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Books that Linger in My Imagination

A recommended reading list by the author of Autokrator.

Book Cover Autokrator

Three copies of Emily A. Weedon's Autokrator are up for giveaway throughout April.

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When I started writing Autokrator, I didn’t know I was going to end up with a book. Saddled by postpartum depression, loneliness and grinding domesticity I just had a question: could society be even worse for women? Before I knew it, I was creating a dystopian, speculative fiction world to explore answers.

Writers are of course readers and works that lingered in my imagination include Umberto Eco’s cloistered world of The Name of the Rose and his intrepid, intellectual William of Baskerville. The gloom and poetry of Ghormenghast, by Mervyn Peake, echoed fantastical in my memory. The sense of deep time and tradition in Peake’s work stuck with me well into the writing of Autokrator, as did Machiavelli’s The Prince. I drew from news headlines as the world devolved into war, pestilence and chaos but I also reached into history, building on a love of ancient Western classical societies. I devoured the bloody pages of The Romanovs, by Simon Sebag Montefiore.

Book Cover the Handmaid's Tale

Many Canadian books inspired me or kept me company or gave me a break along the path to finishing my book. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was inescapably an early inspiration for a dystopia by and about women. I’d read it in high school, dutifully, as part of the curriculum but I needed to mature for Atwood’s seminal work to resonate personally. When I reread her work as an adult I was disquieted by its message and awed by the construction and craft. I had to put it down and recover a little: Handmaid is the work of an immaculately accomplished author working at the peak of their form. I needed space from the work for a while to clear my head and hear my own voice.

So many other works provided touchstones for the book. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus endures as a fascinating work that explores unnatural birth and the hubris of man to create in the image of god. Invoking Prometheus tips off the reader: stuff of life and death and creation is the realm of gods. I wanted to capture some of the monstrosity of human meddling in the creating of other humans. The idea of the unethical would-be creator was never far from my mind while writing Autokrator.  

Book Cover Station Eleven

While writing the third draft of Autokrator, I was drawn to Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. Working in a dystopian not so distant future, Mandel took on a world fallen apart after a pandemic. She explored it through a troupe of Shakespearian actors who wander a diminished world. While I love The Handmaid’s Tale utilizing the strict, muffled confines of domesticity (the handmaid’s themselves are a monstrous rethinking of the nuclear housewife run very much amok via authoritarian religious belief) I relished the sheer scope of Station Eleven and the sweeping story legs of a Shakespearian backdrop. I love books that think big.

Book Cover Fruit

Not all reading done while writing informs process, of course. Writing Autokrator was an odyssey of almost 14 years. For sheer fun, I dove back into Brian Francis’ hilarious tale of an exceptionally oddball kid in Fruit. I first read it in 2008 when I undertook a feature film adaptation of the book. This is a world that bears next to nothing in common with Autokrator, but there were times while crying writer’s tears that Fruit’s delightful, mad-cap, odd ball comedy was a balm to my soul.

Book Cover Lost Dogs

Lucie Pagé’s book Lost Dogs came my way when I was about to embark on the line edit for Autokrator. Line editing is the searing process during which each word, sentence and idea in a book is evaluated and must earn its place in the overall book. It is a time when an author frequently thinks “dear god, am I actually incompetent?” Like Fruit, Lucie Pagé’s Lost Dogs came when I was feeling like a lost dog myself. The author gave me a host of misfit characters to hang out with, fret over and root for, chiefly plucky-but-desperately-in-need-of-guidance young Becca. After putting down Lucy’s tight novel which completely gets the angst of the urbanite run down on sidewalks by random cyclists, I came away feeling like I was perhaps less dysfunctional than my line edit made me fear.

Book Cover A Fine Balance

I frequently reminisce about Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance. This thick, plot-stacked book has the exquisite ability to put you in the heart, the mind, the mouth of different characters, right inside their intentions and desires and needs. It makes you root desperately for them, only to flip the script and THEN make you root for their enemy. Ian MacEwan is also a master of this and of the ability to create superior knowledge in the reader. When a reader knows more than the character does, they worry on behalf of the characters. Deeply. I tried to keep Mistry and MacEwan’s artistry in mind when I framed scenes and moments with my characters in Autokrator.

Book Cover Runaway

I’ve been remiss in my life about how much Alice Munro content I’ve made room for. Her scenes from a turkey slaughterhouse in "The Turkey Season/ The Moons of Jupiter" short stories are of course forever etched in my mind. The book was on the shelf when I was growing up and I dipped into long before I could understand it. As the pre-press part of finishing Autokrator wound down, I started to have more time to read and see what the greats are up to. After acquiring a new stack of Munro works, my first stop has been Runaway and it is frankly humbling to read. Munro’s international acclaim is no happenstance. What’s fascinating is how easily, how fluidly characters and plot emerge—these people feel like your neighbours. Nothing feels contrived. You slide into a Munro story like dipping into a summer warm lake. It’s effortless, deft and enveloping.

Boom Cover Goodnight Desdemona Good Morning Juliet

One of my all-time favourite reads is the play Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), and I honestly think I have Anne Marie MacDonald to thank for opening my eyes to the idea of Shakespearean sized characters in a modern work. Not to mention being whip smart hilarious. I wanted some of that swash and buckle in my own book. I loved how MacDonald freed Desdemona and Juliet from the rather pathetic confines of a few lines and breathed new life into them. In high school I played Desdemona. I remember at the time, saddled with only the words “What ho my Lord” and “Oh no, My Lord” I hungered for meatier lines and for dimensions. MacDonald showed it was not only okay to dream such things, but possible to write them.

Book Cover mercy Among the Children

The last book I picked up while between copy edit and proofs of Autokrator was pure pleasure reading. I was drawn in by the enigmatic plotline of Mercy Among the Children: a son struggles with the legacy of a father who turns the other cheek to the point of self-destruction by David Adams Richards. The East Coast, hardscrabble small-town, with its filthy, mean poverty and backbiting characters ring incredibly authentic. These are people you do not want to have to sit beside on the bus. Each page channels lyrical beauty, especially when describing pure nature, even while Richards skewers the superficiality and venal motives of a whole cast of antagonists. Richards has extremely pointed criticism of the ivory-tower educated set. Richards won me over completely for elevating the honest intelligence and resourcefulness of the poor and working class which is sneered upon by the educated class. In his capable hands I could rediscover the feeling of taking in a novel without thinking about voice, characterization, structure, plot, message, voice or any of the technical pieces informing each word during the writing and editing process. Once you are a writer, it takes a hefty, well-wrought piece of literature to shake off those considerations. And I crave shaking them off. I want to be able to surrender to a book, knowing I am in good hands. I consider Richards’ writing to be transcendent.


Book Cover Autokrator

Learn more about Autokrator:

I am a gender criminal. I am Unmale, yet I write as though I am a person.

Driven by a Machiavellian mind and ego, Tiresius has risen through the ranks of the Autokracy to become Imperial Treasurer, has won over the trust of the Autokrator himself, and yet, has broken the society’s most scared rules: She has posed as a male for many years. In the eyes of the Autokracy, this gender crime is one of the most heinous a person can commit, and punishable by death.

In this deeply etched speculative world, women—Unmales—have been relegated to non-person status with their reproduction strictly controlled. Their only role is to serve men, and to do so from the shadows.

Tiresius’s rebellion against the Autokracy coincides with that of a Domestic—a female labourer—named Cera. Cera’s son, who was taken from her at birth as demanded by tradition, is the successor to the Autokracy. She is desperate to be part of his life and takes dangerous steps toward revealing herself to him, becoming a gender criminal herself.

The fates of both women become intertwined as they are driven to discover what cost gender and power exact.

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