Thursday, December 3, 2015

Interview with Dawn Davis, author of 'The Tree of Life'

Dawn Davis is a writer living and working in Toronto, Canada. Before becoming a writer, Davis worked as a teacher after completing her education at York University and the University of Toronto.
The Tree of Life is Davis’s debut novel, and the first book in her Tower Room series.

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Title: The Tree of Life
Author: Dawn Davis
Publisher: Friesen Press
Pages: 304
Genre: Historical Fiction

Two accidental time travelers explore Canada in 1939 in THE TREE OF LIFE, the first installment in the Tower Room series by Dawn Davis.

As THE TREE OF LIFE opens, Charlotte Hansen and her friend, Henry Jacobs, are hanging out in the old mansion where Charlotte and Leo, her grandfather, live. Henry is there to practice the piano, and Charlotte is waiting for him to finish so that she can supervise his work on a massive school project researching the 1930s. When Leo leaves the house to pick up his friend Gwendolyn Fenton—whom Charlotte does not like—the two eleven-year-olds prepare tea and cookies for the grown-ups’ visit and then rush to the Tower Room. The room is located on the top floor of the mansion. Charlotte is not allowed in the room without permission; but she is headstrong and ignores the directive. After leaving the tray of tea and sweets on the tabletop, Charlotte pulls Henry underneath the table with her.

The children soon hear Gwendolyn telling Leo about a magical brooch from her childhood. Suddenly, a large hand grabs Charlotte, who clutches Henry tightly before the hand thrusts the pair into nothingness. After Charlotte regains consciousness, she and Henry meet the younger version of Gwendolyn, a spoiled force of nature determined to appropriate the brooch her late mother left her brother. The friends learn that they are still in Rose Park, the neighborhood they both call home, but the year is 1939.

As Charlotte and Henry realize that they have traveled backward to move forward, the purpose of their time travel is revealed: Charlotte is there to help Gwendolyn resolve the pain of her past. During the adventure, Henry advocates against the anti-Semitism and racism of that time, and Charlotte learns to look beyond her own desires to help a person in need.

The idea for THE TREE OF LIFE and the Tower Room series came to the author after she attended a centennial celebration at her daughters’ school. “What might happen,” Davis thought, “if two children lived their research instead of simply reading about it? This one step outside the restrictions of time became the foundation for the series.”

As in THE TREE OF LIFE, the next three books will highlight different time periods in Canadian history, with the one constant being the appearance of Charlotte and Henry. Although the children will appear in each book with different names and bodies, they will be easily recognizable as eternal soul mates, and the harbingers of love and connection for those who have stumbled and lost their way.

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Thank you for this interview!  I’d like to know more about you as a person first.  What do you do when you’re not writing?

I am a music student and I study both classical and jazz piano. I practice the piano everyday, get together with musician friends so we can play for one another and attend concerts. I also enjoy working outside and maintaining my ravine garden. I like to take walks in the ravine and I love to read. Reading has enriched my life immeasurably. And soon, I will begin dance lessons again.  

When did you start writing?

I have written all my life – letters, essays, poems, plays, comedy sketches, reflections, journals and novels.

As a published author, what would you say was the most pivotal point of your writing life?

The most pivotal point in my writing life was when I realized, in my twenties, that it was not possible for me to stop writing.  The act itself had grabbed hold and would not let go.  It was also very encouraging to me when CBC radio bought some of my comedy sketches.

If you could go anywhere in the world to start writing your next book, where would that be and why?

Although such a trip is not possible, I would like to go back to November 21, 1934 to the Apollo Theater in NYC to hear Ella Fitzgerald at age 17 sing and win best performer at Amateur Night.  I would also like to be present at the Village Vanguard in NYC, on June 25, 1961 to hear Bill Evans, Scott La Faro and Paul Motian play “My Foolish Heart”. To hear these great musicians would enlarge my spirit.

Other than that, I am most happy to stay at home. 

If you had 4 hours of extra time today, what would you do?

I would go to the banks of the Don River and try to catch a water boatman in my hand, watch him row back and forth across my palm and release him back to the water. Then I would stretch out on the grass with my feet in the Don and stare at the sky and watch the clouds without a single thought of everything left undone at home.

Where would you like to set a story that you haven’t done yet?

I would like to set a story in Canada during the days of the Underground Railroad.
Back to your present book, The Tree of Life, how did you publish it?
I published the book with Friesen Press, a self-publishing company in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

In writing your book, did you travel anywhere for research?

I did my research in the newspaper archives room at the Toronto Reference Library, and at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. I spent many days at Toronto Archives studying pictures of Toronto in 1939 and I took the ferry to the Toronto Islands – Centre, Wards, Algonquin, and Hanlan’s Point, walked around and sat on the beach, imagining what the Toronto skyline looked like in 1939. I also took dance lessons so I could learn the Lindy Hop and the West Coast Swing. That was a lot of fun.

Why was writing The Tree of Life so important to you?

I wanted to capture, as best I could, the spirit of Charlotte Lisa Hansen and her friend Henry Jacobs. They did me a service by appearing in my head and I wanted to honor them and show I paid attention to their story.

Where do you get your best ideas and why do you think that is?

I get my best ideas listening to conversations when I stand in line at Shopper’s Drug Mart, stop to have a coffee, or pass people in the street. For instance, this afternoon when I was walking home from the bank I saw a woman (mother) a man (father) and a small boy (son) standing on the street. The mother said as I passed by: “Why don’t you use your agenda?” The boy was kicking at leaves on the ground and not looking at his parents. I found myself wanting to say: “Because I’m eight years old and I don’t want to use an agenda!” The picture stayed with me during my entire walk and I could envision including this scene in a book, writing it out as a short story, turning it into a comedy sketch. It was a beautiful snapshot – there and then gone. It gave me great contemplative pleasure during my walk.

I have an active imagination and I find myself asking: “What if” all the time.  I am predominantly a solitary person, which is a blessing because writing is an extremely solitary act.

Any final words?

Thank you!


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