Jenny Manzer is a writer in Victoria, British Columbia.
She has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, and an investigative journalist, and has loved writing stories ever since she was a little girl. Now that she has two children of her own, she does most of her writing (and listening to Nirvana) at night while they’re asleep.
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How to cut the Kraft Dinner, kick-start your imagination, and still stay Canadian
The summer of 2016 has me thinking about being Canadian. The Olympics have a funny way of sneaking up and lighting a flame of nationalism in your heart. One of my favourite moments from this Olympics was watching the Canadian women’s soccer team (previously ranked 10th in the world) claw their way to a podium finish with grit, determination, and two very beautiful goals. The team is made up of a diverse group of players, including teens and seasoned veterans. The women exploded in that game, refusing to give up—and went home with Bronze medals around the necks. We know that soccer supernova Christine Sinclair and crew came to play for a Gold medal, but I wondered: would any other team and nation have been as delighted with a Bronze medal? Not long after, the entire country tuned in to be transfixed by Gord Downie, beloved singer and wordsmith for The Tragically Hip—a band that depicted Canada as it is, with our hockey lore, small town bringdowns, and vast, mysterious geography.
A critical choice for any fiction writer is deciding on setting. How important is it to your story? What place works best? In some novels, the setting becomes like a character—in others, the setting is secondary—a kind of neutral shoe to carry along more exciting parts of the narrative. Canadian authors writing for a North American audience take all kinds of approaches in their work. We might use a real Canadian setting, a real U.S. setting, or simply invent a place in either locale—or in another world altogether.
In my debut YA novel, SAVE ME, KURT COBAIN, a lonely teen from Victoria, British Columbia named Nicola Cavan finds compelling evidence to suggest that Kurt Cobain might be her real father. “Nico” then embarks on a dangerous quest to unlock the mysterious of her past, including what happened to her music-obsessed mother who disappeared when Nico was four. The novel includes scenes in Seattle and many factual references to the life of rock icon Kurt Cobain. As part of research for the book, I visited Seattle and went to some of the locales my protagonist visited, such as the Experience Music Project Museum. Most of the novel, however, is set in true-to-life Victoria, Vancouver, and rural Vancouver Island. So, the novel incorporates the myth of an iconic American music hero with some uniquely Canadian settings.
Along the path to publication, I discovered some interesting details about our respective cultures. For example, there is no such thing as “Kraft Dinner” in the United States. Yes, the Day-Glo orange food immortalized in the Barenaked Ladies’ song “If I Had a Million Dollars” does not translate into American life. In the States, this carb blast is called “Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.” Kurt Cobain loved this snack, so it is mentioned in my novel—but the term Kraft Dinner had to go.
Interestingly, my two current works in progress also combine places in Canada and the U.S. I just completed a draft of a Middle Grade novel about a young baseball player in Toronto, who moves to a small, fictional town in Washington State. I am also currently writing a YA about two teens—one from New Jersey and one from Vancouver—who meet in a fictional seaside town on the East Coast of Canada and become embroiled in solving the mystery of a missing child. As a former journalist, this is what I love about fiction writing—there are so many options. Sometimes it is wonderful to be untethered by facts—like having the chance to take a soaring free kick.
Jenny Manzer is a writer and editor living in Victoria, B.C. Follow her on Twitter: @jennymanzer.
SAVE ME, KURT COBAINAuthor: Jenny Manzer
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: March 8, 2016
What if you discovered that Kurt Cobain is not only alive, but might be your real father?
Nico Cavan has been adrift since her mother vanished when she was four—maternal abandonment isn't exactly something you can just get over. Staying invisible at school is how she copes—that and listening to alt music and summoning spirits on the Ouija board with her best friend and co-conspirator in sarcasm, Obe. But when a chance discovery opens a window onto her mom's wild past, it sparks an idea in her brain that takes hold and won't let go.
On a ferry departing Seattle, Nico encounters a slight blond guy with piercing blue eyes wearing a hooded jacket. Something in her heart tells her that this feeling she has might actually be the truth, so she follows him to a remote cabin in the Pacific Northwest. When she is stranded there by a winter storm, fear and darkness collide, and the only one who can save Nico might just be herself.
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