Q&A with Naomi K. Lewis

This is your first foray into fiction. How did you come up with the idea for this work?

The ideas for Cricket in a Fist came together over a long time. Initially, I just had the idea to write a story set in a hair salon; then I wanted to write about a character that suffers some kind of accident and uses it as excuse to remake herself. I’ve always been fascinated by how a group of people can witness the same event and each interpret it completely differently. All those ideas and others eventually clicked together – or maybe I forced them together.

What was the creative process like for you?

It took me about three years, once I started writing seriously. I wrote almost every day for a year and then I spent a year sending the manuscript to publishers. Once it was accepted for publication, I spent another year revising and rewriting, which was challenging, because I was working almost full-time as general manager of a magazine. I wrote about 100 new pages for the second version, and completely changed the book’s structure.

When I began Cricket in a Fist, I only had a clear picture of two characters, Agatha and Ginny, and of a few key scenes. I gradually got to know the rest of the characters and it took even longer to figure out what was actually going on with these people. I just kept writing scenes and struggling to see the big picture. Goose Lane's fiction editor told me that first novels are the hardest, because the writer hasn’t yet learned how to hold the whole story in her head at once. She said that first-time novelists usually have an aha-moment, when they suddenly see the forest for the trees. I think that was true for me.

Everything became easier when I went back, late in the process, and actually started writing again from the beginning. I even retyped sections that I didn’t want to change. And at that point, I could finally conceive of my work as one coherent narrative.

Who did you read as a kid, and how did these first forays into reading fiction affect your sensibilities as a writer?

As a kid, I read anything I could get my hands on. I preferred reading fiction over any other activity, and read all my books two or three times at least. I loved Madeleine’s L’Engle and Judy Blume, the Ramona books, the Little House books, Anne of Green Gables, all the typical girl stuff. I also read random books from my parents’ bookshelf, probably traumatizing myself for life by reading 1984 at the age of 10 or so. All that reading definitely made me want to be a writer. I thought I would write novel for young adults, since those were my first love, book-wise. I still I think I might do that eventually, and I’m always drawn to writing about children and teenagers. I’m just fascinated by childhood and adolescence –when every experience is new and surprising.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading a lot of non-fiction, since I’m doing research for a new novel. I’m reading about international adoption right now, and also books about Judaism and Islam. In terms of fiction, I’m reading The Fighter by Craig Davidson, and also King Leary by Paul Quarrington.

How and where do you write?

I write in my home office, and often at the public library and in cafes.

Do you write with a certain audience in mind? Who is your “ideal reader”?

I don’t write with an audience in mind at all. As soon as I start thinking about audience, I start to worry about offending someone, or that people won’t like my work. So I write in a totally self-absorbed state of mind.

Name one person in your life who profoundly influenced your work, and why did you choose this person?

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that everyone I know influences my writing, since all my relationships and even conversations help me see the world in novel ways.

Who is your favourite protagonist in a work of fiction or poetry, and why?

If I have to choose just one, I’ll go with Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. I love how Harper Lee portrays the story through the eyes of this little girl, who sees situations in idiosyncratic ways, and who takes her time figuring out the strange actions of the adults around her. As Scout struggles to understand to understand the complexities of the adult world, the reader can see how absurd and tragic those events really are. There’s just something so compelling about seeing a story through the eyes of a child.

In your own work, which character are you most attached to, and why?

In a way, I’m most interested in Ginny, the character in Cricket in a Fist that readers tend to despise. She’s so selfish that she doesn’t even realize how she affects people. There’s something fascinating to me about a character who doesn’t think about other people at all, except to blame them for things – who pushes those solipsistic moments we all have to their extreme, and turns them into a philosophy.

Tell us a little about the overarching theme of your work, and why you felt compelled to explore it.

I guess you could say that the overarching theme of Cricket in a Fist is family and selfhood, and the continuity of self over time. I was thinking about children and parents, and how, in adolescence, we often fantasize about replacing our flawed parents with perfect ones. Sometimes we say horrible things to our parents during those years, almost verging on homicidal, and they just have to take it. I imagined a scenario in which a young girl wished her mother’s personality would change and then had to deal with the reality of that wish coming true. That’s where the idea started.

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