Have you ever thought, what do animals think about this world? What is their perspective?
Writing itself is not an easy task to do, that too, about a story which is written through an animal’s perspective. This all together makes it more of a difficult job. Recently I read a book of the same genre, titled Unmasked. In today’s interview, you will be witnessing an extremely talented author who entered this literary world with an amazing storyline and has shown her outstanding writing skills in her debut novel. Her book Unmasked is one of the best books that I have read this year. I honestly became a fan of her storytelling. Presenting, you all the last Author Interview of this year with Jenifer Kanin. Enjoy!!
•Hi Jenifer, for those who don’t know, can you tell a little bit about yourself and your book?
About me: I live in rural Niagara, Canada – about 30 min from the world-famous waterfalls. I love animals, gardening and have many pets – cats, dogs, chickens, ducks and even goats in the past. Many of the stories in Unmasked have a thread of truth in them from the things that have happened around our home over the years.
About the book: I have always wanted to write a book, and Unmasked is the one that I finally did. It is the kind of book that I love to read. A great story with relatable characters that stirs your emotions, and a deeper subtext running through the story that makes you think. At least that is the book I tried to write. The readers will let me know if I was successful.
•When did you first call yourself a writer?
I still don’t to be honest. When this is my full-time job, maybe? Or when I see Oprah with a copy of my book in her hand – then for sure I will. Yes, defiantly the Oprah thing.
•What inspired the idea for your book?
I was looking after a friend’s place on the east side of Toronto. She was away for a few months and had a black and white cat named princess that I was taking care of. One night while sitting outside with another friend, what I thought was the cat came wandering up to us. In the dark it was difficult to see an I just reached down and gave it a pet. A minute later when it was walking away from us, it stepped into the light and we were both shocked to see it was not princess but a skunk! The idea that one animal could impersonate another was inspired by that.
•How long did it take you to write this book?
The basic outline if story came quickly, about 3 months. It took over a year of rewrites and editing to get the finished product.
•How did you come up with the title of your book?
The book is really about identity. Who we are as people and how we relate to the people around us. The working title was originally Identity Crisis. In the end I chose Unmasked because it seemed to be a better descriptor of the underlying theme, as well as a nod to the raccoon story line where he wears the mask to hide his nefarious markings.
•Tell us about the process of coming up with the cover.
The opening paragraph of the book we see Gary staring into mirror, with Jenny’s blood staining the sink. That imagery is a brief glimpse into the future and all of the events that happen will lead you back to that moment at the end of the book. It raises so many questions – What happened to Jenny? Why did he have her blood on him? Did he Kill her? What is he thinking while he looks into that mirror? Since the written paragraph is so important to the story, I wanted to capture that in the cover image.
•Why have you chosen to write the book from an animal’s perspective?
The short answer is that animals are the best! I love stories were animals are the star. Bambi (the book by Felix Salten), Charlottes Web, and Fantastic Mr. Fox are some of my favorites. You can add Winnie the Pooh in there as well.
The longer answer is there is something disarming about animals. They have a quality about them that lets us lower our guard and open our hearts. That was central to the underlying theme of the book. I also like the counter balance of the humor the animals bring in contrast to the more serious topics.
•What’s so special about the animal characters, especially why a Raccoon?
The raccoon is such a fitting image is its mask is permanently on its face and it gets judged a ‘trash bandit’ due to its appearance. The mask to hide his mask was some of the best imagery to work with in telling the story.
I also loved the metaphor of the mask in general, as it relates to our identity. In some way we all put on different masks on depending on what we think people expect from us. Sometimes we get so good at it we forget to take them off and really look at ourselves and who we are.
•What perspectives or beliefs have you challenged with this work?
I wanted to challenge the idea of what makes us a good person. There is so much in todays society that promotes achievement over virtue, that is some way if we are all in competition with each other, this some how helps us to make progress. I wanted to challenge that notion.
Also, the idea that a hero needs to use violence against the violent to succeed.
•Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Writing energizes! Editing and proof-reading exhaust.
•What do you like to do when you are not writing?
Gardening, Cooking, long walks with my puppers.
•When you’re writing an emotional or difficult scene, how do you set the mood?
I like using what is around my characters. The weather, the lighting and descriptions of the objects they see. In the scene where Jenny is attacked, the rusting farm equipment and the shadows they create adds to the tension. In the scene where the animals gather for a meeting, the rays of the morning light set the inspirational tone I was looking for.
•What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing?
The more philosophical parts. It was a challenge to write them in a way that seemed genuine, without trying to sound like I have all the answers. I wanted to write in a way that would make the reader think and draw their own conclusions as oppose to telling them what they should do. The readers will have to let me know if I was successful or not.
•What part of the book was the most fun to write?
I love the whole adventure when Gary goes into Mrs. Abram’s house to look for medicine. Imagining all of the things that could happen and then trying to write that was a lot of fun. Also, any scene where Gary is setting up the cat to get into trouble gave me a laugh.
•What comes first for you — the plot or the characters — and why?
This was my first book, so I can only really speak to how it happened for this story. First the idea of a Raccoon that wore a mask came to me. I just liked the imagery. Then I need a reason for him to wear it – Why would a raccoon wear a mask? To change his identity of course. That got me thinking about the plot and gave me the bones of the story. Then I just tried to have fun filling in the details and tried to balance the serious with the light hearted.
•How do you develop your plot and characters?
For plot – I just tried to figure out where I want to end the story. For the theme, I came up with a few basis questions and tried to answer them along the way.
The characters evolved along the way. One of the first edits was to go back and delete anything that seemed out of place after the story was done. For example, I had a whole scene where Gary outwits a couple of badgers he grew up with, but the cleverness did not seem to match his personality and in the end, we deleted it. We left all of the manipulating to Jenny.
•If you could meet your characters, what would you say to them?
Well Gary is a guy you go out for beer and wings with. Being from Canada we would probably talk hockey!
•Do you have a favourite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special.
I love Jenny, she comes across so smart and confident. A big picture thinker. I also love that she is motivated out of her love for others and not for and selfish gain.
•Has writing and publishing a book changed the way you see yourself?
I was a little surprised how much I love writing stories. The biggest change is that I would love for this to be my full-time job.
•What do the words “literary success” mean to you? How do you picture it?
Success would be that people love the book so much they have to tell their friends and family to read it. That and a Pixar movie deal would be great.
•Who has been the biggest supporter of your writing?
My family and my editor.
•Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?
Sequel! I am about a third of the way through writing the sequel. It starts off right where Unmasked left off and explores some of the consequences of what happened. Maybe a little darker than the first one, digging into themes of depression and anxiety. Of course, some fun-loving adventures where Gary gets into trouble. There is a clue in the epilogue of Unmasked as to who he might need to become next. Should be fun!
•When a reader finishes this book, what do you hope they will have found or realised through the story?
I hope they discover an exciting new writer and realize they are dying to read the sequel!
Really, I just hope they enjoy the book. There are so many great books to choose from that fact that the read mine, I just hope I was up to the task and gave them something that they loved.
Tea or Coffee
Wild animals or Pet animals
Paperback or e-book
Comedy or Drama
Morning person or Night owl
Movie or Book
Reading or Writing
•And lastly, what advice would you like to give to a new writer, someone who is just starting out?
Write what you love and be humble about asking people to read your work and give you feedback. Your writing will always look great to you but a fresh set of eyes will see how you can make it better.
Thank you Jenifer for giving your time.
All the best for your future projects.