Q: Why did you choose West Edmonton Mall in the 1990s as the setting?
A: The mall was such a strange place — I couldn’t think of any place more different from the settings in a Jane Austen novel — but the two things seemed to strangely work well together. And if you’re trying to write a novel set in Edmonton, I don’t know how you don’t mention The Mall. The ’90s was a radically different world in terms of connectivity. Molly has actual moments where she’s totally alone, she doesn’t have an iPhone or the Internet and there’s a nice solitude and contemplative existence you can have without a phone. Molly has a lot of coffee with her friends and goes for walks with them instead of just texting, and I felt nostalgic for those times, even though I’m constantly on my phone and can’t imagine life without it.
Q: What was your process for writing Molly of the Mall?
A: I started writing it in the mid-’90s when I was a PhD student [at the University of Nebraska]. I had to write something every day so I started writing these vignettes about working in The Mall. I had about 50 pages worth and I felt like I was on to something, so I kept adding to it off and on. But I finally realized I wanted to return to this story, I had more to say and I thought there was more there than just funny little mall anecdotes, and most actually ended up getting edited out of the final version. The longer I lived away from Edmonton, the more I started thinking about it. Then, seven years ago I took a sabbatical and spent a couple months creating the narrative and writing a first draft, and now it’s a real book with a pretty pink cover.
Q: How did you discover Jane Austen’s work?
A: When I was 17, I got a gift certificate for a bookstore for Christmas, so I went to the Penguin Classics section and found Sense and Sensibility. I loved everything about it and started working my way through all of her books. There was just something about a book about a young woman trying to find her way in the world that just hit me. I never got over the initial love of it, then I took some classes at University of Alberta about [Austen]. I think a lot of people were surprised I didn’t do my PhD about her but I think I just liked her too much to study her too closely.
Q: What are some of your favourite mall memories?
A: I was talking to someone recently and found out that we both worked at the mall at the same time in the 1990s, and we both had Alice Cooper come into our stores; he worked in a Western wear store and I worked in a shoe store. I sold a lot of shoes to some Oilers, and that was really exciting at the time. West Edmonton Mall is such a small town but the customers in the mall changed every day and that was fun.