls the shots. I wanted to expose the too-common conflation of religion, industry, finance, and politics. I needed a victim who would be manipulated, but who was much more than expected. Female ‘cuz the evangelicals and Mennos tend to be sausage fests, and I’m talking about the clergy, not the potlucks. I also needed a useful stooge who–it turns out–gets fed up and turns against his oberschulzes. Last, a lockstep landfill of lickspittle lackeys* who kowtow to the overlord’s every whim. (*The 4Ls of Moral Lassitude.)
Canada: I took inspiration from evangelical churches, including those from my Mennonite hometown on the Cdn prairies. The audience I wanted to put the self-examination crosshairs on was this group. I felt like if I overtly called them out, they’d turn-off, so I reset the location. The story’s church and its odd cast are indistinct–maybe northern US, maybe Cdn, maybe Midwest US. I skewed towards a U.S. setting, but still allowed each character’s native Canuckishness to shine through.
I generally set my stories in Canada or use Canadian characters. I worked for many years for US firms or for Cdn firms with US clientele. The socio-cultural differences seemed important to me, even if they might appear indistinguishable to others. Still, If my work adds to a plenary definition of the many ways we Canadians trim our sails, I’m happy to be a part of that crew.
Thanks again for this treat! I’m happy to edit if my responses are too lengthy.