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Shooting Angels, the first novel by Mary Lee Bragg, sets a story of personal disintegration and renewal against the background of Ottawa on the eve of the 1995 Quebec referendum. Roy Brown, a news photographer, leaves Bosnia for Canada when his parents are killed in a car accident. His childhood home in a quiet Ottawa neighbourhood offers a needed refuge after too long in the war zones. But as Roy sifts through the traces of his parents’ lives he finds that appearances can be deceiving. Roy gathers a new family among the friends who move into his house, running from responsibility or abuse or Quebec. In the house and out of it, the bonds between people are tested. Roy watches through the camera’s eye and learns to see what is most important to him.
He had seen it before, taped it and sent it home. People wept to his camera and he adjusted the focus. He did not weep. It wasn’t part of the job. Now suddenly it seemed he couldn’t stop. Something snapped in the funeral home van between Brattleboro and Ottawa, watching the snow-covered mountains, steep hills and icy roads, thinking about the trip he should have taken and the one he did. Off in search of bodies. Finding them.
Mary Lee Bragg was born in Calgary but has lived in Ottawa since the early 1980s, working for the federal government in various positions related to official languages, most recently as a senior advisor for the Human Resources Management Agency (formerly the Treasury Board Secretariat). Her first publication won the 1992 Ottawa Citizen short fiction contest. As an outsider to Ottawa, fluent in English and French, she sees the national capital as a border town, separated by a river and by language, but joined by a network of human relations. To order your own copy, contact her here or order it from Abebooks.
ISBN: 1-894494-69-5 369 pages 5.5" x 8.5" $24.95 CDN
Shooting Angels is published by Baico Publishing, 71 Des Camélias, Gatineau, Quebec J9J 2G1.
About writing Shooting Angels Mary Lee Bragg says:
I wrote Shooting Angels while house-sitting in Mystic, Connecticut. I sat in someone else’s office for four months, far away from friends and family, watching the leaves turn golden and fall off the trees, and created Roy Brown, Sargent Major, Hilda, Laura Hartman, Colleen Ryan and all the others. My main outside contacts during that time were on the novels-l discussion list, where I posted chapters of my draft novel and critiqued work posted by other aspiring novelists.
The novel began to germinate in my mind several months before arriving in Mystic, when we drove home to Ottawa from a holiday in Florida. We ran into a snow storm near Brattleboro, Vermont, and saw an SUV carom off the median and ricochet across the highway in front of us. We decided to pull off the road and wait out the storm. Snowbound in a Super 8 in Brattleboro, we collected our nerves and reflected on how lucky we were to have been well behind that SUV.
Later, this incident led me to ruminate on what would have happened if a couple of tons of out-of-control muscle car had bounced into us. What would have happened if we had died?
"What if . . .?" is the starting place for all novels. It was a short step from thinking "what if we …" to thinking "what if someone …" Newspaper articles on grieving, trauma, the inter-generational transfer of wealth seemed to jump up and demand attention.
From thinking "what if…" it was a short step to "when." For someone who lives in Ottawa, it was only logical to set a novel about personal crisis in a time of national crisis – the run up to the Quebec referendum on sovereignty. During the debates on Quebec sovereignty in 1995, the crisis in Bosnia was unfolding, and debaters often drew parallels between Yugoslavia then and Canada / Quebec in some conceivable future. And so I sent Roy Brown to Sarajevo with a camera, and hoicked him home to Ottawa to be traumatized by his parents’ deaths.
The first draft of this book was called Roiters, after the screen name which Roy’s parents use to drift into an imaginary world on the internet. That title is even harder to explain than the one I eventually chose, and I reluctantly decided to drop it. Finding another title was not easy, but I eventually chose Shooting Angels for several reasons. Roy Brown, the central character is a photographer: he shoots people with a camera. The central action that helps him re-establish balance in his life is his "shoot" of a baby named Angèle. Far back in his background, though, are other innocent people who have been shot – citizens of Sarajevo, under the sniper’s rifle. They too are angels, and I hope this book will help us remember them.