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The Chat with Amy Jones

AmyJones@Pamela Crichton_Ten West Photography

Amy Jones is back with a spectacular new novel. Pebble & Dove (McClelland & Stewart) follows a bickering mother and daughter as they head to Florida and discover a raft of family secrets ... and a manatee named Pebble.

The Toronto Star says "Jones’ fast-paced narrative presents an endearingly loony cast of characters: a vicious Florida retiree, a group of pot-smoking older ladies, a desperate (and desperately loving) mother, a mysteriously dead grandmother and a rebellious tech-savvy teen.”

AMY JONES is the author of the novels We're All in This Together, a national bestseller, winner of the Northern Lit Award, a finalist for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, and named a Best Book of the Year by the Globe and Mail and Quill & Quire, and Every Little Piece of Me, named a Best Book of Summer by the Globe and Mail, Chatelaine, and NOW Magazine. Her debut collection of stories, What Boys Like, won the Metcalf-Rooke Award and was a finalist for the ReLit Award. Her fiction has won the CBC Literary Prize for Short Fiction, appeared in Best Canadian Stories and The Journey Prize Stories, and been selected as Longform's Pick of the Week. Originally from Halifax, she now lives in Hamilton.

One of the surprising superstar characters in the book is a manatee named Pebble! Tell us more about Pebble (and any manatees in your life).


It will come as a surprise to no one who knows me or follows me on social media, but I really love manatees. I encountered my first one in the wild much the way Lauren and Imogen did, in a kayak in the Intracoastal Waterway in Florida, and I was absolutely charmed. I grew up by the ocean and thought I was going to grow up to be a marine biologist (Grade 10 science put an end to that!) but I never really knew anything about manatees until that day. Who knew there were these big, gentle, curious, playful floating potatoes out there just eating seagrass and minding their own business? I think I relate to them more than I care to admit.

Pebble, in particular, was inspired by Snooty, who was the oldest living manatee in captivity until his death in 2017, just two days after his 69th birthday. He lived at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, and while he wasn’t alone like Pebble (the museum would frequently take in other manatees for rehab) he was very habituated to his handlers. He died in a really unfortunate accident, and it made me wonder how long he could have lived if he hadn’t. In the wild, the greatest threats to manatees are created by humankind, the biggest and most urgent being loss of habitat due to rising ocean temperatures. In a perfectly controlled environment, could a manatee live ... forever? So, yeah, that was really the genesis of her character, just thinking about this magical world where maybe that could happen.

At heart, it’s a novel rich in the dynamics of mother-daughter relationships, including Dove’s relationship with her mother, Lauren, and Lauren’s relationship with her mother (and Dove’s grandmother), Imogen. All are such strong and engaging characters. Who was the most difficult to write and why?

I think I’d have to say Lauren, even though she was the first character I wrote, if only because Dove and Imogen came so easily. Lauren was a hard nut to crack from the very beginning—she’s so guarded in what she lets the world see of her, and her defences are sky-high, so figuring her out was a challenge. But she also did a lot of work for me: Dove and Imogen’s voices came to me more easily when it was time to write them, because I had already seen them through Lauren’s eyes. She had a very particular picture in her head of who they both were, and they were both bursting to tell their own side of the story, to push back against that picture.

The book is set in Florida, which comes out seeming very magical and dreamy. I know you’ve spent a lot of time in Florida. What’s your relationship like with the place?

I have so many thoughts on Florida! My parents have a trailer there, much like the one in the book (okay, almost exactly like the one in the book), that has been in my family for generations, and I have been going there my whole life. It really has everything I love: the ocean, the heat, great seafood, tiki bars, beautiful nature, tonnes of wildlife, absolute characters. In some ways Florida is a really easy place to love, but in others, it’s a really hard place to love—politically, it’s so ugly right now, it’s a haven for bigotry and hate, and it’s a place where capitalism has absolutely steamrolled the environment. But if I know anything about Florida, it’s resilient, and bites back. In my acknowledgements, I thank all the Floridians who are fighting the good fight—there’s a lot of them out there, and I have to believe they will win.

Imagine you could spend 24 hours alone in an aquarium with a manatee. What would you do and what might you share with the manatee? And would you get into the pool??

You have no idea how many times I have imagined this! The closest I ever came was one day when we were visiting the Mote Marine Laboratory (an aquarium in Sarasota) and I was alone for, like, five minutes with their two manatees, Hugh (RIP) and Buffett. Buffett swam up to me and bopped his nose against the glass and it was the greatest moment of my life ... I mean, I think I cried. So, I don’t know, if I were left alone in an aquarium with a manatee, after my soul returned to my body, I’d probably just watch her. I’m actually a big believer in letting an animal lead in any interaction, so I’d let her decide if she wanted to interact with me, or if she wanted me in the pool with her. Although I’d probably sing pop songs to her and put her name in them in place of “baby” whether she wanted me to or not—that’s what I do with my dog.

What’s something no one has asked you yet about the book that you’d like to share?

I’m absolutely sure not a single person has noticed this (nor should they), but I am in the process of constructing my own meta-universe of pop culture references in my books, most notably around a reality TV show called Librarians of Florida. Ava and Val watch it in Every Little Piece of Me, and Dove also watches it in Pebble & Dove. I think I’m going to build up to writing a book that’s actually about the show—unless someone wants to actually make the show, which would be even better (especially in this political climate! You want a real superhero show, make one about librarians!)


Excerpt from Pebble & Dove

It's late in the evening when Lauren and Dove finally reach Swaying Palms, south of Sunset, Florida, and just off the Tamiami Trail, that stretch of highway beginning in Tampa that hugs the Gulf Coast before veering off across the Everglades to Miami. Lauren nearly misses the turn — the faded sign is almost entirely obscured by a trio of dogwoods heavy with blooms, the streetlight above flickering like a strobe.

Beside Lauren, her daughter rests her head against the window, feet tucked beneath her. Dove has barely said a word since they left Lennox Heights 16 hours ago, other than to ask how much further they have to go. But her curiosity gets the better of her as the car slows. She lifts her head, takes out her earbuds, and peers into the dark as they make their way through the eerily quiet grid of identical white trailers and neatly manicured squares of lawn. They creep down smooth, asphalt roads lined with streetlights and palm trees that do, in fact, sway in the evening breeze, casting shadows onto signs that say things like 'Welcome to Paradise' or 'I'm on vacation time.' The inhabitants of Swaying Palms are mostly retirees from the Midwest or Canada; most of them don't even stay for the entire year, packing up and driving back to Michigan or Ontario as soon as the temperature rises above 85. But now, in mid-February, there is a sensible, just-washed sedan tucked into every driveway, the light of a  television flickering behind each drawn blind.

The trailer belonging to Lauren's mother is lonely and unadorned in the midst of all this ordered chaos — windows shuttered, garden fallow. It's been uninhabited since Imogen died almost three months ago, and it certainly looks it. As she pulls into the driveway, Lauren notices someone has been tending to the landscaping — the lawn is freshly mown, and the palmettos have been trimmed back, away from the eavestrough. Even the driveway appears to have been recently power-washed. Thank god for small miracles.

"Well," she says, cutting the engine. "We're here."

Neither of them moves. Outside, the cicadas are singing at a frequency that works its way under Lauren's skin like an itch. Her body buzzes with forward momentum, but there is nowhere else to go. Suddenly, it's as if the weight of everything she's been trying not to think about has settled on her chest, like a heavy lead ball. She closes her eyes and tries to visualize rolling the ball off a cliff into a deep, bottomless chasm, but all she can picture is it rolling back over her.

"Is Dad coming?" Dove asks.

The sound of her voice startles Lauren's eyes open. "Daddy's in Peru, I told you," she says, her hands clenching involuntarily in her lap.

Dove rolls her eyes. She hasn't called Jason "Daddy" in years. "He's coming home in a few days."

"I know." Lauren's nails dig into her palms. It hadn't occurred to her until now that the text she got from Jason might not have been the only one he sent. "We'll see. Depends on how long we're going to be here."

How long are we going to be here? Dove's unspoken question hangs in the air, but Lauren is fluent in Dove's silences. She wishes she had an answer for her — to this, and to all the other questions that float between them.

Excerpted from Pebble & Dove by Amy Jones. Copyright © 2023 Amy Jones. Published by McClelland & Stewart, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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