New in paperback, Grace O’Connell’s debut novel, Magnified World, is from a gifted young novelist about what it means to be a daughter, a patient, a lover, and a human being who can carry on after a massive loss. We’re pleased to share a short blog post by O'Connell, as well as an interview we recently conducted with her.
Five years ago, if you had said "chrysoprase" to me, I probably would have responded with "bless you". I didn't know the difference between sunstone and sodalite, let alone which one I could use to calm a racing pulse (sodalite, for the record).
Then I met Maggie Pierce and her mother Carol, and began to spend time in their store, Pierce Gifts & Oddities. And by time, I mean hundreds and hundreds of hours – I knew every shelf and table, containing healing crystals like the ones mentioned above, plus organic cleaners and beauty products, tarot cards, handmade paper goods and more. The store was in my head and slowly, I siphoned it into my book, Magnified World. I hadn't known anything about healing crystals, or any New Age products, when I started writing, but Maggie did, and by researching and reading about the things she knew, she unfolded in front of me.
Snow quartz should be washed in melted ice. Brown zircon can be used for safe travel as well as staunching blood. Citrine will absorb the morning sun. In the book, it's part of the background – taken for granted, used to give context to Maggie's turbulent and sometimes bizarre experiences. But that research, and the reading I did on tarot cards and auric fields, turned out to be key to the writing. You never know what pivot a character will turn on, but often something small and seemingly incidental unlocks a full person; their music or their cooking, or even the way they can't leave the house without checking that they've turned off all the burners on the stove. For Maggie, it was the crystals, and I'll never look at stones the same way again.
-Grace O’Connell, May 2012
Indigo Fiction Blog (IFB): Hi Grace, thank you so much for speaking about Magnified World with me! I must admit, I read with a pencil in hand, underlining sentences and paragraphs every few pages because the lines were so raw and beautiful. Congratulations on such a magical first novel!
Ami McKay was quoted saying that Magnified World “is a powerful debut that fearlessly tackles the fears and joys of the heart.” I couldn’t agree more. How does it feel to be receiving such stunning praise from fellow Canadian writers?
Grace O’Connell (GO): It's surreal, really. Reading is so personal and intimate, and these are writers whose books I've cried into, read one-handed in the bath, read in bed in the wee hours. And now their names are on my book... it makes me feel quite shy, really, but also immensely proud.
IFB: In the novel, you create such an intricate and delicate relationship between Carol and Maggie. When asked by Dr. Malik to speak a bit about her mother, Maggie is disappointed when the first thing out of her mouth is “She knew a lot of things, how to help people.” She then thinks to herself, “I suddenly felt I didn’t know enough about her, not nearly enough.” How was the process of constructing such a complex mother/daughter relationship?
GO: Carol is very, very different from my own (amazing!) mother, but the one thing they have in common is their penchant for using outdated idioms. Those kind of anchors helped bring Carol to life for me. I'm really interested in the ways we know and don't know the people we love – the ways in which we can't know everything about another person but we can feel such a deep connection anyway.
IFB: I loved all the small details that made up Maggie’s family’s store, Pierce Gifts & Oddities. Where did the inspiration for this store come from?
GO: The store itself popped into my head almost fully formed; I love all those beautiful independent stores you can find in every city but which are always perfectly unique, the little details like the pressed tin ceilings. I was working at Type Books for part of the time I was writing, and I loved it there – there's definitely some of Type in the Pierce Gifts & Oddities. Figuring out the store's stock took quite a bit of research, since I had no prior knowledge of New Age practices, but it was fun research.
IFB: Magnified World takes place in Toronto, but more specifically, on Queen Street - it almost felt like it was a character in the novel. What about Queen Street made you want it to be so central to the book?
GO: Queen Street is its own little microcosm, which was perfect for Maggie. Her world is small, by choice – small for her means stability and safety. The city becomes a sort of surrogate parent and she tries to know her corner of Toronto the way she tries to know her mother. Knowledge and boundaries are what make Maggie feel safe, but that's part of the reason she has so much trouble coping with loss, which is by its nature unknowable and unbounded.
IFB: Thanks again for speaking with me, Grace! Lastly, I have to ask, is there anything else in the works for the future?
GO: I'm in the very (verrrry) early stages of a second novel right now. It's sort of a bizarre re-working of the Sleeping Beauty myth. I'm excited to see where it takes me.
Grace O'Connell holds an MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in various publications including The Walrus, Taddle Creek, Quill & Quire and EYE Weekly. She has taught creative writing at George Brown College and now works as a freelance writer and editor in Toronto. Her novel Magnified World is available May 29, 2012.
Thanks to Indigo Bookseller, Chelsey Catterall, for her review and her interview, to Random House for facilitating, and to Grace O'Connell for participating – we wish her luck with her debut novel.