Author tells story of a dark time in Quebec’s history

Joanna Goodman

Owns and operates a thriving retail business to have time to write

~by Victoria Riley for GreeneCountyNewsOnline

Joanna Goodman, author of The Home for Unwanted Girls, this year’s Greene County Reads selection, owns and operates an upscale bed linens store in Toronto to have enough time to write. She’s also the mother of two children, ages 9 and 14. How she balances those roles may be one of the things she talks about as she joins the Greene County Reads discussions this Thursday via Skype.

The Home for Unwanted Girls is Goodman’s fifth novel and her most successful novel to date. The book was the Number 1 bestseller in Canada for six or seven months, she said.
Goodman has been writing since she was 5 years old; she wrote her first novel when she was 9. “I just wrote all the time,” she said, “but I didn’t know people could earn a living doing it.”

She majored in journalism in college. “I didn’t love journalism. It was so different from creative writing,” she said.

She left journalism and started working for her mother Peggy Byron, who had established a very successful linen store, Au Lit Fine Linens. Au Lit sells its own line of custom bed linens made in Canada of Egyptian cotton woven in Europe.

“From the start, working for my mother gave me more time for writing. I found it a lot easier to creatively write in the evening when I hadn’t been writing journalism all day. It’s just two entirely different types of writing,” Goodman explained.

Still, she didn’t see writing as a career. She got an agent, though, and sold some stories and then her first novel. She wasn’t yet 30 years old.

She now owns Au Lit Fine Linens. She starts her work day with a few hours in the store, spends her afternoons writing, and her evenings doing all the things a wife and mother of school-age children does.

She spent several years writing The Home for Unwanted Girls. The story of the Duplessis orphans – the 20,000 orphans who were intentionally incorrectly diagnosed as being mentally ill in the 1950s in Quebec so the Catholic orphanages where they lived would receive more government funds for their care – required much difficult research.

Goodman tells the story of the Duplessis orphans via a fictional character, Elodie. Elodie was placed in the orphanage because she was born out of wedlock when her mother, Maggie, was 16 years old. Elodie was 5 years old when she was “diagnosed” as mentally retarded and transferred to a mental hospital to live with and help care for mentally ill children and adults.

Maggie, also a fictional character, is based on Goodman’s mother. According to Goodman, she first aspired to tell a story of growing up with a French Canadian mother and an English father, as her mother did. Maggie is a strong woman, like Goldman’s mother. The story of Maggie’s romance with a French Canadian is a fictional device to explore the schism between the English and the French Canadians.

Goodman’s mother read many drafts of the book over the years. Sadly, she passed away shortly before it was published.

The Home for Unwanted Girls is a page-turner that brings the Duplessis orphans to center stage. Goodman said she’s surprised as she travels promoting the book that most Canadians know very little about that dark page in history.

Goldman is a talented writer, authoritative on the Duplessis orphans, and a very congenial speaker. She’ll talk and answer questions at each of the three Greene County Reads sessions. Jan Scharingson, retired East Greene English teacher, will lead about 40 minutes of discussion before making the Skype connection with Goldman.

Greene County Reads discussions are this Thursday, April 11, at the Churdan public library at 9 am, the Rippey public library at 2 pm, and Marchant Memorial Library in Scranton at 7 pm.

The discussions are free and open to the public. They are a cooperative project of the Greene County libraries, made possible by funding support from the Greene County board of supervisors. Light refreshments will be served.

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