Lisa de Nikolits – West of Wawa

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

My latest (and second) novel, West of Wawa is about a young immigrant woman named Benny. Benny comes to Canada from Australia, thinking that she’s running to something while actually, she’s running away; running away from a marriage that ended badly and from a failed dream of being an artist. She’s in a lot of pain and she numbs herself with hard work and prescription meds – she’s very adept at self-medicating, a tendency that increases during her journey. West of Wawa is a road-trip adventure and Benny’s a feisty girl, but she’s also foolhardy and she learns a few tough lessons along the way. This book is very much about life handing out hard knocks, and having to fight and find a way to self-realization. Benny isn’t perfect; she makes a lot of mistakes but she does find her way.

Tell us something about yourself.

I’m originally from South Africa and I came to Canada in 2000. I was looking for a job as a magazine art director in New York and I got offered a job (with then McCall’s) but I couldn’t get a visa. While I was waiting to hear about my visa, I got a job here in Toronto and I fell in love with Canada and I stayed. I got transferred to London (England) for three months and I couldn’t wait to get back to Canada.

I’ve been writing all my life. Really! And it was always a given in the family that I would become a writer. I studied English and Philosophy at university but then I found writing as a day job much too stressful. I was lucky enough to be given an opportunity in art directing and that’s been my day job and a huge love of my life for the past twenty-three years. But I’ve always written; short stories, poems, long wordy novels. I’ve typewritten, hand-written, computer-written, daydreamed and nightmared my writing ever since I can remember.

Hmmm, anything you might find interesting… let me think… I have a brown belt in karate? Ah, I think you mean writing-interesting! Okay, well, here’s something I’ve never shared on a blog before (at least I don’t think I have!) – I love Stephen King, I feel like his books are my guilty pleasure. I love the way he can paint the picture of seemingly-peaceful and perfect suburban life with a rotten undertow that drags you into an abyss.

What inspired you to write this book?

Books choose us – I really believe that. But we can choose to go on a date with the book or not… It really is like being given the opportunity to make a new friend. We can always say no. But sometimes you think hey, this person’s really interesting so I’m going to take some time to hang out with them. It was the same thing with West of Wawa. The book came to me and said, “here I am, can you do something with me, can you help me live?” and I said yes and I never gave up on it, not even when it seemed like I was following an impossible dream. (More about this below in answer to Question 5.)

How did you choose the title?

Again here’s something I’ve never shared before – the original title was West of Wawa and Why Eve Ate The Apple…I’d been struggling to find a title, struggling mightily, and I’d been trying out different ones for what seemed like months. As always, I ask the opinion of every person I meet (which means that a lot of people see me coming and run in the other direction…) anyway, I was at a guitar lesson, bemoaning my title-less fate and my teacher said “take it from the book,” (he knew that each chapter had its own title) and one was West of Wawa and Why Eve Ate The Apple, and that one popped into my head. So there it was, but I later shortened it to just West of Wawa. The ‘Why Eve Ate The Apple’ bit is still in the book and I invite (and hopefully entice) readers to discover that bit for themselves!

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

The obstacles in getting this book published could have paved Benny’s entire journey from the east to west coast of Canada.

The book was quickly accepted for ebook publication by a wonderful little publishing company on the east coast. We spent a year working on edits and revisions and proofs and galleys and the like, and we even finished the cover artwork and it was all going swimmingly well. Then, two weeks before launch date, the company ran out of funds and closed up shop. Talk about disappointed! Actually, make that crushed and devastated. But, I thought, at the very least, I had a polished manuscript in hand that I could shop around. And I did that, submitting it a publishing house that I had wanted to work with for ages. I waited on tenterhooks for the long six months it took them to read it (they’re also a small house and had quite a backlog so it took a little longer than usual for me to get feedback.) I wasn’t too worried though – the book had already been previously accepted and so I was 80 percent sure that the news was going to be good. But then, another crushing blow – feedback told me that while the scenery was great, the character was vacuous. She professed to learn and grow on her journey but her actions didn’t support this. Once again, a crushing blow.

I gathered my energy and swallowed my pride (vacuous? My character was vacuous?) and started from scratch.

During this time, I had been working with my current, wonderful publisher and so of course, when I was finished reworking the novel, I sent the book to her. Three months later I got the good news: “the book’s a terrific read!”

So, it all turned out well in the end. West of Wawa emerged, a print book, and with a much better story and it’s true that there really are silver linings to the darkest of clouds.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I love a good ritual! The answer is yes, absolutely. I light candles or incense. I wear a particular hat, I arrange bowls of chocolates and my desk needs to be just so. In the past, I wasn’t able to work unless all the dishes were done and the house was spotless but I’m delighted to say I’ve overcome that and now I can work with the sink piled high and the stairs badly in need of a vacuum. My very sweet husband has kindly picked up a lot of my slack, which I greatly appreciate. Still, he was the one who told me that I couldn’t do everything and that I had to prioritize – well, I did!

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Try to get a grip on the rules of editing and grammar. I’m still struggling with it; run-on sentences (I’m horribly guilty), commas (I use too many), semi-colons (an eternal mystery), colons (in need of irrigation?) and rules for internal narrative versus dialogue. Just to mention a few. Because these days, you’re expected to show up all polished and shiny – there is no ‘later’ and there is no ‘them’ as in ‘they’ll fix it later’. I still hear people saying that, and I’ve pretty much given up explaining that they’re shooting themselves in the foot by not working it harder upfront, because they look at me with pity, clearly thinking that my work must lack the immeasurable value that theirs has.

Seriously though, learning how to edit your own work is invaluable. So that’d be my Tip Number One. Followed by Never Give Up. Followed by Find Yourself A Great Mentor If You Can. And then, there’s the old goodie; Learn Something New Every Day.

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

Ah, my poor characters. Imagine they’re real people and I’m trying to find the perfect outfit for each of them – I drag them to shopping mall after shopping mall, and make them try on different suits and dresses and shorts and skirts and blouses and t-shirts and ball-gowns and raincoats – and that’s without even having started on the purses, shoes, belts, scarves and hats! I’m utterly relentless. I lose a lot of sleep over character names. I have to work with them for a while and see if they fit. Benny had quite a few names before I hit upon Benny and I can’t recall exactly how that came to me. I know I saw her serious little face (yes I know she’s not really real!) watching Benny and Joon and then I just knew she was Benny. She picked her name herself. Her ‘real’ name is Bertha Gertrude and I tell you, it took quite some doing to find that one! So in this instance, there are names even within names and stories around her name, so it was particularly important I get it right.

I look through books on baby’s names and I generally start there. Then I page through books, dozens of them, just looking at names. Then I scour the TV program credits and movie credits. I type arbitrary names on Google. I watch the newsreels for interesting names. I think about the names of people I work with. I think about people I went to school with. I think about movie stars. Sometimes when I’m talking to people, I’m thinking about their names and I get distracted and lose track of the conversation and I can’t exactly say ‘oh sorry, I was wondering if your name would work on this character I have…”

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

The biggest lesson I thought I learned was with regard to weaving my travel into my fiction writing. I say ‘thought I’d learned’ but actually I hadn’t! Readers, I hope you’ll join Cathy and me again on March 26, when more will be revealed on this topic!

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

I’d very much like to invite readers to visit me on Twitter for the answer to this question because I post a new quote every day from a writer who inspires me. And here are just a few that I’ve had so far (and they’re a mix of contemporary Canadian writers as well as some of the all-time greats from around the world); D.J. McIntosh, John Irving, Earnest Hemingway, Hugh MacLennan, Dylan Thomas, Alan Paton, Olive Schreiner, Salman Rushdie, Hunter S Thompson, Danila Botha, William S Burroughs, Kathleen Winter, Beverly Ackerman, Edgar Allan Poe, Stuart Ross, Harry Crews, Dawn Promislow, Jean-Paul Sartre, Charles Bukowski, Ken Babstock, Carole Giangrande, Lisa Young and Kateri Lanthier. Here’s my Twitter link:

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

I would love to tell you about it! My next book is a murder mystery set in Namibia, which is a tiny country on the border of South Africa. The novel is very much Agatha Christie style; a busload of tourists set off on a holiday of murder and mayhem. There’s lots in there about the Bushmen, witchdoctors, muti killings and things like that, as well as the murders. I am coming into my fifth year of working on this novel and my publisher is hopeful that it will see print next year, if I make the right rewrites – so, fingers crossed!

This is also a good example of my travel being woven into my fiction writing and I’ll talk more about that in the blog on 26th and I hope you’ll all join us there.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

Get a copy of the book:


Reading on YouTube:

Trailer on YouTube:

Visit my website: for reviews, comments, photographs and more.