Q: We hear so much about childhood shootings, how did this particular story come to you?
DFB: When I was twenty-five I took my first job as an English teacher in the resort town of Qualicum Beach. There I met a young girl. She was very pretty but quiet to the point of being distracted. She seemed almost haunted. She enrolled in my grade eight class and gradually I began to learn about her background.
Q. Haunted? What had happened to her?
DFB: She'd been playing cops and robbers with the neighborhood kids. One of the other children produced a gun to serve as a prop. The young girl grabbed it, and in all innocence fired the pistol and killed her playmate.
Q. Your novel covers the period from 1956 to 1969. Why take so long to play out her story?
DFB: Because the story only begins with the fatal shooting. Over the next fifteen years I managed to stay in touch with my student, saw her grow, mature and eventually have her own baby. Through it all I could see her struggle. That early impression I had of her, the distraction, lingered and shifted but it never dissipated. She knew that I knew about her tragedy, but we never discussed it. I had the impression that mere mention of it would shatter her.
Q: The central character in the novel isn't the girl, but David, her brother. Why the shift?
DFB: My student became a character I named Rose and I adopted the personna of David, the youngest child in a family of five whose upwardly mobile trajectory was cut short by the shooting death. David has to grapple with the tragedy, too -- as do his parents and his second sister, Jayne. There are ripples after ripples after ripples. I wanted to reveal the complex currents swept forward by such a simple accident.
Q. Why does the novel begin in Toronto and then shift to New York City?
DFB: Two reasons. First, my family moved from Canada to New York City and the family narrative in the novel parallels my own. Second, I wanted to set the tragedy of the novel against the backdrop of New York in the 1960s -- the most turbulent time and place in my life up to 2001.
Q. Parts of the novel are disturbing; was it difficult to write?
DFB: It was a difficult story to tell, but I kept my finger on the pulse of it by remembering this young girl. If she could bear this weight, I thought, so can I. Writing this story was my way of comforting her, of helping to bear her suffering. If readers are affected by it, perhaps it will motivate them to secure their guns and make their neighborhoods safe for children.