By Sue Tiffin
Published May 8 2018
It’s fitting that with the launch of The Spoon Asylum author Caroline Misner is living her dream because the idea for the story that became her most treasured book came to the Eagle Lake resident while she was sleeping.
“It started with a dream” Misner told the paper. “I was dreaming about a young man who’s walking by a river in a field. He meets this portly black gentleman with a trumpet and they start talking and it starts to rain. They go to find shelter in a little cave and they’re talking and playing the trumpet in the cave and then I woke up. That’s how it started it started as a dream. I woke up and thought I can make a story around that that’s really interesting. And then the story just started snowballing and growing and growing.”
The Spoon Asylum tells the story of Haven Cattrell Wetherby Moss and Wetherby’s son Jude who live in the small northern Ontario town of Davisville in the 1930s.
“It is the story of the racism that haunted black jazz musicians in the ’30s and how that racism found its way to Davisville” reads the newly printed back cover. “It is the story of how love can blind young men and save them from themselves and it is the story of how important it is to dream when the chaos and hard times around you want to drag you down.”
Misner wrote the book 12 years ago after her three young kids grew older and more independent.
“The first 15 years after being married I didn’t do a lot of writing – I didn’t have time” she said. “I was always pregnant or raising a child or both. It wasn’t until they got older that I picked up a pen again.
“When they were little I was always writing cute little poems or stories for them to entertain them. But it wasn’t really something I wanted to seriously pursue until my kids were older. Now that they’re all grown I’m going full guns blazing.”
And she has. Misner is very much an active writer. She is halfway through the third book in a young adult fantasy trilogy and the characters from The Spoon Asylum were so meaningful to her that she has written a sequel to continue their story.
“When I finished writing this I couldn’t let the characters go. I wrote a sequel” she said. “[I’m] hoping once the dust settles I can present the sequel to my publisher. The way it ends it ends at the end of the story but they’re still only 18. There’s still a life ahead of them. I wanted to write about it and see what happened to them.”
Her pride and passion for The Spoon Asylum is evident and not just because she has said it’s her proudest achievement or the one novel (she has written several) she believes in the most.
“I really love the characters and the story” she said. “I think it was Toni Morrison who said ‘I started writing because all the books didn’t appeal to me so I wrote the book I wanted to read.’ So that’s kind of like me. I wrote a book I would want to read.”
The theme of the story looks at racism and prejudice in the ’30s owing to what Misner said is her strong sense of social consciousness and an anger for injustice.
“It’s about a part of history that a lot of people would want to close their eyes to” she said. “What happened to my characters is tragic. It wasn’t just them it happened to a lot of people. It’s a shame and an injustice and we should know about it and that era of history.”
Because the novel features much jazz music Misner had her father a professional jazz musician read it in the early part of the process.
“I grew up listening to jazz” she said. “It’s all about the music too how it influenced people. He didn’t like it. Don’t ask me to sing or play the piano or anything I’m so terrible with music and of course he’s a professional so he kept pointing out everything. ‘You don’t hold a trumpet like that’ you know things like that.”
Her dad’s guidance as well as help from her editor who is also a jazz musician ensured the story is accurate.
“Unless you’re writing a total fantasy that’s in it’s own little world [then] you can do whatever you want” said Misner. “But when you’re writing a story in the real world you have to be accurate.”
Misner said her dad has been so supportive of her work in part because her grandfather was a writer too. Josef Kurz was a Czech poet and writer whose work was banned by the Communist Regime at that time.
“My father tells me he was very gifted” said Misner. “He could scribble down a poem in five minutes and it would rhyme perfectly perfect metre. I guess yeah it’s in my blood.”
She said she doesn’t write as quickly as her grandfather might have but still she wrote The Spoon Asylum in just six months. It took longer than that to get it published but Misner did not give up.
“I wrote it about 10 or 12 years ago” she said. “I’ve been trying like hell to get it published. I must have sent it to 50 different publishers. You hear things like Catcher in the Rye was rejected by 200 publishers before it finally got out there. It’s all part of the business. I try not to let myself get discouraged when I get a rejection.”
It was at home in Eagle Lake where Misner has been a cottager since 1997 and a full-time resident since last year that she received an email from her publisher Thistledown Press that the book had been accepted.
“I was like am I really reading this?” said Misner. “Is this real? It was almost surreal. I couldn’t believe it.”
After years of dedication to The Spoon Asylum Misner’s dream of having it published has come true.
“I’m very stubborn” she said. “I never give up. But Wayne Gretzky says you always miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take.”
To learn more about Caroline’s work visit www.carolinemisner.com. Meet her at the book launch event for The Spoon Asylum at the Rails End Gallery on Saturday May 12 from 11 a.m. to noon. Admission by donation.