Author spotlight: John DeMont

Between now and our awards ceremony on September 20th, we will be featuring the shortlisted authors for the 2014 East Coast Literary Awards.

This week, we feature John DeMont, author of A Good Day’s Work: In Pursuit of a Disappearing Canada. His book is shortlisted for the Evelyn Richardson Non-Fiction Award.

John DeMont is the best-selling and award-winning author of Citizens Irving: The Irvings of New Brunswick and The Last Best Place: Lost in the Heart of Nova Scotia. He has written for many publications, including the Financial TimesCanadian Geographic, The Walrus, and Maclean’s, where he was Atlantic bureau chief for ten years.

Describe your ideal writing space. 
Good chair, decent view with nice scenery. Instrumental music—for some reason baroque composers, particularly Bach works best—because lyrics distract. No people around, but a working espresso machine because my creative process, such as it is, is fuelled by cappuccino.  Some space nearby so that if I feel the need I can do my karate katas, stretch or just move around.

Tell us a bit about your process. Do you work in snippets or do you have a full draft? Are you a planner or do you feel your way through? Pencil, pen, typewriter, computer? 
I write on a lap top in scenes and sections that I tend to move around. I write multiple drafts. When I’m working on a book I “warm-up” by editing what I wrote the last time I sat down which may or may not have been yesterday. 
I work from the vaguest of outlines: a chapter for e.g. and the components that might go in it. Like a lot of writers I try to stop when I know where I’m going next so I don’t sit there staring at the cursor the next time my bum is in the chair. That usually works out to 900-1,200 words a day. 
My most productive times are first part of the morning and later in the afternoon. I could take noon until 3 p.m. off, so unproductive is that period, and sometimes do. Although when I’m really stuck on a bit of writing working out, meditating or even walking the dog can distract me and let my mind work subliminally to solve the problem. 

Give us the ‘elevator pitch’ of your book. 
The iconic Canada—of small towns and close knit communities—is disappearing. I tell that story through 10 old-style jobs that are on the cusp of going forever.

What was the biggest difference between your first draft and last? 
The first draft is unhewn lumber with no real voice. By the end I’ve moved entire scenes around. Hopefully the structure works and it sounds like me.

Do you feel public readings help writers develop their craft? Or are readings simply part of the business of being a writer? 
Reading out loud certainly helps make writing better. Public readings help build some momentum for a book. And they’re sort of the writer’s public responsibility to the world of readers.

Many writers have other roles, such as instructors, mentors, editors, cultural workers, publishers. What other roles, if any, keep you busy and do you view them as supportive of your work as a writer?
I’m a senior writer and columnist for Halifax’s Chronicle Herald newspaper which keeps me hopping every day.  It keeps me fresh and engaged and provides grist for my book writing mill. It also allows me to try lots of different things on the writing side.
Sometimes I talk to groups about writing non-fiction. (Teaching might be too strong a word.) That forces me to think about what I do and how I do it. That’s a helpful process for a writer.

Your thoughts on Twitter (in 140 characters or less.)
Great way to get the word out. On the other hand for me it can be a great time sucker upper. So overall it may be a wash.

What are you currently working on? 
A personal history of Nova Scotia.

What book out there do you wish you had written?
Great Plains, by Ian Frazier. Or John McPhee’s trilogy on geology, Annals of the Former World.

Who is your biggest cheerleader? 
My wife Lisa Napier. 

The winner of the Evelyn Richardson Non-Fiction Award will be announced in Halifax on September 20, 2014. 
John DeMont’s book, A Good Day’s Work, can be purchased from your local independent bookseller. 

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Recommended Experience Levels

The Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia (WFNS) recommends that each workshop’s participants share a level or range of writing / publication experience. This is to ensure each participant gets value from the workshop⁠ and is presented with information, strategies, and skills that suit their current writing priorities.

To this end, the “Recommended experience level” section of each workshop description refers to the following definitions developed by WFNS:

  • New writers: those who have been writing creatively for less than two years and/or have not yet been published in any form.
  • Emerging writers: those who have been writing creatively for less than five years and/or have some short publications (poems, stories, or essays) in literary magazines, journals, or anthologies.
  • Established writers/authors: those with numerous publications in magazines, journals, or anthologies and/or a full-length book publication.
  • Professional authors: those with two or more full-length book publications.

For “intensive” and “masterclass” workshops, which provide more opportunities for peer-to-peer (that is, participant-to-participant) feedback, the recommended experience level should be followed.

For all other workshops, the recommended experience level is just that—a recommendation—and we encourage potential participants to follow their own judgment when registering.

If you’re uncertain of your experience level with regard to any particular workshop, please feel free to contact us at