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Caroline Adderson on Sitting Practice

Sitting Practice is the story of a marriage tested by an accident.  Ross Alexander, a caterer for film and television, meets Iliana, a nurse, when he has day surgery on his nose.  They date, marry, then, three-and-a-half weeks after the wedding, have a tragic car accident due entirely to Ross’ carelessness.  Iliana ends up with a spinal cord injury, never to walk again.  After the accident, the couple start life over away from Vancouver and Ross’ neurotic twin sister, Bonnie, in the small Vancouver Island town of Duncan.  Ross, still wracked with guilt, remakes himself as a vegetarian Buddhist, but an unfortunate side effect of his new spirituality is celibacy.  Frustrated, Iliana starts an affair with a very unlikely character.  Through accidents and mistakes, Ross and Iliana gradually build an honest relationship.

2. You aren’t disabled yourself so why spinal cord injury?

The subject of spinal cord injury grew out of my original interest in the mind-body relationship.  In the course of researching such arcane subjects as out-of-body experiences, I came across a book of interviews with women with SCI about their sex lives.  To my astonishment, most of them reported that sex was better after their injury.  Partly this was due to finding more sensitive partners, but mostly it was because the mind took over some sexual functioning.  They had no feeling below the waist, but new, more intense erogenous zones appeared.   I thought that was pretty interesting.

3. How did you research the character of Iliana?

I interviewed five women with SCI on-line over a nine-month period.  They were wonderful and very frank; when I finished the book I found a woman with SCI in Vancouver to vet the manuscript for any errors and was gratified by all the happy faces she drew in the margins.

4. You seem to set your books in places you live.

Yes, all the settings in the novel – Vancouver, Duncan, and the Fraser Valley – are largely drawn from life.  Ross lives in my own Vancouver neighbourhood, Kerrisdale.  My parents lived for two years in Duncan.  I have a good friend out in Abbotsford; in fact, down the road from her is a little tumbledown farm sitting at a 4-way stop behind an enormous placard reading The Wages of Sin is Death, just like Iliana’s father.  (Some things just can’t be made up.)  If the details are vivid it’s because these are actual places I know.

5. Are your characters also drawn from real life?

Only in the sense that I draw character details from real life.  Take the pig on Iliana’s father’s farm, for example.  It is not one specific pig, but rather a composite of all pigs I have known.  Sometimes I give characters my own interests – like Ross’ plastic sushi collection.  I don’t have one, but I’ve always been fascinated by the macabre plastic faux food displayed in some restaurants.  I admit that the character of Bryce, Ross’ nephew, was modeled on my own son, who was six months old when I began the novel.  So is Bryce at the start of the novel.  The fictional and the real child grew at the same pace; both were three-and-a half when I finished.

6.  You are more empathic toward your male characters than many female writers.

My empathy for male characters comes out of a general interest in the gender.  Also, there are times when I feel sorry for men.   So many find communication, especially intimate communication, difficult.  And then there is that awful burden of pride.  We all suffer, of course, just differently.

7. Describe the actual writing of the book.

I originally wrote Sitting Practice chronologically, thinking that the meeting of two more-or-less likeable people, their falling in love and eventual marriage, would be enough to sustain a reader’s interest, but the reaction I got from my editor and a few people I showed the first draft to, was that there wasn’t enough of a sense of urgency in the first meandering third.  So I rewrote the book starting with the accident.  I had been hoping to avoid flashbacks and was able to reconcile their use by having Iliana in a coma and giving Ross nothing to do until she wakes up but mull over their courtship.  That still left me with a problem: what to do with the thirty pages of wedding I was very attached to.  My first solution was to stick it all at the end of the book as a symbolic remarriage.  Except that thirty pages without a plot point just doesn’t work.  By default, I came up with the solution of dividing the wedding into four parts and placing each part as a prologue to the novel’s four sections.  This had the same effect of moving Ross and Iliana toward their marriage at the same time they recommit in the book.  Quite by accident, it worked.

8. Food is a delicious, recurring motif in the novel.

I used food in Sitting Practice, particularly meat, as a symbol for carnal passions.  While Ross is vegetarian, he’s impotent.  Iliana starts her affair with Stevie Blake when he cooks her up a batch of bacon.  When it seems that she’s lost Ross over her infidelity, she cooks a ham for herself.  He comes back and falls off the wagon with her.  After they eat the ham together, they have sex for the first time since the accident.  I had a lot of fun with this element.

9. Though much of it is about the aftermath of a horrible accident, Sitting Practice is a funny book.  How did you pull that off?

I consider myself a tragic-comic writer.  As the Buddha said, all is suffering; you might as well laugh.

10. What was the critical response to the novel?

I can’t complain.  It was nominated for a couple of the City of Vancouver Book Award and the Vancity Book Prize, and won the 2004 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.  It was also published in Britain, Serbia, Bulgaria, France, and the U.S.

Short URL: http://www.bookclubbuddy.com/?p=305

Posted by Pearl on Jul 20 2010. Filed under Author Interviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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