1 1. THE TRUTH COMMISSION is told in a new, innovative format (fictional non-fiction) that not a lot of readers will have encountered before. Why did you find it best to tell the story this way?
I teach a class in creative nonfiction (A.K.A. narrative nonfiction), and we’ve had some very interesting discussions about how truthful it’s possible to be when telling your own story. Even though it’s nonfiction—in other words, it really happened—you need to pick a perspective and a tone, and decide which events to include and which to leave out. You also need to decide how much to say about other people who may have been involved.
While I was working on my memoir Nice Recovery (Penguin Canada, 2010), I had to address all of these questions. It’s about my alcoholism—I developed a drinking problem in my teens, and got sober at twenty, so I was writing about a time when I was frequently not in my right mind. My memories were faded, and some had been obliterated by blackouts. I had to think hard about how to protect the privacy of other people. (For the record, I made a note when I wasn’t sure of something, and let the reader know when names had been changed to protect privacy.)
After Nice Recovery, I began to wonder how it would be to structure a novel as a piece of creative nonfiction.
Another reason I decided to use this format was because it allows the writer to use the techniques of fiction (scene building, characterization, and all that good stuff) in the service of a true story. It enabled—nay! encouraged me to use footnotes, which are part of many of my favoruite novels and works of creative nonfiction. Footnotes annoy some readers, but they also give the writer a way to make the reader question the main narrative by presenting an alternative version of events; they can also add another layer of intrigue, or even an additional plot line or two. Douglas Coupland, David Foster Wallace, Junot Díaz: they are all footnoting heroes of mine.
2. Did you find this format easier or harder than writing a "normal prose" book?
Writing actual creative nonfiction is harder than writing a novel, for the simple reason that you can’t make things up. It is very constraining to have to stick the facts. Writing a piece of fiction in the form of a nonfiction manuscript being submitted as a school assignment combined the best of both worlds, at least from my profoundly biased perspective.
3. Will your next book in this world be told in the same way?
The next book is set at the same school—the Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design—and centers around a competition to get a scholarship to the fashion program. It’s a dueling diaries/applications sort of thing. It does have some (I hope!) innovative elements.
4. What type of research did you need to go through prior to writing THE TRUTH COMMISSION?
Most of my research was focused on learning about the art forms practiced by the characters. For instance, one of them does taxidermy on small animals, and then installs those animals in various setting. I read books about taxidermy, and spent a lot of time finding information on taxidermy courses. There are some fascinating ones offered through the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn—in fact, the New York Times just did an article on them today!* . How many programs have a line in their registration policy that instructs students: “Please do not bring any raw dead animals with you to the class”?
My main character, Normandy, does a lot of needlework: cross-stitch, embroidery, needlepoint. I took stitching lessons and read books and practiced while I worked on the novel. I also spent hours admiring the work of some of the greats. People do some amazing things with thread and canvas.
5. How does Normandy evolve as a character from the beginning to the end? Do you feel teens will be able to relate to this evolution?
Normandy learns that she’s strong enough to face her fears and name her truth even though it threatens the code of silence in her family. I think at some point, usually in far less extreme circumstances, we all have to do that in one way or another. Coming of age means deciding for ourselves what and who we are, rather than allowing others to define us, as Normandy’s sister tries to do to her. I hope readers will be able to relate to Normandy and cheer her on. At minimum, I hope they’ll learn to enjoy adding a footnote or two to their own creative endeavors.
About THE TRUTH COMISSION:
Open secrets are the heart of gossip—the obvious things that no one is brave or tactless enough to ask. Except for Normandy Pale and her friends Dusk and Neil. They are juniors at a high school for artists, and have no fear when it comes to asking their classmates for the truth behind the gossip. They are the Truth Commission. But when one of their truth targets tells Normandy, “If you want to know about the truth, you might want to look a little closer to home,” she realizes that there are some truths she might not want to uncover.
This dryly funny, knife-sharp novel, written as "narrative nonfiction" by Normandy herself, features footnotes, illustrations and a combination mystery/love story that will capture readers from the first page. Susan is currently at work on her next YA novel, set inthe same art school as THE TRUTH COMMISSION.
Susan Juby is the bestselling author of the internationally popular Alice MacLeod books, which were made into a television series, and the critically acclaimed novels Getting the Girl and Another Kind of Cowboy. Her work has won the Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize, been selected as a Children’s Book Sense Pick, a Kirkus Editor’s Choice, and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and been shortlisted for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, an Edgar Award, an Arthur Ellis Award, and the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award. Susan lives in Nanaimo, B.C., Canada, the setting for many of her books—including this one. Visit her online at www.susanjuby.com, follow her on Twitter @thejuby, or check out her hilarious video series, “The Writer’s Life,” on YouTube.
I take my job as a Truth Officer seriously. Well, for the most part. Like 66% of the time.
So the question is ... Which of these statements is a lie? (Hint: 2 are absolute truths and only one is a lie).
-I was on a competitive dive team and quit after an accident where I hit my head on the diving board
-I was detained by Ukrainian police on a bus whilst in Ukraine.
So what was the lie?