Rugby made poet Tanya Davis gay. Anne-Marie MacDonald fell on her knees. Anna Camilleri became a red dress. Lynn Crosbie is a queen rat. Ivan E. Coyote loosened her bow grip. Douglas Coupland discovered life after god. And former BP ink-slinger Zoe Whittall sparked her bottle rocket heart.
Published by Cormorant Books, Whittall’s debut novel Bottle Rocket Hearts, is a queer coming of age tale set in Montreal a year prior to the 1995 Quebec Referendum. But to us insiders, it’s a postmodern cry for a riot grrrl renaissance and a portrait of radical romance gone askew.
“I came of age during the spoken-word revival in the mid-’90s. I made ‘zines and I performed poetry all over the place,” says Whittall. “I did-n’t see this as a way to become an ‘author’ at the time. That seemed really far away and far too legitimate a thing to pursue when I felt a part of this cultural underground.”
Bottle Rocket Hearts follows Eve, the novel’s tender protagonist, through the emotional revolution of first loves, and plummets into the underbelly of feminist politics and ideologies. While Eve discovers her own sense of identity through her haphazard relationship with Della, their provincial homelands push them to come to terms with their own.
“I wanted to write about the hilarious tragedy of first heartbreak,” she says. “I wanted Montreal to appear as a character itself. I wanted to have queer kids being themselves at a time where identity politics permeated everything, and I was particularly interested in cultural movements like riot grrrl and queercore stuff, bringing them alive through these misfits.”
The Toronto-based writer has two poetry books to her name, The Emily Valentine Poems (Snare Publishing, 2006), and The Best Ten Minutes of Your Life (McGilligan, 2001) and is currently working on a third. She edited Geeks, Misfits, and Outlaws (McGilligan, 2003), a collection of stories by self-proclaimed nerds, criminals and troublemakers, including works by Michelle Tea, Mariko Tamaki, Camilla Gibb and Heather O’Neill.