When Georgia Toews first started writing fiction, she was trying to hide.

When Georgia Toews first started writing fiction, she was trying to hide.

She didn’t want to see herself on the page, so she wrote a family drama set on a farm, with a science-fiction bent.

"I was terrified to really put so much of myself into the story," she says via Zoom from her home in Toronto. "That first draft was me trying to be so metaphorical, and just not writing like I have the ability to in these strange, sci-fi, dystopian ideas.

<p>SUPPLIED</p><p>Georgia Toews drew upon her own struggles for her debut novel, <em>Hey, Good Luck Out </em><em>There</em>.</p>

SUPPLIED

Georgia Toews drew upon her own struggles for her debut novel, Hey, Good Luck Out There.

"It wasn’t saying what I needed to say, because I wasn’t being honest."

It was her mother, novelist Miriam Toews, who encouraged her, kindly, to get real.

And so, Georgia, 32, drew upon her own struggles with alcoholism — she’s now seven years sober — and her time in a 30-day rehab program to write something honest, funny, scary and beautiful about addiction, survival and what happens after rehab.

The result is her debut novel, Hey, Good Luck Out There, which was released late last month via Doubleday Canada, an imprint of Penguin Random House, and will be launched at McNally Robinson Booksellers’ Grant Park location on Thursday at 7 p.m. The event will also be streamed.

Our narrator is a young Toronto woman who checks into rehab after an anti-climactic afternoon pizza-party intervention. In her 30-day program, she works out her thoughts in a girlboss-type journal — neon pink, with Let Them Eat Cake! embossed in gold on the cover — given to her by her grandmother. (Georgia also kept a journal of her time in rehab, but has never revisited it. "I don’t know if I’ll dig it out; we’ll see. Maybe there’ll be a sequel down the line.")

Book launch preview

Click to Expand

Hey, Good Luck Out There

By Georgia Toews (Doubleday Canada, 336 pages, $27)

In conversation with Jen Zoratti

● McNally Robinson Booksellers, Grant Park location

● Thursday, 7 p.m.

● Free admission

Rehab is, for our narrator, a strange summer camp, a temporary community, a high school clique — complete with pecking orders and loyalty tests, and fast, situational friendships.

But it’s also a cocoon, an insular place with parameters, rules and regular drug testing, a place where your only job is to get sober.

Living sober — that’s the hard part. Georgia wanted to write about that jarring drop from regimented, 30-day program to being out on your own without a job or apartment. The second half of the novel is focused on the "out there" of the title.

Hey, Good Luck Out There does not follow a sensationalized rock-bottom-followed-by-redemption-arc of many addiction narratives, instead wandering a middle ground where recovery is an ongoing process, not a destination one arrives at.

Exploring those ideas in a novel versus, say, a memoir or personal essay collection allowed Georgia more freedom.

"Because it was so personal, I just could never imagine putting all of myself out there without that safety net of fiction, and that way of just protecting myself, protecting the people that it was also inspired by, the women I’ve met in rehab and in life," she says. "I wanted a way to tell the story that felt accessible for me in a safe way, where it wasn’t completely me baring my soul.

"There’s a mother character there because I was pregnant with my son and I really wanted to explore that issue — kind of creating that character to show all the sides of alcoholism presenting itself in all types of classes and in women going through different things.

"If it was just personal, I would feel very boxed in and I wanted it to feel as accessible and layered as possible."

The book was written over two pregnancies — Georgia’s children are 11 months and three years old — which gave her some hard deadlines for both the first and last draft.

“I wanted a way to tell the story that felt accessible for me in a safe way, where it wasn’t completely me baring my soul." – Georgia Toews

She recalls holding a friend’s child when she was newly pregnant and thinking, "‘I can never write about the terrible things I’ve seen or experienced — like, look at this beautiful baby. I just want the world to be this beautiful, safe place,’" she says. "And then, I felt that way again — I was pregnant and I’m like, ‘I have to get all of this out.’ There was that terror that all of this in my mind was a poison, almost, to this kid and that I needed to kind of put this aside and then just be able to focus."

Georgia knows that one day her kids might read this book — "as a bedtime story," she jokes — just as she read her mom’s books, which include A Complicated Kindness and All My Puny Sorrows, and which also draw upon personal and family trauma. (Now she not only reads them but brings them to life: Georgia narrated the audio book for Miriam’s latest novel, Fight Night.)

"I was not ready to read some of the things my mother wrote when I was younger. I tried to, at seven or eight years old, I tried to start reading and I was just like, ‘This has sexy times and I’m not into it,’" she says. "But I do think it’s important for (my children) — I mean, they may not want to read it, but just so they know about it.

"I never want them to think there’s anything they can’t read or know about me."

"I do think it’s important for (my children) ‐ I mean, they may not want to read it, but just so they know about it... I never want them to think there’s anything they can’t read or know about me.” – Georgia Toews

Bringing a different kind of baby into the world has been more of a roller-coaster than she expected.

"I really thought that, once (the book) was out, I could really walk away from it and just be like, ‘OK, now it’s your problem,’" she says with a laugh. "But I realized I can’t do that, that I’m still very much attached to the book. It’s a lot more vulnerable than I thought I would feel — a little bit more nervous. But I’m really happy."

jen.zoratti@winnipegfreepress.com

Twitter: @JenZoratti

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Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti
Columnist

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.