Last week, we chatted with Rebecca Fisseha author of the wonderfully nuanced Daughters of Silence. The book discusses the complications of leaving and returning home in life and in death, childhood abuse and subsequent healing, and long lost sisters—all set on the backdrop of modern Ethiopia and Toronto. We caught up with Rebecca to get some insights on how the book evolved, and the following is an edited transcript for maximum blog-readability. You can interact with the original twitter thread here.
WOTS: We’ve done a deep dive into your website blog and interviews, and discovered that the working title for the book was “Vase Life” – could you talk a bit about the process of revising a novel? What else changed along the way?
Rebecca Fisseha: Thanks for reading my blog and stuff! I know there’s a lot there. I would say the process of revising is really discovering what it is I’m actually writing about. Everything changes along the way, from the practical details of names, relationships, motivations, settings, etc., so the process is really about discovering what is the underlying concern, the about. One huge thing that changed was that I had a whole chunk set in a rose farm, even visited a rose farm outside Addis, but all that went out the window!
WOTS: Flowers, especially roses, do make important appearances in the book, though – maybe there will be another opportunity to use this research!
RF: [Y]es I hope so! It would be a shame to lose it all. Considering I’m exploring habesha weddings in my next book (Ethiopian weddings), I see a natural tie-in with roses. Flowers are kinda big and important in weddings. Have yet to see plastic flowers at a wedding!
WOTS: Dessie is the protagonist, but she isn’t always a sympathetic character, and doesn’t always make the right choices. How did you develop her character?
RF: Wow! Big question! Revision, revision, revision. Allowing her to be as selfish as she needed to be. Like most writers, with each revision I got to know her a bit better, I got better at differentiating what she wanted to do versus what I wanted her to do, etc.
WOTS: It is very good to see a female protagonist be selfish in the way Dessie is – in a self-protective way, although it doesn’t shelter her completely from the events of the book.
RF: Thank you!
WOTS: In your recent CBC interview you say that the novel brings Dessie to the moment where she turns toward healing. What do you see in Dessie’s future?
RF: I definitely see her continuing her journey towards more healing, but with a lot of two steps forward, three steps back! No one ever gets it “right” the first time, or the second. And I imagine her healing might look very different from the traditional, as in going to therapy, etc. Thinking as a novelist, I would like it if she found her healing process through something totally unexpected, like construction. For a wild example. What if she heals through becoming a construction worker! That’s intriguing.
WOTS: Building something to build yourself back up – listen up, writers tired of tropes!
You’re also an accomplished playwright, as well as the author of short stories and magazine articles. What are some of the joys and challenges that come with different styles of storytelling and narrative form?
RF: Well thank you! Joys: quicker turnaround from inception to seeing the work completed. Challenges: short life span, shorter reach overall. A play is over in a few weeks. And short stories are read usually just by subscribers of the journal, etc. I definitely prefer the novel form because it’s expansive and I can explore as much the interior life as the exterior life and novels live “forever” as [we all] know…
WOTS: Yes, long live the novel! And expansive, detailed, and interesting storytelling.
Who do you turn to, or what do you do, when you feel writer’s block?
RF: If I’m being good, I turn to books! As in, I read the work of other writers who inspire me in one way or another. Or I pace. Or I stare at the ceiling. Or I abandon the work for the day. Or the fridge! I go and open the fridge and stare at what’s inside! Something about staring at the illuminated contents of my fridge is soothing. Hard to explain why. But really the best thing for writer’s block for me is to just sit and wait, something will always float by, always. I’ve learned to trust that process. Just sit and wait.
WOTS: The fridge – an endless source of inspiration! Speaking of food, there is a lot of it in your book, as well. Bonus question: do you like to cook?
RF: [A]bsolutely not! If I won the lottery, I would never cook again. That’s my fantasy, my vision board, whatever. Never having to do groceries or cook again.
WOTS: Leaves more time for writing, anyways! Where, or when, do you do your best writing? Any quirky writing habits?
RF: Usually first thing in the morning. When my brain is fresh either from sleep or coffee or ideally both! As for where, home is best. A clean home is even better. Other people’s clean homes will do as well. Especially if they’re out at work! Yeah if nobody’s home, I love writing in other people’s spaces. Especially if they live in the leafy green quiet suburbs. Nature is great. I don’t know that I have any quirky writing habits. Talking to myself, I guess. But I think that’s very universal.
WOTS: Taking this full circle to your [earlier answer], tell us more about this novel about habesha weddings you are working on! Anything else currently in progress, or excited to be thinking about?
RF: It’s very much in progress, so hard to say anything substantial at the moment. [Right] now I’m working finding time to write it. Fun fact: promoting your published book is very time consuming! But necessary, otherwise who’s going to read the 2nd one, right?
WOTS: We will be first in line! Rebecca, thank you so much for your insights on Daughters of Silence and your writing process. We wish you the time, and the clean spaces of friends with treed yards, to write to your heart’s content.
RF: Thank you! It was a pleasure.