Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The In Character Interview with Farzana Doctor

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Farzana Doctor

Farzana Doctor's All Inclusive (Dundurn) pulls back the curtain on the slice-of-paradise resorts so many travellers enjoy. While the guests are having the time of their lives, Ameera struggles with paperwork and quotas. When the stress gets to be too much, she blows off steam in the swingers' scene, finding many enthusiastic couples at the resort. When rumours of her activities threaten her job, however, Ameera finds herself in a desperate situation.

We're excited to talk to Farzana today about Ameera, and the other characters in All Inclusive, as part of our new In Character interview series.

Farzana tells us about the tricky process of naming characters, how dialogue helps her to shape characters and her all-time favourite characters — not all of whom are human.

Open Book:

Tell us about the main character in your new book.

Farzana Doctor:

The book has two characters, whose stories merge about halfway through the novel.

Ameera is a twenty-nine year old Canadian who works as a tour representative at an all-inclusive resort in Huatulco, Mexico. She doesn’t imagine that while away, she’ll stumble into the swinger scene and the truth about the father she’s never met.

Azeez is a twenty-nine year old visa student who loses his virginity the day before he boards a flight back to India. With adumbrations of the Air India flight 182 tragedy lingering in his backstory, he must grapple with his choices, and what he’s left behind in Canada.


Some writers feel characters take on a "life of their own" during the writing process. Do you agree with this, or is a writer always in control?


I believe that my characters come from some sort of spiritual source (The ether? Spirit guides? Ghosts?), so in that sense, they do have a life of their own. However, it’s up to me as a writer to decide if the story I’m “hearing” is the one I want to write at a given time.


How do you choose names for your characters?


Oh, this causes me so much trouble! Many of my characters are from the small Dawoodi Bohra Indo-Canadian community to which I belong. I constantly worry that I’ll offend a cousin or an uncle! In the book I’m writing now, I’ve taken to using random initials for the main characters so these naming fears won’t get in the way of the early writing process.


What is your approach to crafting dialogue, particularly for your main character? Do you have any tips about writing dialogue for aspiring and emerging writers?


It’s important to listen carefully to how people speak. While on the streetcar or subway, I’ll often put away my phone, close my eyes, and listen to the conversations around me. Figure out your character’s unique or idiosyncratic speaking style. For example, Azeez is fairly formal, and uses words like “thrice”, and Ameera uses slang that suits her age.


Do you have anything in common with your main character? What parts of yourself do you see in him or her, and what is particularly different?


When I was twenty-nine, just like Ameera, I wanted an escape. I was just out of a bad relationship, and wished I could pack everything up and start fresh someplace new. But I stayed put, and instead took a creative writing course, which is where I wrote the first chapter of my first novel.

At forty-four, perhaps I share some of Azeez’s sensibilities. I’m much more philosophical in my outlook and am increasingly interested in sorting out my spiritual path.


Who are some of the most memorable characters you've come across as a reader?


There are so many! Jack from Emma Donoghue’s Room, Mara from Thomas King’s The Back of the Turtle, Majnoun from André Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs, Lisa from Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach, Aaliyah from Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman, the nameless protagonist in She of the Mountains.


What are you working on now?


I’m in the early stages of writing my fourth novel. It’s about a woman who spends a sabbatical year in India and is forced to confront difficult personal and community histories. From its inception, it’s been the novel I feel most sure about writing. At the same time, the necessary transgression of exposing shameful truths keeps me up at night. Wish me luck!

Farzana Doctor is the author of Stealing Nasreen and Six Metres of Pavement, which won the 2012 Lambda Literary Award and was short-listed for the Toronto Book Award. Farzana is one of CBC Books’ Ten Canadian Women Writers You Need to Read Now and the recipient of the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s Dayne Ogilvie Grant. She co-curates the Brockton Writers Series and lives in Toronto.

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