Character Study – The Road to Atlantis

Guest post by Leo Brent Robillard

AtlantisFNLwebDiane Schoemperlen’s “How to Write a Serious Novel About Love” offers the following advice:

“Begin with a man and a woman. Many famous novels begin with this familiar combination. Although it may at first strike you as rather trite, in fact, once you get going, you will find that it presents a vast array of possibilities.”

Narrated with tongue-firmly-in-cheek, Schoemperlen’s account nonetheless provides readers – and burgeoning writers – with keen insight into the writing process. Even the tidbit above is more enlightening than one might first imagine: novels begin with characters.

Characters. Not plots. Not themes. Characters.

As a reader, I want someone in whom I can invest. I want someone sympathetic (and I do not mean likeable) upon whom I can depend to carry me through the next two, three, or four hundred pages. As a writer, I want to provide my readers with the same.

I find it difficult to pinpoint the exact moment a character is born. Like fossils, I think they lay in hibernation, fully formed and waiting for that moment when the earth in her stirring spits them up, ready to take on the world.

No I don’t. Not really. I’m not that esoteric.

My characters float past me like jetsam. I bump up against some of them only once and then they are gone. I travel alongside others for years, riding the same current. They are the people who populate my life. Sometimes they are stolen whole-heartedly from a single person. More often they are composites – the gestures of a girl I once taught, coupled with the verbal tick of a cousin, and the eyes of my mother.

People have recognized themselves in my books. Or at least they think that they have. Because ultimately my characters are fictional. They are crafted. They serve and dictate a story. A friend’s ill-temper and momentary pettiness may be recognizable to that same friend. Dare I say she might even find their inclusion in a novel offensive? But characters are the sum of carefully chosen traits. For that reason, they are exclusive and not entirely representative of the living being from whom they are inspired.

Novels – particularly my most recent, The Road To Atlantis – are hypothetical. They are the great “what if?” I plot the characters’ journeys meticulously from the outset, but they continue to surprise me. Even when they end up exactly where I wanted them to be, their methods of arrival can veer off in unexpected ways. Atlantis is as close to autobiography as I have ever come. By that I mean I have drawn heavily on myself and on members of my closest family – the good, the bad, and the ugly. And yet, beyond the opening chapter, the events of this book have never occurred to me.

I simply asked myself, “what if?” And the characters provided the answer.

Robillard,Brent_Caroline Bergeron3_2About Leo Brent Robillard

Leo Brent Robillard is an award-winning author and educator. His novels include Leaving Wyoming, which was listed in Bartley’s Top Five in the Globe and Mail for Best First Fiction; Houdini’s Shadow, which was translated into Spanish; and, most recently, Drift. In 2011, he received the Premier’s Award for Teacher of the Year. He lives in Eastern Ontario with his wife and two children.

About The Road to Atlantis

Following the coast on their summer vacation, the Henrys stop at the beach to break up the monotony of their road trip. Matty and Nat build castles in the sand as Anne and David take turns minding the children. A moment of distraction, a blink of the eye, and the life they know is swept away forever.

Like shipwrecks lost at sea, each member of the family sinks under the weight of their shared tragedy. All seems lost but life is long. There are many ways to heal a wound, there are many ways to form a family, and as the Henrys discover, there are many roads to Atlantis.

Episode 7: panel time!

panelbannerHello listeners!

On this week’s episode, I chat with an amazing group of fellow classmates about the writing process and what it’s like to be a first-time author. I also chat a little bit more about the #cozychristmas contest that’s going on right now. See below for how to enter – you will want this prize, it’s so awesome!

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 2.15.02 AM#cozychristmas contest details:
What is it? It is YOUR chance to win a fabulous prize pack, my christmas present to you. I’ve put together an amazing prize that includes a couple of books (obviously!), and then also items from local vendors that really capture the cozy vibe that I love about this season. How do you enter to win? All you have to do is follow @LitKatrina on Instagram and like all of the cozy christmas contest posts for multiple entries.

I’ll also be posting some pics of some of the prize pack items, so make sure to keep your eyes out for what you could win! There will only be one lucky winner, and I’ll be announcing the winner during Episode 8, which comes out just in time for Christmas, on December 21st. I’m actually so jealous of the winner, I want to keep all of the items for myself. They’re that good.

follow today’s guests:

Sean Perrun – follow The Fine Book of Nil on Twitter

Tannis Miller – follow A Book of Word Paintings on Instagram

Danielle Doiron – follow Mind Games on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook

Emily Janssens – follow Emily on Facebook to stay updated about her new book

Rachel Carlson – follow Rachel on Facebook to stay updated about her upcoming book

Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode of the Literally, Katrina podcast! Don’t forget to add @LitKatrina on Instagram for your chance to win the #cozychristmas contest. To stay up-to-date on all things Literally, Katrina and books, subscribe to the Literally, Katrina podcast on iTunes or the Apple podcast app, like the Literally, Katrina Facebook page and Pinterest board, and follow me on Twitter and Insta @LitKatrina.

Until next time, happy reading!

Episode 6: #CozyChristmas

 Hello listeners,
Lindsy Boyd Dickenson's first novel in the Fortune Valley series, Love in Fortune Valley.
Lindsy Boyd Dickenson’s first novel in the Fortune Valley series, Love in Fortune Valley.

Episode 6 of the Literally, Katrina podcast is here – along with the snow! I personally love this time of year, and to honour the holiday season and the fact that Literally, Katrina is now on Instagram, I’m doing another book giveaway! Holla! Add @LitKatrina on Insta for your chance to win an amazing – and cozy – prize pack. I’ll be revealing parts of the prize pack throughout the month of December, so keep your eyes on Insta for #CozyChristmas posts and for details on how to enter to win. The winner will be announced on December 21st – it’s my Christmas present to you!

In today’s episode, I chat with local author Linda Dickenson, whose Fortune Valley series you can find on under Lindsy Boyd Dickenson. She has two books out in the series – Love in Fortune Valley and Return to Fortune Valley, Another Sunset, Linda’s third novel, will be out this winter.
 Thanks for listening! Don’t forget to subscribe to Literally, Katrina on iTunes (or the Apple Podcast App), like Literally, Katrina on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @LitKatrina, and add me on Insta @LitKatrina.
I’ll be back in two weeks with an exciting panel of newbie authors – you won’t want to miss it.
Until then, happy reading!
– Katrina


Voting Season

Hello readers!

As we approach the end of the year (my, how time flies) voting season is upon us. Soon, we’ll begin seeing “best______of the year” listicles from Buzzfeed pop up all over social media, and I have to be honest, I love reading those lists. I like to see if my favourites match up with other voters. I like to see who or what takes the top honour. And I really like voting – who doesn’t like giving their opinion?

Books are not exempt from this list – the Scotiabank Giller Prize, one of the most prestigious awards for Canadian writers, was just announced on November 10th. I am currently reading Close to Hugh, by Marina Endicott, one of the Giller Prize long-list selections, and it’s great! This year’s winner is Fifteen Dogs, by André Alexis. I’ll have to add that to my TBR pile!


And every year, Goodreads, the biggest online reading community, hosts the Goodreads Choice Awards. The opening round of voting ended on November 8th and the second round ended on November 13th. The verdict is in: readers love giving their opinions on their favourite books – now in the final round, over 2.7 million readers have cast their votes! There are some heavy hitters up for nomination this year in each category (there are 20 categories, ranging from mystery/thriller to cookbooks, so there is something for everyone – check them out below). Some of my favourites of the year are nominees, including Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, and An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. I can’t wait to see which books make it through to the very end!

Goodreads 2

The final round of voting is open until Monday, November 23rd (when Episode 6 of the Literally, Katrina podcast comes out!) – cast your votes now!

Until Monday, happy reading!

Winter is Coming…despite the fact that it’s supposed to be over!

Hello readers,

Many of you may have been dismayed when a small snowstorm hit Winnipeg yesterday afternoon. I know I was longing for sunshine and green grass and was sad to see the snowpocalypse hitting downtown. Here in Winterpeg, we often have unrealistic hopes for springtime – but this year, it looked like we were going to experience a true spring and we were excited! Well, worry not friends. Even though there is a little bit of snow back on the ground, the fact that ‘Winter is coming’ doesn’t have to be a bad thing….if that winter refers to Game of Thrones.

We’re a little over a week away from the premier of Game of Thrones season 5 on HBO and I am super excited. My dad watched the first season when it premiered in 2011 before either of us had heard of George R.R. Martin’s series Song of Ice and Fire and really enjoyed it. I watched the recap of Season 1 and then decided to purchase the books so that we could get the full experience (because aren’t the books always better?). We have both now read all five books and are eagerly awaiting book six, Winds of Winter. According to an Entertainment Weekly interview with Martin, he hopes to release Winds of Winter by 2016 – my fingers are crossed!

Zero spoiler alerts here – but I do want go over which character plot lines I’m most excited to read about in the next GOT instalment. My favourite characters to follow are Jon Snow, Tyrion, and Daenerys. I love Samwell Tarly. I used to like Arya and then I really didn’t but now I might again. I wish there was more about Bran up north and I am super curious about the White Walkers. My money is on Benjen Stark being the guy on the elk (nicknamed ‘Coldhands’). I love Daenerys (who doesn’t?) but I also have an appreciation for Jamie Lannister (even though he has questionable morals). I am not a fan of Sansa and I tend to skim anything to do with the Greyjoys. I think Bronn is hilarious and in terms of the show, I find Jon Snow and Daario Naharis extremely attractive. Guys, there’s so much to look forward to this season and in the next book!

While I wait for winter to get here, I’ll be reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which is a post-apocalypse novel being endorsed by none other than our friend George R.R. Martin. Check it out!

Season 5 of Game of Thrones will be premiering on Sunday, April 12 at 9pm on HBO.

Happy reading and Happy Easter!

New season, new ideas!

Hello readers,

The countdown is on! This Sunday, we “spring forward” for Daylight Savings Time, which means we’re “adding” an hour of daylight – and this tells me that summer is on its way. I can’t wait! Not that I’m not enjoying myself at school, but here at the college we’re heading into crunch time with magazine projects, proposals, and trade fair planning, so I’m looking forward to a long break from homework. I’m also looking forward to not having to spend an extra five minutes bundling up before leaving the house – I’m already dreaming of flip flops and ‘pool-hair-don’t-care’ days.

Nobody cares about hair in the summer - it's all about having fun!
Nobody cares about hair in the summer – it’s all about having fun!

In light of this glorious change in season, I have decided to try out something new: I’m taking my booklovering and nerdiness to a whole new level and I am starting my very own book club. Chea!

I’m starting small – just a few girl friends, a good book, and a box of wine at the end of March. But I’m really excited to try it out. I think that getting into the practice of reading with intention and discussing novels in detail is a good idea – plus, it gives me a wonderful excuse to see my closest friends. We’re starting with the novel The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, which just topped Maclean’s fiction list last week. Pick up a copy yourself and follow along this month – I’ll post some of my favourite comments from our very first book club discussion and you can weigh in, too.

I'm really excited for this Book Club thing!
I’m really excited for this Book Club thing!

In other news, Disney has just released the who will be starring as the Beast in the upcoming live-action revamp of Beauty and the Beast. Co-starring opposite Emma Watson (who will be playing Belle) is Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey fame. You can read the full story here. Now, I’ve never watched an episode of Downton Abbey but it’s on my Netflix to-do list so I’m sure I’ll have a chance to watch Stevens in action before Beauty and the Beast comes out in theatres. I can’t wait to see who they cast as Gaston!

What’s on your shelf this month? Let me know if you have any book club recommendations!

Happy reading,