[Editor’s Note: As a part of DIY MFA’s ongoing mission to promote unique voices, regular columnist, Sara Farmer, has been conducting a limited series of interviews featuring authors with unique and diverse voices. You can check out her past interviews of Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Marcie Rendon, Ausma Zehanat Khan and Adam Smyer.]
About Sheena Kamal
Sheena Kamal holds an HBA in Political Science from the University of Toronto, and was awarded a TD Canada Trust scholarship for community leadership and activism around the issue of homelessness.
Her bestselling debut The Lost Ones won her a Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, a Strand Critics Award, and Macavity Award for Best First Novel. The sequel It All Falls Down has been called “a stunning, emotionally resonant thriller” in its Kirkus-starred review. No Going Back and her first YA novel Fight Like A Girl were released in 2020.
Additionally, her writing has been featured in The Guardian (U.K.), Bustle, The Irish Times (Ireland), Writers Digest, and Entertainment Weekly.
Sara Farmer: There are so many wonderful characters in these books – Nora, Whisper, Bonnie, Leo, Seb, Brazuca, Simone. I even liked Lynn after a while. Do you have a favorite among the characters? How did you choose to include Brazuca’s and Bonnie’s POVs, as well as Nora’s?
Sheena Kamal: I think my favorite character is Whisper, because I’m a dog person and I love writing her. As for the POVs, that came about fairly naturally. I wanted to show the other side of the action, so to speak, so it became apparent that I’d need their perspectives.
Sara: What was your inspiration for Nora Watts? She is a fantastic character. Her narration, with the sly bits of humor, is spot-on. And her inner turmoil is so compellingly portrayed. She rings true in every way, yet does things a regular person of her age and fitness probably shouldn’t, like that crazy escape from the “not-cops” at the library.
Sheena: I don’t know what my inspiration for her is, other than she just came into my life one day and hasn’t left! When I write her, I listen to a lot of blues music and soul just to put myself in a space of vulnerability. All the action and humor are a foil for her inner turmoil, which is the most difficult and also the most compelling part of her character to write.
Sara: Will there be another book? There seem to be loose ends to tie up with Nora’s relationship with Bonnie and the backstory of what happened to Nora’s parents. Plus, her relationship with Brazuca. (Which I loved.)
Sheena: I hope so! We’ll just have to see. I’m working on a couple other projects right now, but Nora is always on my mind in some way or another.
Sara: Writers like you, Louise Penny, and Ausma Zehanat Khan have written books that poke holes in the veneer of mild-mannered good nature that many ascribe to Canada. I’m a big fan of Canada and, while I didn’t think it was perfect, I never considered that it had corruption and racism anywhere close to the level present in other countries. What motivates you to reveal Canada’s dark side? Does Canada’s “nice” reputation bother you?
Sheena: It does bother me sometimes, because Canada is a complicated country and I really want to explore those complexities in my work. I know what it’s like to feel like an “other” in Canada, so that’s my primary motivation. To take an unflinching look at the gray areas in this country.
Sara: Now for my signature question – how long did it take you to write your first book? Do you have drawer novels?
Sheena: It took me about eight months to have a solid first draft of The Lost Ones that I showed to agents. I have drawer ideas, but not full novels. If I write something, I usually try to put it out there.
Sara Farmer lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, three kids, and two cats. When she’s not chasing kids and cats, she reads and writes mysteries. You can find her at www.kittymomma.com and on Twitter @avonlea79.