Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

A Conversation with Lisa Gabriele, Author of The Almost Archer Sisters

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A Conversation with Lisa Gabriele, Author of The Almost Archer Sisters

Toronto writer Lisa Gabriele is the author of the widely acclaimed novel Tempting Faith Di Napoli (Anchor Canada, 2003). Her second novel, The Almost Archer Sisters (Anchor Canada), is in stores across Canada this month and has already received wonderful advanced praise in the US. Her writing has appeared in Glamour, Vice and Salon as well as various anthologies, including the Best American Nonrequired Reading. She's a regular contributor to Nerve. In this interview, Lisa talks about family relationships, writing sex scenes, her new novel and her next project.

Q: In The Almost Archer Sisters you explore the divergent relationship of sisters, Beth & Peachy Archer. What attracts you to the bond of sisterhood?

LG: I’ve always loved the idea that two girls raised under the same roof could grow up to be completely different women. That has been the case with my sister and me, and my mother and her sister, too. Being a sister to my sister was the first real “role” I remember holding. Since my mother was fiercely intolerant of any cruelty between siblings, we have a classically close relationship. She’s my best friend and first reader, and though she lives in a different city, we speak a few times a week. Not quite the stuff of novels. My mother and her sister, however, had a rocky relationship and could go months without speaking to each other. I loved eavesdropping on their phone conversations/fights. Now those two were interesting. I think one of my mother’s greatest achievements was making sure our relationship did not mirror theirs. But I must admit to mining the darker parts of their relationship for the book — not the infidelity, but certainly the intimacy and volatility.

Q: From the volatile mother/daughter relationship in Tempting Faith DiNapoli to the seething (and loving) relationship between the Archer sisters, your writing deftly describes dysfunctional families that are so familiar and endearing. Have you always been interested in writing about families? Where does the inspiration come from?

LG: There’s that word: volatile. I’m not sure what else there is to write about. Families are where everything interesting percolates, where our characters are hatched and often formed, at least until we’re fit for other company. I’m also close to my family and the gems come fast and furious when we’re together. We’re a funny, complicated lot. As a writer I’m never at a loss for material. And everyone’s pretty blithe about the fact that it’s all material when I’m around.

Q: As a contributor to, you have written about being a non-breeder/mother. Was it challenging to write from the point of view of a mother? How attached do you get to your characters?

LG: It was a huge challenge. But necessary. I had already written a semi-autobiographical novel and really didn’t want to write another one. The Almost Archer Sisters was originally written from Beth’s perspective, arguably one with which I’d be more apt to identify, being single, childless, and living in the big city. But I ran out of steam a third of the way through, around the time Peachy “showed up”. The idea of writing from the point of view of not only a mother but a happily married woman, terrified me. But I decided to trust the character, trust the process and I felt carried. Plus my sister gave me great advice about the difference between five and eight-year old boys, and how often a mother would call her kids during her first weekend away from them. And I did grow attached. I have only written two books but at the end of each, I cried. This time, I had a particularly hard time letting go of the boys, Sam and Jake. Hopefully, they’ll live on in the readers’ minds, too.

Q: True to life — your writing contains sexy, blunt and mature content. Have you ever had to censor your work? If you had to, would you?

LG: I would never censor my work, but I have a cheese ball radar when it comes to writing sex scenes. It’s like I’m writing in a small corridor with porn as the ceiling and corniness as the carpet. I try really hard to stay somewhere in the middle, where people talk during sex, laugh, and sometimes cringe. I also like to capture that actorliness that sometimes takes us over when we become self-conscious and expose what goes on in people’s minds, like when Peachy tries to get Beau to spank her. She’s only half serious. Peachy likes sex. She really likes sex with her husband. You can see how a woman like that, one who has made peace with her body, who doesn’t expect perfection and knows a thing or two about vulnerability, would appeal to a city lawyer like Marcus. He’s probably only dated overly self-involved, self-centred women like Peachy’s sister, Beth. Peachy is real. Beth still struggles with authenticity. Peachy accepts that she’s flawed. Beth hasn’t. Yet.

Q: Are you working on anything else? If so, can you share a bit about it with us?

LG: I am. I think it’s about how a single woman finds her sense of permanency and home, beyond snagging a man and a ring. Virginia Wolff used to write about those ideas, back when they were exotic. I think they’re still exotic choices, because I don’t think the many women who are single and childless really choose to be single and childless. I want to write about one who does. That’s all I can say right now because I tend to jinx stories when I talk about them too much. A border crossing will probably figure in there somewhere. I can’t seem to get away from that theme.

“Fantastic. . . . In unfairly effortless prose, Lisa Gabriele captures the beauty and ugliness of motherhood and family. Smart, achingly funny, and brimming with sincere emotion, Gabriele has written a sweet-hearted book about how hard – and how necessary – it is to love.” — Katrina Onstad, author of How Happy to Be

“A lovely book – funny, smart, wonderfully entertaining. I enjoyed it thoroughly.” — Joy Fielding

Interview and images courtesy of Random House of Canada.

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