We're all in this together

November 2016

“A woman goes over a waterfall, a video goes viral, a family goes into meltdown – life is about to get a lot more complicated for the Parker family.”

That’s the delightfully intriguing tagline for Amy Jones’ debut novel, We’re All in This Together, published by McClelland & Stewart. The story is set in Thunder Bay and surrounding area, with the inciting incident occurring as a barrel goes over Kakabeka Falls. I had the pleasure of chatting with Amy last week about life, writing and why she chose to set her story in our remote and isolated community.
“Laziness,” she says with a flash of her signature smile, but I know this is just a glimpse of the wry humour that infuses her work. “No, seriously, I’m not a historical writer,” she continues. “I’m not into science fiction or fantasy or building different worlds, not when I can look outside my window and be inspired with the here and now.”

And We’re All in This Together is very much about the ‘Here and Now,’ with a peek into a large diverse and scattered family and the very public crisis that brings them all together. Jones admits that Thunder Bay is as much a character in the novel as Finn or Kate, and many of the themes in the novel are reflected in the all-too-familiar changing demographic of the city itself. In the push/pull of self and family and the ‘wanting to leave versus wanting to come home,’ she believes Thunder Bay has a unique, compelling nature that draws people in. In fact, she decided to capitalize on this when sending out advance copies of her book to reviewers.

“I picked up local postcards and included them along with the books. I was trying to include a sense of the city to intrigue the reviewers but some of the postcards were so outdated! Like, polka dots on the Tourist Pagoda! I used them anyway because that’s so Thunder Bay!”

Growing up in Halifax, Jones admits that by setting her novel here, she hoped to show off Thunder Bay’s offbeat personality to the world.

“It’s quirky like Halifax,” says Jones. “A little bit scrappy, a little bit of an underdog. People fighting to thrive and survive. The people who stay are the people who want to be here. I love that.”
Jones studied at the University of British Columbia’s Optional Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing, winning award after award with her short stories and insightful prose. During her final year, her thesis was a collection of short stories that eventually became What Boys Like, winner of the 2008 Metcalf Brooke award and finalist for the 2010 ReLit Award.

“I love shorts,” says Jones with a smile. “So when my agent challenged me to write a novel, I thought ‘Easy! It’s just like a really long short story, right?’” She laughs. “It is so not!”

Obviously, Jones had what it took and in Dec 2014, she signed a 2-book deal with publisher McClelland & Stewart. Immediately, she and editor Anita Chong got to work, taking those ‘short story’ ideas and fleshing them out. Sentences became paragraphs, points-of-view became chapters and slowly, Jones began to see her diverse collection of perspectives take shape.

“Short stories have more in common with poetry than with novels,” she says. “So I actually found myself pinning scenes on walls and moving them around until I found out where they fit in the narrative arc. Writing is as much a craft as it is inspiration. Sometimes I need to work the clay before the muse comes.”

We’re All in This Together is a gripping, sometimes hilarious, always poignant read, focusing on the dysfunctional Parker family and featuring an ensemble of characters with vastly different perspectives.

“People ask if it’s autobiographical,” says Jones. “It’s honestly not, but I guess there are always elements. Family is complicated. Finn (one of the main characters) is an outsider. She sees things differently like me. I’m also a little bit like London, a little bit like Katriina. I don’t know. People have different perspectives. With this many characters, I tried giving them all a voice.”

And she was phenomenally successful. Review after review praises her ability to keep each character authentic throughout the story, a feat that leaves more experienced authors in the dust. Because of the book’s success, Jones has been crossing the country doing readings, talks and signings. She’ll be back in the city on Nov. 1 with the International Festival of Authors.

For more news on the busy life of Amy Jones, follow her on Twitter at @amylaurajones, and on Facebook. We’re All in This Together is available at Chapters, online and the Thunder Bay Public Library.

Heather L. Dickson is a photoshop guru, zoologist and author of 6 novels.

Visit her website at www.hleightondickson.com

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