Last spring—as launches, festivals and other events were cancelled across the country—49th Shelf helped Canadian authors launch more than 50 new books with LAUNCHPAD. And now we're back this fall, but with a twist.
LAUNCHPAD 2.0 features new releases selected by great Canadian writers who've chosen books that absolutely deserve to find their way into the hands of readers.
We're kicking off with Zoe Whittall, who is championing Eva Crocker's debut novel, All I Ask.
Whittall writes, "All I Ask is a debut novel from celebrated Newfoundland short story writer Eva Crocker. It starts out with a bang—Stacey, our 26-year-old narrator, wakes up to the cops barging into her house and confiscating all computers and phones from the premises for potential illegal material, and the book follows Stacey's life in the aftermath of that confusing violation. An often funny, beautifully written novel that often reminded me of a play, set in the arts community in St. John's as Stacey hustles for acting work, falls in love and figures out who she is.
49th Shelf: What particular something have you managed to achieve with this book that you’re especially proud of?
Eva Crocker: This is my first novel and I feel proud to have written a story this long; I wasn’t sure I could do it.
49th Shelf: Tell us about your ideal reader, and where you imagine them reading your book.
EC: I don’t really have an ideal reader in mind. I hope people with lots of different backgrounds and experiences will be able to get something out of the book. However, a couple people who also grew up in St. John’s around the same time I did have written me to say they feel like it captures their experience of that place and time accurately. It’s a really good feeling when someone tells you, "You got it right."
49th Shelf: What authors and works inspired you on your journey in creating this book?
EC: I began working on this story after a group of about ten police officers, all men, forced entry into my home in St. John’s early one morning. They told me I was under arrest for transmission of child pornography and began searching the house.
I was home alone and terrified, I asked several times to use a phone and was told I wasn’t allowed. I wasn’t given a chance to get dressed and was told I had to go alone to my bedroom with a man wearing a gun.
Pretty shortly into the search they realized they’d made a mistake, the person they were looking for (whom I’d never met) hadn’t lived at my address in almost a year.
Later I filed a complaint, which they officially responded to three years later saying they couldn’t fulfill their legal responsibility to read me my rights because I was, “pretty upset.” I think that’s the normal response to having a group of large, heavily armed men burst into your house. It was a really disturbing experience but I am very aware of how much worse things probably would have gone for me if I wasn’t a white, cis woman, if I wasn’t fluent in English, if I had children there with me.
All I Ask is a fictionalized account of the aftermath of that incident. I thought a lot about James Kelman’s How Late It Was, How Late while I was working on this story. Kelman’s book begins with the protagonist waking up in jail after having been beaten up. The novel takes place over the course of a couple days, it follows the protagonist as he battles the deliberately complicated and time-consuming bureaucracy involved in getting on social assistance, while fearing he’s being surveilled by the police. Not a lot happens but the story is propulsive and exposes how the system deliberately fails people—that’s what I was trying to pull off too, but queerer and with more partying and sex.
Some books I read recently and loved are: How to Pronounce Knife, by Souvankham Thammavongsa; Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernadine Evaristo; In the Dream House, by Carmen Maria Machado; Frying Plantain, by Zalika Reid-Benta; Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club, by Megan Gail Coles; Shut Up You’re Pretty, by Téa Mutonji; A Mind Spread Out on The Ground, by Alicia Elliot; and Beirut Hellfire Society, by Rawi Hage.
49th Shelf: What’s something you know now that you didn’t know when you set out to write your book?
EC: Before writing this book I didn’t know how it feels to spend so much time immersed in one particular fictional world. It can be really meditative to spend hours upon hours inside a big story—just tinkering with things. I was surprised to realize that as excited as I was when the book finally went to print, I was also a little bit sad that I wouldn’t be able to get lost in there anymore.
49th Shelf: How important is setting in your writing?
EC: This book is very much about St. John's at a particular moment. I wanted to explore how the crashing economy and the pervasive sense of doom around the failure of the Muskrat Falls hydro-electric dam has impacted people's interpersonal lives and relationship to institutions.
I also wanted to capture the moment, about four years ago, when there were waves of protests erupting across the province. There was huge momentum behind the Indigenous-led resistance to the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam (a powerful movement that is ongoing). There were tons of rallies protesting new austerity measures introduced by the province. A lot of corruption within the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary was coming to light and being discussed in the media. It was a very dark time but also a time when it felt like positive change was possible.
Stacey, the protagonist, has a collection of part-time jobs and is constantly moving house because life in Newfoundland is so unstable right now. But she also loves her city, the physical landscape and people, she's excited to be welcomed into the queer community there, she doesn't want to leave.
49th Shelf: What bookstore are you most excited to walk into and see your book displayed on the shelf?
EC: I grew up in Newfoundland and when I was about 13, I drove to Montreal with a friend’s family. Montreal felt like this huge, grungy, sexy city and I was always dying to get back there after that trip. I was lucky to be able to visit a few times before moving here two years ago. Every time I visited Montreal, I would go to Drawn and Quarterly and buy a book. It was a special big-city ritual for me. Someone wrote me recently to say they saw All I Ask in there, through the window (Covid times). That made me really happy.
49th Shelf: Who are you most grateful to for support in bringing your book into the world?
EC: There are so many people I’m grateful to for helping me bring this book into the world. One of them is my good friend Devin Shears, who’s a filmmaker. When I was finishing this book I would call him like every second day and vomit all my anxieties on him and he would talk me down from the point of view of someone who also makes themselves vulnerable through storytelling.
Here’s a link to donate to the Labrador Land Protectors Legal Fund: https://fundrazr.com/labradorlandprotectors?ref=ab_1GD9v5X4qOg1GD9v5X4qOg