Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Q&A with Ali Bryan




Ali Bryan is the author of the new novel The Crow Valley Karaoke Championships. Her other novels include Roost. She lives in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies.



Q: What inspired you to write The Crow Valley Karaoke Championships?


A: One of my best friends takes karaoke pretty seriously and she invited me to watch her sing in a high stakes competition where a spot to represent Canada on the world stage was on the line.


I was blown away by the experience. The camaraderie, the costumes, the intensity, the joy, but also the strong sense of community.


This particular competition was diverse and accessible and it seemed like karaoke had the capacity to be this great equalizer. That everyone belonged and even when you lost you still won. I knew immediately that a karaoke competition would make a fantastic setting for a novel.


Though karaoke takes center stage in the novel, what the story is really about is the elevating power of love, empathy and community to heal and connect, and the notion that there’s nobility in the struggle.


Life is hard and so much of it is out of our control. Everyone in the book is facing some type of crisis (minor, major, internal, external) and the book acknowledges the idea that everyone is going through something and is doing their best to manage with the resources they have.


It’s a story about ordinary people trying to reconcile the life they expected to live with the life they actually have, but it does so with humour and hope.

Q: You tell the story from a variety of perspectives--did you write the novel in the order in which it appears, or did you focus more on one character before turning to the others?


A: I definitely wrote it in the order in which it appears. Because the characters frequently show up in chapters outside of their own, and because we’re dealing with five POVs it was critical to keep the timeline simple and linear (the whole story takes place over the course of a single evening).


I also used Dale (the local town hero who died in the previous year’s wildfires and the reason behind the competition) as the thread connecting each of the five Crow Valley residents.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I always have a vague sense of the ending and where I’m writing towards, but it’s far from a hard outline. My creative process leaves room for the story to evolve and develop as it needs and sometimes that means the ending deviates from my original idea.


This is the best part of the writing process. If you create robust, layered, complex and fully realized characters they begin to dictate the plot and the story develops well beyond what I initially imagined.


Q: The writer J. Ryan Stradal said of the book, “Readers will be cheering for every one of these characters, and this book is a reminder that there’s always more than one kind of victory.” What do you think of that description?


A: I think he nailed it. Our society is obsessed with winning (and winning in the traditional sense – first place, gold medal, being on top), but few of us ever reach the podium in life and this book really celebrates the small wins. The everyday successes. The things we tend to ignore or undervalue.


Sometimes wins are literal (winning karaoke for example) and sometimes winning can mean making it through the day without a drink, or simply having kept your kids alive.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on a couple of projects, including a novel, Wildthings, about an over-40 women’s soccer team that travels to Vegas for one last attempt at tournament gold, after the local league commissioner terminates their division.


It’s a story about mid-life, female friendship, and like The Crow Valley Karaoke Championships, that there are many ways to win in the game of life (but also in the game of soccer). Think Ted Lasso x The Hangover.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I write creative nonfiction too! I love playing with the form and would like to publish an essay collection or memoir someday.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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