It's my turn to host the wonderful Joy Norstrom and her debut novel , Out of Play, and she's also kindly answered some questions.
First of all, let's take a look at the novel.
Gillian is stuck in a humdrum marriage and is at a loss on how to fix it. Her husband regularly ditches her for weekend adventures participating in Live Action Role-Play, otherwise known as Larp.
With tensions running high, Gillian seeks professional advice. She is surprised when her therapist encourages her to try larp. "Who knows? It may make you smile. It may make you laugh. It may even improve your sex life. How terrible could it be?"
Gillian is skeptical, yet decides to give it a go. If larp doesn’t work a marital miracle, Gillian can walk away knowing she tried everything before giving up on her dysfunctional marriage.
Will going on a role-play adventure heal Gillian's marriage, or will the game shed light on everything that is wrong?
Out of Play has the tag line "an unromance" and this describes the meat of the book very well indeed.
The title didn't grab me at first, but once I finished reading it, I realised its significance, which, for Gillian, actually doesn't really have anything to do with larping. Rather, it reflects her state of mind and not just regarding her marriage.
A significant portion of the story appears to be about a couple who have grown apart, and who have little in common. Ralph enjoys larping. Gillian doesn't seem to enjoy much at all. At first, I thought maybe she should just go and find something she enjoys and stop whining that they don't do things together, or find something they can both enjoy together... But relationships aren't that simple are they, and by the time many couples get to Gillian's and Ralph's stage, there are often so many issues that everything is clouded by them.
Although that is the case in Out Of Play, there are other things going on here, other than simply drifting apart - and this is where the story takes off and becomes deeper and more intense than your usual chick lit. It is addictive and heartbreaking, and I found myself rooting for all the main characters because each and every one of them has to deal with loss, and moving on in their own way.
About the Author
Joy Norstrom is a Canadian coffee addict. She also happens to be the author of Out Of Play, a women’s fiction novel long on humour and short on romance. She enjoys hiking with family, wine with friends and reading late into the wee hours when she should be asleep.
A social worker by trade, Joy also writes short stories about lives in transition. Whether she is championing inclusion, parenting her kidlets or popping into the local coffee shop, she can generally be found engaged in conversation. Why? She believes human connection and laughter keep her grounded in a muddled world.
Is this your first book?
It sure is! Well…to be truthful it’s my first published book. Like most writers I have a number of half-finished projects on the hard drive. Writing is a bit like dating. You’ve got to date a few people in order to find out what works for you and what absolutely doesn’t.
How did you come up with the title of your book?
In Out of Play my protagonist, Gillian, signs up for a volunteer shift at a LARP (live action role-play) camp. Her husband regularly participates in LARP, but Gillian has never been and is frustrated about how much of his time and energy he spends on a hobby she doesn’t value or understand. If you haven’t heard of LARP before, no worries. I hadn’t a few years ago either. It’s a role-playing game that involves players dressing in costume. It’s a very immersive experience. Both the players as well as volunteers—often referred to as Non Playing Characters—need to stay ‘in character’ at all times. This holds true for the entire playing area except what’s often referred to as ‘Out of Play’ or ‘out of game’ zones. I choose Out of Play as the book title because Gillian is very much Out of Play in her own life. She’s standing on the sidelines and has a sense that life is passing her by.
What writing advice do you have for other aspiring writers?
Many people dream of writing a book and the only way to do so is to get words on the page. On first pass it often doesn’t look as brilliant as we thought it would be and it’s easy to get discouraged. It’s sappy. Overly dramatic. The characters are flat and uninteresting. That’s okay. Finish the story even if you think it is crap. Once it’s down on paper you can revise it until it shines. You can’t shine a story that exists only in your head. And to all those secret closest writers out there: Writers need readers in order to grow and develop storytelling skills. It can be scary to show your work to someone else, but that’s the only way you can get feedback. Readers validate our work and they sharpen it. I encourage you to find a few trusted people to be vulnerable with (because that’s what it is! It’s hard work revealing your work to someone else).
Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
I read my reviews. I do not comment as I don’t want readers to police or sensor their responses. When I receive a negative review I read for understanding and consider the feedback for the next story. I also think it’s important to balance the energy I spend on critical reviews with the positive reviews that encourage me. Sometimes I have to remind myself, “heck you wrote a book. You wrote the best book you could, a book many people have enjoyed and that’s something to be proud of.”
What can we expect from you in the future?
I am happy to report that I am knee-deep in the next novel! I’m sweating and swearing and struggling along but the damn thing is starting to take shape. My current project is about a single mom who lives in a western Canadian sawmill town. Her son doesn’t fit into the fairly rigid gender norms in their community. With little income (and few choices) she crosses paths with a group of older women who want her to teach them about dating in the twenty-first century.
I’m currently interviewing parents with children who identify outside mainstream gender norms as a way to better understand my character. If you’re reading this and are interested in sharing your experience with me, I would love to hear from you.