When you spend your life saving others...who will be there to save you? Our May book is The Waiting Hours by Shandi Mitchell, and we are so grateful for the chance to ask the author our questions after finishing.
We loved The Waiting Hours, and the pace made it impossible to put down. It felt like having insider access to the lives of people who all of our lives may depend on. What do you think drives these extraordinary people to do this work?
Such a tough question for me to answer. I wonder if there is a genetic coding in each of us that drives us towards our abilities—be it first responders, writers, artists, activists, mechanics, builders, carpenters…? For those I interviewed, I did sense a compassion and an inner character to act and not merely observe. There were shared traits of clarity and strength under pressure; deep pride and responsibility in their duty to others; and a toughness or fierceness not to give up.
There was also a knowing that their work mattered and a fearlessness to stand on the edge of life and death. For some, there was a family lineage in the same field or a tragedy that led them towards jobs that could make a difference. For others, maybe there was reward in the adrenaline and control of impossible situations? It would be an interesting question to ask those in the field.
The Waiting Hours felt so immersive and realistic. How did you research to accurately depict these characters and their work?
I spent about a year researching my characters’ worlds before I attempted to write. I started by reading first person accounts. Later I did police ride-alongs, sat in on 911 calls, and in ERs and hospitals. I listened and watched and when I felt I had a framework to ask informed questions, I met with trauma nurses, police officers, and 911 call-takers and listened to their stories. I kept listening and watching until I felt I could step inside the hearts of my characters. I was privileged to be invited into so many communities that aren’t mine. Many helped guide me towards what I hoped would feel true.
It was so interesting to see how 911 operators only hear part of a story, without the resolution or ending. What gave you the idea to show this side of the story?
Storytelling is a motif that runs throughout the novel. The narratives of us. Even Zeus, the search and rescue dog, follows stories. As a writer who “sees” and lives every scene with my characters, I suppose I was curious about stories unfinished. I wondered how it would feel to leave a story at the moment of unresolved crisis. To be satisfied with not knowing. I also wondered how it might feel to hold emotional crisis at a protective distance. Could it be sustained? Could the mind overcome the heart? At what cost? What would still absorbed?
We know all great writers are readers. Can you please share with us who some of your favourite authors are?
The list is long and ever evolving. Richard Powers, Mariam Toewes, Jim Harrison, Barbara Gowdy, Kate Atkinson, Gabriel García Márquez, Esi Edugyan, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Elizabeth Strout, Denis Johnson, Joyce Carol Oates, Zsuzsi Gartner, Anne Enright, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Colum McCann...I could name hundreds who have illuminated something for me. And still I feel a longing for those I have not yet found.
Why do you think reading and storytelling is so special?
For me, it is my place to feel other lives. To challenge my perceptions and understanding of the world and my place in it. To learn, to cry, to soar…to be dazzled by the breadth and imagination of this species. I am changed by the encountering.
I’m always awed to step inside a creation, of any form, to still myself to just breath and heartbeat and fall into something true and breathtaking, or challenging and heartbreaking, or fragile and shining. Story is how we tell each other who we are, where we’ve been, and maybe what’s ahead. Story helps us see each other. Stories can hold our frail, flawed, astounding, horrifying, brutal, confounding, beautiful humanity. The more I read inward, the farther I look outward.