Join me in welcoming Andrea McKenzie Raine to Highlighted Author.
Welcome, Andrea. Please tell us about yourself and how you came into writing.
I have always been writing – since I was first asked to keep a journal in the first grade. In elementary school, when teachers gave our class creative writing assignments, I became really excited while all of the other kids groaned. I had a wonderful teacher in the third grade who told me she expected to see a book written by me one day. That moment was pivotal. I began writing poetry and short stories at an early age; it is simply in my blood. I attended the University of Victoria and studied English Literature and Creative Writing. I earned a B.A. in English Literature in 2000. I also have a post-degree Certificate in Public Relations. I have been employed in government writing positions since graduating from university.
I have attended a long-running successful reading series called Planet Earth Poetry (formerly Mocambopo) in Victoria, BC, since 1997, and published my first book of poetry, A Mother’s String, through Ekstasis Editions in 2005. I wanted to write a novel, and after a two-month solo backpacking trip through Western Europe in the summer of 1998, I felt I had a little more to say.
Tell us about your debut novel, Turnstiles.
I hope that readers will consider different ways of looking at the world, and the circumstances of people, all of us, in this world. Turnstiles is a work of literary fiction, but it is also a make-up of observations and challenging questions about power struggles, social classes, gender battles, and the possibility and courage to break through or cross over these stigmas. I suppose I hope that the reader finds a piece of him or herself in the characters, and that it resonates. Ultimately, I hope readers will enjoy the characters, their vulnerability and strength, and the journey.
I have written a first draft for a prequel novella to Turnstiles, which lends the backstory to a character who is deceased from the beginning of the novel. This character is significant, as his actions have caused a great domino effect for the main characters in Turnstiles.
What they’re saying:
“Turnstiles by Andrea McKenzie Raine is the story of different people as they struggle through common social problems. To me, the book is divided into sections or novellas. Three stories blend as one. The plot is creative, the work is ambitious as well as engrossing and addictive…”- The Drunken Druid http://the-drunken-druid.blogspot.ie/2014/01/review-of-andrea-mckenzie-raine.html
Martin Sourdough is a homeless person who has chosen to turn his back on the corporate, material world; Willis Hancocks Jr. is a barrister, an alcoholic philanderer, and a misogynist; and Evelyn (aka Yvonne) is a prostitute. Turnstiles speaks to these social problems through the smaller scope of each character’s individual trials. There is a struggle that exists between the need to serve one’s own needs and the expectation to participate in the larger social scheme. Martin and Willis are both trying to fit into the world, but on their own terms. They are naïve, searching for an Eden-like state of being. Through a broader experience of personal fortune, misfortune, travel, and social interactions, they each learn to accept their paths and take control of their own destinies.
The radio alarm clock began to hum in Willis Hancocks’ hotel room, which he rented in downtown London. He groaned, rolled over, and slapped his hand on the off button without looking. He rolled back and stared groggily at the dented pillow beside him. She was already gone, and he was trying to recollect the night before. He rolled his eyes towards the dresser. There was his wallet, open and most likely empty. His pants lay crumpled beside the dresser. He rubbed his hands over his face and gave a self-deprecating chuckle. Then he began to rise. He was anything but happy. She had definitely served her purpose, but the others had been more professional, and much more discreet. When this happened, he usually didn’t realize he had been robbed until hours later, when he found himself at a store counter fumbling for his credit cards.
“You cheeky little bitch,” Willis mumbled to himself as he flipped through his wallet. She hadn’t been discreet, but she had been thorough. Even his lucky franc coin from his trip to Paris was gone. It must have caught her eye. Ignorant street kid.
“She’ll never use it,” he mumbled. “Never in a million years.” And, suddenly, he felt vulnerable without it. He was used to having small charms in his pockets. They were little reminders that there was some luck in the universe, good or bad. That afternoon he was going to the courthouse to hear his father’s will. His father. He sure as hell had never been a dad. He hadn’t earned the title. Dads taught you how to play cricket on summer days. Fathers called from foreign cities to say, again, that they wouldn’t make it to the biggest day of your life.
Willis was tempted to throw the wallet in the wastebasket, but he gently placed it back on the dresser with an air of defeat.
An hour later, he was showered, sharply dressed, and hurriedly locking the hotel room behind him. He strolled with purpose through the chic lobby and out onto the pavement. He was not rushing to his appointment with excitement or even mild anticipation. He was rushing to get it all over with. He desired the whole matter to be dead and buried. There was a shameful question repeating itself over and over again in his head, and he tried desperately to ignore it … What did the bastard leave me? His only son. What did the bastard leave me? Bastard … bastard … bast— He began walking faster.
As he rounded the corner, the large, impersonal, grey building loomed before him, with its long, stone steps. He vaguely imagined guillotines. Willis couldn’t remember the streets he had walked, as though something else had brought him to this place without his knowing or consent. In many ways, it had. He did not want this part of his life to exist. Where was Occam’s razor for moments like these? How wonderful it would be to splice out all the undesirable bits.
Willis threw these encroaching thoughts from his mind and scurried up the stone steps. The engraved wooden doors looked large and imposing, but were surprisingly light and swung open with ease. Willis couldn’t help thinking that perhaps these doors were much like his father. If only he had taken the time to turn the doorknob. Once again he banished his useless mind chatter. None of it could be helped now. His father’s barrister, and friend, was waiting for him, perched on one of the many benches placed along the sides of the grand hallway. The white marble floor was immaculate. Almost so that, if he desired, he could see his reflection near his feet, but few dared to look at themselves in a courthouse.
The man rose to meet Willis. Willis knew this man well—too well. Sometimes the disappointing calls from his father would be telegrammed through this man’s voice.
“I’m sorry, son …” the voice would say, “your father has been held up in a meeting.” Even this man knew his father well enough to know he was only that. A father. A sperm donor. An absent male figure. The dictionary was far too generous with the word. Father. A male parent. God. One who originates, makes possible, or inspires something. The word dad was merely listed as a colloquial term or a shortcut for father. It was all so backwards.
“Hello, Willis,” the man said as he extended his hand, which was taken without hesitation. However, Willis shook hands limply. He was still overwhelmed by this place and these people and papers and things. They were all just things. Was he grieving? He didn’t know. It was all packed somewhere inside his big toe. Everything would take a very long time to reach his mouth and then his brain.
“Hi, Sam,” he answered in a voice that was barely audible. Sam motioned him into another room nearby. There were too many thresholds that day. The room was small and dimly lit. The blinds were down and the large desk and tall bookshelves seemed to judge Willis from their standpoints. Willis loosened his tie, feeling the musty tone of the heavy, dark brown books and neglected carpets. It was a furnished closet where many unsaid things happened.
“Would you like some coffee?” Sam offered. Willis thought he could use something a bit stronger, but he politely raised his hand in decline. Sam poured himself a cup and settled in behind the large oak desk. He folded and unfolded his hands and then laid them flat before him. There was no real sense of sorrow in the room, but the situation was delicate and Sam wasn’t sure where to begin. He didn’t want to touch a raw nerve.
“I have your father’s papers,” he began. He pulled an envelope out of a large, squeaky drawer in his desk and deftly handed it over. Willis didn’t make any move to accept it.
“Shouldn’t mother be here?” Willis stalled.
“Your mother conveyed point-blank that she isn’t interested in what he had to say.”
Willis nodded solemnly. She was still his widow, but he had been less than a husband to her. She had known the truth behind his unscheduled business trips years ago. However, she had kept quiet and continued to pack his lunch every morning and make pork chops every Tuesday night. It had been a different era then, and she probably made herself believe there was nowhere else for her to go. Maybe it would have been easier if he had run off and left her for good. Besides, she had to stay. She had Willis to think about. And now Hancocks Sr. was dead. The freedom of it was suffocating.
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