When people ask me what this book is about, I’m always a little stumped. Sure, there’s a description you can read if you follow the above link, but still there’s the question – what’s the story? Truth is, when I wrote Always Brave, Sometimes Kind, I did it with the goal of writing a book about my home and about the people who live here. I wanted to write about Alberta, and we have no one narrative.
So, to answer some questions about what it’s “about,” I’m introducing the many characters who make up the novel: including tidbits about the actual writing of their story and information that didn’t make it into the book.
Let’s jump into “Northside Delacroix.”
“People choose exactly the kind of life they want.”
Set in 2007, Northside Delacroix reintroduces the reader to Shannon, now the adult manager of West Edmonton Mall’s The Cigarette Shop – a store owned by her deceased mother’s boyfriend. But Shannon’s got her big plans, a business proposal, and just enough money to start fresh; she’s not going to stay under Sleazy Larry’s thumb forever. That is, until an emergency with her younger sister forces Shannon to choose between futures.
This chapter questions the belief that we make our own fate. Do we truly choose the lives we want? What is an equal opportunity? Are all of us able to “lift ourselves up by the bootstraps,” or is even that modest opportunity for a privileged few?
This story makes reference to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, which brought over 500,000 temporary foreign workers to Canada between 2006 – 2014. In 2007, when this story was set, the minimum wage was $7/hour. During that time, I worked as an English as a Second Language Instructor in Northern Alberta. Part of this story was inspired by the stories of labor rights infringements, rental & living expense abuse, and lack of affordable or inadequate housing options my temporary foreign worker students told me of. This Temporary Foreign Worker program was largely unmonitored by the government and many temporary foreign workers were taken advantage of by their more privileged employers.
While Shannon drives Tara to the hospital, she hears Sheryl Crow sing this song on the radio.
- I wrote Northside Delacroix where I write many of my stories: on the highway north from Sherwood Park to Slave Lake, Alberta. Virginia Woolf says a woman must have a room of her own but I’ll make do with three hours in a passenger’s seat.
- I revised and edited the story sitting in a lawn chair in my mother-in-law’s driveway in May of 2014. A big horrible spruce beetle (first of the season? Do they hibernate? How was it so big so early?!) landed on my lap and inspired the simile that occurs as Shannon breaks Rodney’s nose.
- Originally, I disliked the story and its protagonist but felt the theme was important. Lucky for me, my friend and first reader Margaret Macpherson disagreed and argued that it was a very good story and a pleasure to read.
- Northside Delacroix was submitted to the Alberta Views 2014 Fiction Contest as a second entry and on a whim. I had originally entered a different chapter from the novel, Angels in the Snow, which later went on to win the Writer Guild of Alberta’s 2017 Youth / Emerging Writer Award
- My husband, a Paramedic Firefighter, helped me extensively in writing Tara’s overdose symptoms and treatment. The brown-eyed medic who catches Shannon’s eye is fashioned after him: kind, compassionate, to-the-point, and handsome to distraction.
- To date, the best compliment I have received on this story was from that husband, who said he had to keep reminding himself I had written it
- Another friend, Erin Giese, a social worker, aided in my research of Alberta’s drug and addiction treatment programs.
- Shannon definitely has an ugliness to her, but I wish I were as brave and clever and fierce. In many ways, she represents an aging-but-modern Albertan zeitgeist
- Delacroix was inspired, largely, by two quotes:
“No one’s forcing them to come here.”
– Facebook comment under a news story reporting injustices experienced by Temporary Foreign Workers
– Lisa Daley, my dear friend and a former resident of Edmonton’s Northside
Northside Delacroix won the 2014 Alberta Views Short Story Contest, guest judged by Canadian author Marina Endicott. Here’s me holding the issue it was printed in.
To Erin Geise for her insight into elements of this story including the standard cost of drug rehabilitation services in Alberta. And thank you to Alberta Views Magazine for publishing it’s earlier version, and Marina Endicott for picking it out of the submissions pile.
Set in urban and rural reaches of Alberta, Katie Bickell’s debut novel is told in a series of stories that span the years from 1990 to 2016, through cycles of boom and bust in the oil fields, government budget cuts and workers rights policies, the rising opioid crisis, and the intersecting lives of people whose communities sometimes stretch farther than they know.
We meet a teenage runaway who goes into labour at West Edmonton Mall, a doctor managing hospital overflow in a time of healthcare cutbacks, a broke dad making extra pay through a phone sex line, a young musician who dreams of fame beyond the reserve, and a dedicated hockey mom grappling with sense of self when she’s no longer needed―or welcome―at the rink.
Always Brave, Sometimes Kind captures a network of friends, caregivers, in-laws, and near misses, with each character’s life coming into greater focus as we learn more about the people around them. Tracing alliances and betrayals from different perspectives over decades, Bickell writes an ode to home and community that is both warm and gritty, well-defined and utterly complicated.