Jane Woods always wanted to be on stage with the spotlight on her.
The once-actress and musician, is a graduate from the National Theatre School of Canada, and holds a BFA in Integrative Music Studies from Concordia University.
“The one thing I didn’t want to do was write,” said Woods whose first novel, The Walking Tanteek, was released April 1 by Goose Lane Editions.
“I wanted to be a star. I wanted to be on the stage, I wanted to be a singer; I wanted to play piano. So I tried all those things and they went this far and then they stopped,” she said drawing a line in the air with her hand.
It would be her many years translating French films and television shows to be dubbed into English that pushed her to begin writing fiction.
“I’m sort of writing already. Why not continue?” said Woods, who’s friends had encouraged her to start writing in the past.
Woods applied for Humber’s creative writing correspondence program in 2009. She began working with David Adams Richards (co-winner of the Giller prize in 2000 for Mercy Among the Children) the following January on what was then a 300,000 word mammoth.
Humber’s correspondence program is different from many creative writing courses because it offers one-on-one mentorship to students who have book-sized manuscripts.
“You can’t usually get so many pages covered with the attention of only one person,” said Antanas Silieka, director of Humber’s School for Writers.
The course taught Woods a valuable lesson.
“I learned that I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was,” she said.
Although she expressed moments during her correspondence that deflated her, the lesson helped her condense and strengthen her work. Taking the correspondence also helped her reach where she is today.
“It was Humber that helped me (get published) indirectly. After I did the course with David he referred me to his agent and his agent suggested a couple of publishers…” she said. “I lucked out. The second publisher I tried took an interest.”
Woods described her novel as a story about a woman who struggles with the possibility of having faith and doubt at the same time.
“(One of the) biggest themes that runs through the entire novel is the tension there is between doubt and certainty and what doubt and certainty do to people,” said Woods.
“Does (certainty) bring you peace? Does doubt make you miserable? Or does doubt keep your mind open and keep you humble and does certainty make you arrogant?” she asked.
Woods participated in a reading and panel discussion April 9 as part of the International Festival of Authors (IFOA) weekly series. The event featured two other debut novelists who joined Woods in answering questions about and discussing similarities between their novels.
“In this case there was an alternate reality or magical realism in all the books, but they are very different books,” said Maeve O’Regan, communications and marketing coordinator at IFOA.
The Walking Tanteek is an entity, a figment of the main character’s imagination. It’s also a lyric she misheard in a Bob Dylan song that represents the idea of certitude and doubt, things you think you know but have been wrong about for a long time, said Woods.
The actress shone through as Woods read with lively enthusiasm, shining a light on the overwhelming and, almost comic, unanswerable conflict that arises when contemplating death and the meaning of life.
Although not as an actress or musician, Woods has managed to find a way to demand an audience’s attention on stage. The IFOA event was the second reading she’s done, her second small bite of (literary) stardom.