Angie Abdou: Another Fernie Finisher

On September 14, I launch my fifth book into the world. This novel has taken me on a journey very different than the others. During its three-year voyage, I accumulated a pile of bizarre stories. Let me share one.

Two months before the novel went to press, a friend accused me of having stolen her idea. She didn’t call me up and say “Hey, Angie, that new novel of yours sounds a lot like my idea.” Instead, she emailed my publisher, setting out her accusation and demanding we address her concerns in a timely fashion.

Let me be clear. This woman has never read my forthcoming novel, and I have never read her work-in-progress. She makes these accusations based on a brief catalogue description of my forthcoming novel. The similarities, according to her? A return to an ancestral home, a character befriending an enigmatic neighbour, and a discovery of past misdeeds for which the newcomer must make amends. As any reader will know, these are archetypal plot points. They hint at the book’s bone structure, but reveal nothing of its guts.

She might as well argue that anyone who tells a love story has plagiarized Romeo and Juliet.

The extreme claims and demanding tone of her email shocked me. Because I thought her a friend, I was also hurt and, eventually, angry.

But then things got interesting. A month later, I received an email from a different friend. This friend also saw the catalogue description of my book and noted similarities to her work-in-progress. Her work, like mine and that of my other friend, featured a white character making amends to an indigenous one.

Unlike the first friend, this one wrote: “Congratulations on your book! It sounds kind of like what I’ve been working on. I guess that’s what I get for taking so long. I can’t wait to read yours!”

The second friendship remains intact; the first does not.

The similarity between the two emails highlights a connection between the creative process and the zeitgeist. We live in the era of Truth and Reconciliation. As writers attempt to find a way forward from Canada’s horrific history and begin to think about ways to make amends for our ancestors’ misdeeds, there will be many “truth and reconciliation novels.”

I understand the accuser’s frustration at feeling beaten to the mark. Publishing can be a discouraging business – hard work, few rewards.

 “You’re a finisher,” one mentor told me. “A lot of people can’t finish, and they blame their lack of success on others.”

I’d never thought of myself in those terms before, as “a finisher.” But in light of my mentor’s comments, I realize that I call the right place home.

Fernie is filled with finishers. Paul Attalla sets out to row his boat solo across the Atlantic Ocean. He finishes. Abi and Mike Moore set out to run one-hundred kilometres in a single go. They finish. Greg Blackwell sets out to bike the Iditarod before anyone else has even thought to bike on snow. He finishes. Jon Turk sets out to navigate an island that has never before been navigated (because it is completely inhospitable to human life). He finishes.

Nobody has ever died of a hurtful email. In comparison to my Fernie friends, my accomplishments are extraordinarily unextraordinary. Here in Fernie, I keep world-class company.

Thank you, Fernie, for making me stretch. Please come help me celebrate my own (more imaginary) journey on September 14 at the Fernie Heritage Library. Marty’s bartending!

Angie Abdou is a Canadian author who resides in Fernie, BC. Her publications include The Bone Cage, Between and coming out this September, In Case I Go. Angie is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the Athabasca University, a mother of two, and partner to Marty.