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Fauna by Alissa York
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Fauna by Alissa York
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Jul 26, 2011 | ISBN 9780307357908

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    Jul 26, 2011 | ISBN 9780307357908

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“Rich and strange and deeply satisfying. Whether she’s adopting the voice of a homeless teen, a yuppy vet, or a famished coyote, York writes with a spare, unsentimental fluency that connects strangers, enemies, species. Fauna reminds us of the life that swoops and slithers and lopes and pounces all around us, even in the most urban of worlds; a wild life we share and ignore at our peril.” —Annabel Lyon, author of The Golden Mean
Fauna is the sort of rare novel that can change the way you see your world. Its cast of misfits and dreamers is united by their visceral connection to the forgotten animals surviving in the green patches of our big cities. This book is beautiful, unusual and memorable. And Alissa York is a daring and original talent.” —Jim Lynch, author of Border Songs

“Layered with astonishing detail, with every location vividly evoked and every action a visceral experience.” —The Globe and Mail

“One of the novel’s strengths is the way York turns her gaze from the human world to the world of Toronto’s skunks, coyotes, raccoons and squirrels. . . . Even as she brings animals to life with her writing, she is clear about the terrible toll taken by everything from cars, to skyscraper windows, to live electrical wires.” —Winnipeg Free Press
“Lyrical. . . . Fauna is well crafted, morally serious and even noble in its sensitivity.” —Toronto Star
“An extraordinary novel. . . . Daring and exceptional.” —Quill & Quire (starred review)
“A tender and beautiful novel.” —NOW (Toronto)


Toronto Book Award NOMINEE 2011

Author Q&A

What was the first inspiration for this novel?
The book has its roots in the Don Valley itself. Even before I moved to Toronto in 2005, I used to visit friends in Riverdale, so I was always taking the subway across the Bloor Street Viaduct. I love the moment when you leave the tunnel and shoot out over water and woods. The valley was an endless source of questions for me: what and who lives down there, and how do they survive? It wasn’t long before a host of strays, both animal and human, began to populate my mind. Next came a sanctuary of sorts where they might find refuge. How that sanctuary became a wrecking yard, I’m still not sure.
Even in the city, the characters in Fauna have profound and complex relationships with animals and the natural world, relationships that define them and change them. Does this reflect your own experience at all?
Absolutely. I’ve always been fascinated by animal life, domestic and wild; in fact most of my early memories revolve around birds and beasts. Even though I choose to live in cities, I find my daily experience is greatly enriched by encounters with wildlife. A peregrine falcon flew over my head earlier this evening while I was eating dinner on the upstairs deck—definitely the highlight of my day.
This is your third novel: how was writing it different from your other work? Has your writing process changed over your career?
I have a system that works for me, so I stick to it. I tend to proceed intuitively, reading everything I can get my hands on in relation to the subject(s) at hand, taking copious notes and generating a complex system of files with titles such as “Don Valley Fauna,” “Pony Express,” “Butchery” and “Catholic Mass, Pre-Vatican II.” This first leg of the process generally takes about a year, after which I follow up by sifting through these primary files for the beginnings of characters, settings, themes and ideas for individual scenes. This stage takes several months, and results in a secondary system of files which are organized by character and which contain detailed, cross-referenced notes for the many scenes that will make up a novel. Then and only then—when my imagination has all the tools and materials it requires in order to bring the narrative to life—do I sit down and begin to “write.”
Fauna is full of books about animals, from The Jungle Book to Ring of Bright Water; it joins an interesting group of recent novels with the same concern, from Yann Martel’s Beatrice & Virgil to Paul Auster’s Timbuktu. Do you see your novel in this company? What is it that draws writers to the subject of animals?
I loved Beatrice & Virgil, and by coincidence, Timbuktu is nearing the top of my “read this now!” pile. Another “animal book” I can’t recommend highly enough is Dog Boy by Australian author Eva Hornung. That novel taught me more about what it is to be human than almost any other book I’ve read—as well as what it is to be a feral dog. We read (and write) fiction in order to inhabit lives other than our own; why would we limit ourselves to human lives when we might also explore the experience of panthers or eagles or whales?
If you walked into a book club meeting about Fauna, what would you say to add to the conversation about your book?
Ask yourselves, how are these creatures wounded and how do they heal?

Author Essay

20 Writerly Questions with Alissa York

1. How would you summarize your book in one sentence?

Fauna tells the story of the love between a female federal wildlife officer and the owner of a wrecking yard that doubles as a sanctuary for injured urban fauna and other lost souls.

2. How long did it take you to write this book?
Two and a half years.

3. Where is your favorite place to write?
My desk — in fact, it’s the only place.

4. How do you choose your characters’ names?
Sometimes I come upon promising names during the research process — Edal was like that. Darius and Lily, on the other hand, arrived from the ether already named. 

5. How many drafts do you go through?
Around a dozen — the later the draft, the finer the adjustments.

6. If there was one book you wish you had written what would it be?
Dog Boy
by Eva Hornung.

7. If your book were to become a movie, who would you like to see star in it?
I think Paul Bettany would be great as Guy. For Edal, maybe Maggie Gyllenhaal? 

8. What’s your favourite city in the world?
Toronto — though I was pretty impressed by Copenhagen.

9. If you could talk to any writer living or dead who would it be, and what would you ask?
I might like to ask John Steinbeck about his method for assembling The Grapes of Wrath, and when he knew how it would end.

10. Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what kind?
Never. I need quiet to write — at times I can be found sporting those protective earmuffs they wear on the tarmac at airports.

11. Who is the first person who gets to you read your manuscript?
My husband.

12. Do you have a guilty pleasure read?
I like to re-read the Jeeves books by P.G. Wodehouse, especially when times are dark — but I can’t say I really feel guilty about it. Sherlock Holmes, too.

13. What’s on your nightstand right now?
Dream Stuff, a collection of stories by David Malouf and Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology by Lawrence Weschler. 

14. What is the first book you remember reading?
Are You My Mother? by Dr. Seuss.

15. Did you always want to be a writer?
Only after I ruled out zoologist and actor.

16. What do you drink or eat while you write?

17. Typewriter, laptop, or pen & paper?
Longhand for the first draft, laptop ever after.

18. What did you do immediately after hearing that you were being published for the very first time?
I told my husband (at a very high pitch).

19. How do you decide which narrative point of view to write from?
I tend not to — it’s much more interesting to move around, looking out through various pairs of eyes.

20. What is the best gift someone could give a writer?

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