by Jaclyn Dawn
7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 1
7 St. Anne St.
Tickets are free. Visit the event’s website on Facebook by searching 'Jaclyn Dawn launches The Inquirer in St. Albert’
The fictional town of Kingsley has a population of 1,431 but that number ticks up one more once Amiah Williams returns to the family farm. Her help is needed there but it’s a homecoming that must seem like landing on Mars when she sees the front page of the local gossip rag prominently featuring her photo.
Anyone who has had the small town experience undoubtedly knows about the familiarity everybody seems to have with everybody else. St. Albert-area author Jaclyn Dawn takes that truth and turns the amp up to 11 with her debut novel The Inquirer, a story where everybody’s secrets end up on the tabloid rack.
“It's very true in small communities that everybody knows everything and it's not necessarily malicious. Everybody has a different level of comfort with that. That's where a lot of the feelings come in with The Inquirer because some people find it funny, some people find it intrusive, others get angry, others get anxious,” she said.
After years of teaching writing and toiling in professional writing – “anything and everything from safety manuals, to brochures, to marketing materials” through her own business – yet keeping that creative writing as a hobby, the 34-year-old originally from Warburg (pop. 766) has finally broken through the barrier with the publication of this literary fiction that comes across as salacious and sensational yet introspective and profound in equal measures. One gets the sense that there’s no looking back now.
Funny enough, The Inquirer started off as the dissertation for her masters degree through a school in Manchester, England. This is not one of those novels that's totally derived from the biography of the author so don’t read it expecting to discern fascinating tidbits about Jaclyn Dawn the real person.
“Not at all. That actually was one of my fears. When I was writing it for my dissertation, I had to have regular meetings with my professor. It's a safe zone being here in Canada and my school being over in England because, aside from my graduation, all my meetings were via Messenger or Skype. They said, ‘This won’t be publishable … you should look at different options,’ ” she began.
“I said, ‘I'm really scared of people actually thinking this is true because it's definitely not.’ It’s not my story and Warburg did not have a tabloid. The professor had a great point when he said that to a degree everybody assumes that there's truth and there probably is truth in writing. It's just deciphering what is true and what isn’t.”
While Kingsley’s tabloid does seem out of place, it’s also a really smart device to propel the story along because it does bear truth to it. Small towns are places where everybody knows everything about everybody, or at least that’s what I’ve been told. To have a mysterious and unknown publisher produce such a rag seems plausible.
Yet the dirt that it dishes up is plausibly just as unfair to be revealed: secret loves, secret rivalries, and secret business deals. Amiah’s history gets put all out there in print, setting her rollercoaster in motion. In turn, she has to fight fire with fire to set her name straight in this riveting tale.
The spark was lit when the author thought for a second about the tabloids that she picks up while waiting in line at the store. She has sometimes found herself wondering what Jennifer Aniston's and Brad Pitt's parents and friends think of the tabloid headlines, and whether any of it is actually true. Dawn describes herself as “that weird person in the line contemplating life and how it would feel if I was in the tabloids.”
In taking that device for her story, she decided to just throw out all the stops and not worry if it came across as funny or heartbreaking, or a combination of both. All she really wanted was to make sure that it was entertaining but had something for readers to learn from it just like all of her favourite books do. She has heard from some early readers who have confirmed that the dynamics of the people of the small town of Kingsley do ring true to them and that they feel connected to some of the characters.
“That's actually exactly what I've done. The story was niggling at me. A lot of my work comes back to how we don't know what happens behind closed doors. When you live in a small town, it's interesting too, because you realize people know you, and they think they know you, but they don't necessarily know what's happening behind closed doors. The two ideas merged into one. Amiah had her secret of the past. Everybody thought they knew this small town girl. They were proud of her. They thought they knew her and she had this stuff going on right under their noses.”
Some of those early readers confessed to finding it humourous while others were too close to the gossip and didn't find it so funny. Perhaps that's why the author dedicated it to "any woman who has hidden behind a smile."
"I hope that maybe it'll reach someone, too. We can make light of it and find humour, too, but sometimes there are people hiding that need to have a voice."