Origin Story: Riel Nason

“It was not good when I started it."
Riel Nason reading at the Saint John Free Public Library

How the award-winning author of two novels came full circle

Riel Nason has some common ground with Violet, the 17-year-old antique dealer in her latest novel, All the Things We Leave Behind. For Nason, an early career in antiques and collectibles started her on the path to where she is now—the award-winning author of two novels and many short stories.

When Nason first graduated from university, she worked as an antique dealer. Her work didn’t have anything to do with what she’d learned in school but the world of antiques and collectibles fascinated her and she quickly built up her topical expertise by doing a lot of reading and research.

“I read so many magazines,” says Nason. “Seeing the types of articles that were in the magazines, I was kind of, ‘I could write something like that. They look friendly and straightforward, I enjoy the topic and I would have some degree of expert knowledge, having my own business.’”

She started writing articles and landed a column in the local newspaper. But the same curiosity that led her to try writing articles soon had her writing short stories. Her antique theme stuck around for a little while—several of her short stories had to do with working in the antique business and she thinks her first story was about a flea market.

“I was very aware of ‘write what you know,’” says Nason. “So I definitely started with that.”

She wrote a number of stories and submitted a couple of them to the Writer’s Federation of New Brunswick’s Writing Competition. Her first year, she received second place in the short story category.

“One of my short stories came second, so I thought, ‘Oh! I must be going in the right direction,’” she says. “It gave me the encouragement to keep going.”

Nason continued writing short stories until she had a strong collection that she wanted to try and publish. So she started looking for an agent. Several of the agents she queried asked for the full manuscript and she received an offer of representation from Hilary McMahon at Westwood Creative Artists. McMahon warned Nason that a short story collection would be hard to sell and ultimately the sale didn’t happen.

But that didn’t hold Nason back—instead, it motivated her. She laughs when she talks about it now, but at the time she was worried that if she didn’t write something else, her agent would give up on her. The end result was her first novel, The Town That Drowned, which she wrote in two-hour stints when her daughter was just seven months old. According to Nason, it was just something she had to try to do.

“It was not good when I started it,” she says. “Several times, I thought, ‘Ugh, what am I doing?’ but I just said, ‘No, don’t go back and read it because you’ll just feel bad about it if you look at how choppy it might seem. So I just kept writing until the end and then went back and edited and fixed and edited and fixed. I go through a lot of drafts.”

The book was very well received, winning both the Commonwealth Book Prize and the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award. “All kinds of wonderful things came from that,” says Nason. “I was happy that so many people liked that it was set in New Brunswick and responded well to that. They were so happy that I had written about something that had happened there.”

So she decided to start the process again. For Riel, that process involves making a lot of notes. She writes down ideas as they coming to her, jotting down lots of bits and pieces—from funny lines to setting details. Once she’s collected enough details, it’s time to start piecing together the novel. This time, the result was All the Things We Leave Behind.

“Years and years ago, I saw a story in the newspaper about a boneyard; there are a few around here,” says Nason. “I remember reading that article and thinking ‘Oh, if I ever wrote about a place like that, it would have to be haunted, so that idea was there. And I live in Quispamsis and we have so many deer. Quite a few people around here don’t necessarily love them as much as me, so there was that aspect.”

And then there’s Violet, the antique dealing main character bringing Nason’s writing career full circle.

Written By

Sarah Sawler is a Halifax journalist, book reviewer and author of 100 Things You Don't Know About Nova Scotia.

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