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.
Samantha Bailey, bestselling author of Women on the Edge, is recommending Loss Lake, by Amber Cowie. She write, "Amber Cowie is a gifted storyteller. In Loss Lake she creates a stunning suspense about dangerous small-town secrets that threaten the lives of its residents, and its latest newcomer. Sentence by gorgeous sentence, Cowie reveals an intricately woven, powerful plot, unveiling the depths of the characters and their lies. A magnificent read crackling with tension."
49th Shelf: What particular something have you managed to achieve with this book that you’re especially proud of?
Amber Cowie: Loss Lake is a creepy cabin-in-the-woods story that was a true labour of love and loss. My brother died from a fentanyl overdose in late 2018. For months, I struggled to find my voice as a writer and—if I’m honest—my overall place in the world. It felt very similar to the early stages of COVID-19 in 2020 when the world was grieving and struggling to find its way.
As for so many of us in this crazy year, my grief made my thoughts strange and sluggish. I realized that in order to get through it, I had to make it part of the story so I began to write Loss Lake, a mystery steeped in grief, intrigue and ultimately hope. I wanted to explore how loss affects a person’s judgment by immersing my character in a strange new world. Like Shirley Jackson said, “So long as you write it away regularly, nothing can really hurt you.” As complex and difficult as grieving is, it’s also incredibly fascinating how things become both sharp and muffled. Allowing my character to grieve helped me work through my own sadness and I hope that reading it will help others in this tumultuous year.
In Loss Lake, Mallory Dent, makes an impulsive decision to move thousands of miles north from a city to a tiny small town following the death of her husband. Once there, she realizes that the house she’s purchased sight unseen and the lake beside it has a past of its own which everyone in town knows about except her. She is embraced by the friendly townspeople and the handsome police sergeant—until she starts asking questions no one wants to answer. It’s kind of like Hope Floats meets Twin Peaks—a love story, a mystery and a whole lot of suspense.
49th Shelf: Tell us about your ideal reader, and where you imagine them reading your book.
AC: My ideal reader is voracious and brave. This book has some scary in the dark late at night moments which I think are the spookiest kind to encounter as a reader of suspense because I often picture my readers engaging with books the same way I do—cuddled up under the covers after a long day. Most of Mallory’s frights are taken from my worst fears—monsters in the deep and shadows in the dark lurking unseen as she curls up in bed. But don’t worry—there’s also some romance that happens in the bed…wait, I’m starting to realize that my ideal reader spends a lot of time in bed or at least wishes they could.
49th Shelf: What authors and works inspired you on your journey in creating this book?
AC: This one is going to take some time because I read much more than I write and I write a lot. Domestic suspense is my absolute favourite genre to read so let’s start with an author who knocked it out of the park with her debut novel—Samantha Bailey. The setting of Woman on the Edge and Loss Lake couldn’t be more different but I was in awe of Sam’s command of page-turning, seat-gripping structure. I was so lucky to go to her book launch in Toronto and on the plane home to Vancouver, I read her entire book in one four-and-a half-hour flight. I couldn’t stop. I didn’t order drinks from the flight attendant because I didn’t want to get interrupted. She is a massive talent and I cannot wait for her next book.
The absolute best part of being an author is getting to read things before they hit the shelves. I kept myself up way too late last night reading the latest from Catherine McKenzie who I love. I am a huge fan of her work largely because of the incredible gift she has in luring me into believing a story is about one thing—when it’s actually about something totally different. Catherine is incredibly skilled at the perfect three act structure and I’ve read every single book she’s written.
In Canada, we have no shortage of amazing authors writing and I could go on forever but here’s a few more. Robyn Harding’s command of language and character development is jaw-dropping. Stephanie Wrobel wrote a mesmerizing debut in Darling Rose Gold which left me eager for more. Last, I recently finished Roz Nay’s latest and it was mindblowing—the way she employed setting and sibling rivalry to create almost unbearable tension was a master class in a book. I could go on (and on and on) but that’s my current short list.
49th Shelf: What’s something you know now that you didn’t know when you set out to write your book?
AC: Whatever is in your head will end up in your story whether you want it to or not so you might as well lean in. My debut novel relies on an undercurrent of the dark side of addiction as I was grappling with my brother’s drug dependencies as I wrote it. My second novel is about a steamy, sexy neighborhood as I wrote it while moving to a new house in a new part of town. And Loss Lake is about getting through the hardest parts of life and finding release from the confused guilt of grief and loss.
I now know that stories only work when you write what’s inside.
49th Shelf: You say this is a book about grief yet it’s also a love story. Isn’t that a strange combination?
AC: I always pictured Sergeant Joel Benson as a combination between Joel Kinnamon (The Killing) and Joshua Jackson (The Affair). As a result, it was impossible not to create sexual tension between Mallory, a young widow, and the handsome, stern sergeant investigating her for negligence in a drowning which occurred on her property. In a time of darkness for both her and me, the increasing flirtation between the two of them brought lightness and love into the book. Ultimately, love—be it with partners, pets, friends or children—is the only lifeline in a sea of sadness. Dark love stories are my favourite kind of romance.
49th Shelf: What bookstore are you most excited to walk into and see your book displayed on the shelf?
AC: Absolutely always my wonderful local bookstore in Whistler British Columbia—Armchair Books. It’s an awesome, cozy mountain side store which is incredible at promoting local authors and engaging in local writing events like the Whistler Writers Festival. During the worst moments of the pandemic, the owners even delivered books to my door! It’s the perfect place for someone like me who is both a bookworm and a ski bum and I feel wonderful every time I walk through the doors or receive a delivery.
49th Shelf: Who are you most grateful to for support in bringing your book into the world?
AC: I dedicated this book to my brother Lucas because I really think he would have liked this one. He was in my head and my heart as I wrote it and I created the world that I did because of him. Lucas loved monster movies which inspired me to create a metaphor for the monstrosity of his death below the surface of Loss Lake. I wish he could have read it but I had a strange feeling as I was writing it that he saw what I was doing and approved.
During the sad months after his death, I was so lucky to read I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, which is a fascinating take on true crime by Michelle McNamara. The book was published posthumously as she tragically passed away while writing it. I named my fictional town in her honour because I was so overcome by her book and her life.
There are dozens and dozens more people I thank in my acknowledgements on this one because I was supported by so many but I am especially grateful for the people who held me up when I was close to falling down: my amazing husband, Ben Greenberg, my astonishing twin sister, Morgan Cowie, and my beloved editor, Alison Dasho.