HUNTSVILLE – The overwhelming fear that a big box store was going to take over Huntsville inspired former Huntsville Forester reporter Rachel Sa to pursue her passion for writing novels and gave her the foundation for her first novel, The Lewton Experiment.
Former reporter Rachel Sa brings her reporting experience to life in her first fiction novel, The Lewton Experiment.
During Sa’s one-year stint at the Forester, she grew to know the local shop owners along Main Street quite well and heard over and over again how they were dreading the big box business moving into town.
Sa decided to enter the Muskoka Novel Marathon in 2004 and after racking her brain for something to write about, she chose the big box controversy.
“I thought to myself, what if a big box store came to a small town and literally took over and took control, not just taking business, but taking control of people’s minds,” she said. “And I went from there.”
The Lewton Experiment follows reporter Sherri as she arrives in the fictional Muskokan town of Lewton, where instead of a bustling tourist town she finds deserted streets and a dark secret.
“It’s deliciously creepy and funny, I’m told,” said Sa.
Sherri, determined to unravel the mystery, launches her own investigation after defying her editor and outwitting a rival reporter.
“The things Sherri does, the kind of stories she covers, some of them are outlandish and really emphasizes the fact she’s in a small town, but I drew so much on my experience of being a reporter there, even the phrases we would use and filing your stories and deadlines, it’s all in there. It’s not Huntsville and it’s not the Forester, but my experience up there forms so much of what’s in the book,” she said.
During the novel marathon Sa pumped out her first draft in three days while locked in a room with other writers.
“The Muskoka Novel Marathon is the most amazing event and I’ve done it a couple times since 2004,” she said. “It’s just such an amazingly supportive group of people. A lot of people think of writers as being very solitary. But the truth is to be a successful writer you really need to have a community around you and that (event) was so eye opening for that for me … The marathon was a lot about quantity, not quality. It’s about getting a first draft done.”
After the marathon Sa put the draft away for a while and pulled it back out when she was studying at the University of British Columbia for a master’s in creative writing. It went through a number of changes during her studies and again when she found a publisher.
“My first draft I wrote that weekend looks nothing like it does now,” said Sa. “I mean the story is the same. It’s still about a girl who goes to a small town … but from that first draft to when it was published it went through so many rewrites.”
Originally the novel was directed at adults, but after Sa spoke with Governer General’s Award winner Glen Huser, they decided the novel would make a “terrifically creepy kid’s book.”
The book launched on Oct. 21.
“If someone had told me back in 2004 the amount of work that was going to be involved in getting a novel from first draft to being publishable, I wouldn’t have believed them,” she said. “Now that I’ve gone through it and I see what’s involved I approach it differently.”
The goal of holding her own book in her hands is what pushed Sa to keep writing.
“It was very surreal (to hold the book),” she said. “I live in a condo in Toronto and I got the message that a box had arrived for me. It was the longest elevator ride down 24 floors to get to the concierge to pick up that box.”
The novel is dedicated to her fiancée, Bruce Kirkland, who has been with Sa from the beginning of her journey with the novel.
Her next novel, tentatively titled The Church of Misfit Catholics, is in the works. She’s working much more closely with editors and bouncing ideas of her writing group to avoid many rewrites this time around.
“No mind control or zombies in this one, but I’m enjoying it,” said Sa.