First Book: Interview with Cedar Bowers
Updated: Jul 12, 2021
Photo Credit: Michael Christie
First Book: Astra
Published: June 1, 2021
How did you become a writer?
That’s an interesting question, and a little hard to answer too, because I began writing my first book, Astra, at thirty-two, after years and years working in various fields. But when I look back from where I sit now, I can clearly see that I’d been on a journey towards writing my whole life—even if I didn’t know it or couldn’t acknowledge it at the time. As a child I was obsessed by what made people work, more observant of others than of myself. And then as a young adult, I was a voracious reader. At work or on my commute, when my hands were busy and I couldn’t hold a book, I listened to audiobooks. When some of my friends and family members started writing, I was often one of their first readers. And I loved this opportunity. Even before I started writing myself, one of my favourite things to do was to talk about the craft of writing: plot, tension, intention, and character development. All of this led to the day when, soon after having my second child, I found myself faced with that looming and terrifying question: What now? What do I want to do for the rest of my life? That’s when I realized that if I didn’t try to write a book, I would look back when I was eighty and regret that I hadn’t been braver when I had the chance.
Tell me about your main character Astra and how she came to be. What defines her?
Astra’s character appeared in one of the first short stories I ever tried to write. It was a story about a man who gotten a woman pregnant on a commune, who was trying to figure out a way to refuse the responsivity of fatherhood without having to give up his home and way of life. After writing that story, I couldn’t stop thinking about the child. What would she be like? What would it be like to be raised by person who was too selfish to truly love? What would that child be like as an adult? How would she deal with her past? It was with these questions in mind that I came up with the structure of the novel. I wanted to follow Astra through her life, but by watching her through the eyes of others. We don’t get to hear her thoughts, we don’t get to know why she makes the decisions she does, but we get to watch the other narratives try to make sense of her. Astra is like everyone. She is both knowable and unknowable all at once. A person who is trying, failing, stumbling, hurting, while doing her very best with what she was given: not enough.
This is your first book - why did you need to tell this story?
Astra is an exploration, in part, of what it means to be a self. It asks the question: who knows you better, you, or the people you’ve encountered over the duration of your life? When I wrote this book, I was trying to answer to this question for myself. Could I change? Could I become a writer? Could I break free of the story I’d been told about who I was? Can anyone? What does it mean to change? To change your “self?” Is it even possible? Does such a thing even exist? And then, because Astra is also a book about parenting, about rewriting or getting rid of the patterns that are imprinted on you during childhood, about becoming a better friend, person, mother, about learning to love differently, the book fell into place naturally. All those themes really resonated with me as a new mother.
What was your journey from idea to publication?
It took over eight years from first starting Astra to get to publication this year. It began with that story about Astra’s father, after which I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the structure of the book, then I worked on the first draft for three years. I did all this writing and work in relative secrecy. At that point, although I knew I wanted to try to become a writer, I wasn’t ready to talk about it. Astra was a personal project and the end goal was not publication. I didn’t even let myself think about that. But after my eighth or ninth draft, after I shared Astra with a few people and edited it again and again, I decided to send out a couple queries in hopes that I might find an agent who was willing to work with me. Everything moved quite quickly from there. A month later Astra had found an editor and a home. Working with my editor was an incredible experience, and it was during this process that Astra truly became the novel it is now.
What do you hope readers will take away after reading Astra?
Throughout the novel we watch Astra struggle, we watch her fail, we watch her be angry and terrified and hopeful. We watch her try to love, run from love, and find love. Her mistakes are raw and real, as are those of the ten narrators in the novel. Some of the people she encounters throughout her life are cruel, or controlling, or are not people we’d normally sympathize with, yet we find ourselves doing so. Even the characters we hate most, have some good in them, or at least they’re trying to change. I hope that readers walk away more empathic, with a renewed understanding of just how complicated everyone is and how important it is to fight the instinct to be judgmental of those around us we don’t understand.
What do you know now that your first book has been published that you wish you knew when you first had the inspiration to write it?
Now I understand the importance of thinking about your characters for a very long time before you start writing them. Just like getting to know a person in real life, it can take years to fully understand a character. Why do they think the way they do, what motivates them, what makes them cry, laugh, and get angry? This takes notes, and time, and research. If you write too soon, you might have to throw away everything you’ve written. This is not wasted work, but the slower you approach the process, the more full and formed your characters will come out on the page. Also, I didn’t understand just how wonderful the editing process would be. Working with someone who pushes you to go deeper in your work, who encourages you to ask yourself the hard questions and to admit where the book is failing, is such an intense and fantastic experience. I used to be terrified of editing, now I love it. I can’t wait to do it again.
What’s next for you?
Although nowadays I’m very happy to confess and tell people I’m writing, I still need a cloak of secrecy in my projects. What I can say is that I’m writing another novel that I’m very excited about. It’s about family, love, friendship, heartbreak… because, what else is there?
CEDAR BOWERS's fiction has been published in Joyland and Taddle Creek. Astra is her first novel. With her husband, novelist Michael Christie, and their two children, she divides her time between Galiano Island, where she grew up, and Victoria.