Hi Michael,

Congratulations on your latest book Heart Sister as well as your successful writing career. I spent a fair bit of time on your website – so much great stuff there.

Front cover image of Heart Sister of the inside of a person with illustrations of various organs but not in the right places
Heart Sister by Ottawa author Michael F. Stewart

Q. There was a lot of sadness in Heart Sister, but you didn’t see it until almost the end. It was an interesting way of showing how everyone processes grief and loss differently and at different times. Is there a reason why you wrote the book this way?
A. Great question. It has to do with Emmitt’s arc as a character. It really is a classic character arc where he goes from striving to achieve what he wants: To bring his sister back. To getting what he really needs: To face the loss of his sister. So, at the beginning of the book, he isn’t yet beyond the first phase of grieving, denial. The grief is there, but it’s not shown on the page.

Q. Emmitt is an interesting character. He is obviously kind and thoughtful, but makes some – in my opinion – morally suspect decisions. Why was it important to show both sides of Emmitt and why did you show it in this way?
A. I suppose the question I asked myself, is to what lengths might I go to if I needed something desperately? Would I break the law? Maybe not at first, but it isn’t until Emmitt is well and truly thwarted that he takes this step.

I like narratives where the protagonist gets caught up in their own escalation, where one thing leads to the next until suddenly they face legal action if they’re caught. Also, moral acts need to be weighed against the stakes, or perceived stakes. He’s not just finding his Heart Sister; he’s saving his mom.

Q. Your secondary characters were interesting. Emmitt finds many of them lacking for reasons that make sense as you read the book. Why did you create characters that were flawed in these various ways. Why was that important?
A. The other recipients needed to be flawed for a couple of reasons. The first was to escalate the need for Emmitt to identify his Heart Sister. To make it so that she was his last and only hope. The second reason was to show growth. Emmitt, in his grief, isn’t rational, and he comes to idealize his Heart Sister in part through the flaws of the other recipients. But he also comes to see real change in them, and the capacity to see the difference his sister made by being a donor.

Q. You dedicate your book to your brother and your brother’s heart sister and her family. Is communications really censored for personal information? Can your family, if they chose, met with your brother’s heart sister’s family? Do you agree with this rule? How is your brother now?
A. I’ll let me brother write his own story, but yes, in Ontario you cannot make contact with your donor family without it being censored of personal information. Even if you both want to connect. As far as I know, B.C. (British Columbia) recently changed this rule. The debate over the pros and cons of this rule are a really interesting topic for a class to discuss!

Q. Why is signing up to be a donor important? Why is it equally important to tell people your wishes?
A. Telling loved ones your wishes is actually the most important part because they will be the ones making the decision. Telling them your wishes, in part by registering, eases their having to make a difficult decision in a time of great pain.

Q. Why sign up to be a donor?
A. It’s not only that you can save lives and help scores of others, but you’re also becoming a part of the cheering section for those on the waiting list for an organ. It’s unlikely that your organ will ever be needed, but statistically somebody’s will be, all the other people are showing they care, that they’re willing to be a donor if they no longer have a use for their organs. Many families report that their loved one’s organ donation gave them great solace.

Q. Organ donation is still a bit of a taboo subject. Why do you think that is? Why is it important to talk about it?
A. It’s funny isn’t it? It feels a little taboo, but only I think because we don’t like to talk about death. A lot of my next book is dedicated to talking about death, to normalize it, and to use death as a tool to think about how best to live.

Q. Why did you decide you wanted to write a story about this topic?
A. Tune in to Orca’s blogpost for a more fulsome answer! But this is an easy one. I wanted to say thank you the best way I knew how.

Q. Why did you write it from Emmitt’s point of view?
A. I’ll take this to mean, why from the donor family’s viewpoint. It is the job of the writer to choose the position of greatest conflict. A story needs stakes, and I felt Emmitt, having lost the most, not only his sister, but his twin sister, with whom he had a very deep connection, he had the most at stake.

Q. What was the editing process. What is the main difference between the original and what was published?
A. Tanya, my editor at Orca, focused a lot on point of view and ensuring I stayed in it. I have a tendency to shift out of it. I won’t touch on a couple of the bigger rewrite areas as there would be spoilers, but I’d say that the plurality of edits were to ensure I stayed within Emmitt’s point of view and didn’t slip out.

Q. In one of your blog posts, you wrote: “Over the past nine months I’ve written middle grade fantasy (even with a touch of omniscient!), the second in the Assured Destruction series, two non-fiction novels, two graphic readers for kids, and I submitted a high fantasy piece as a prequel to Darkcrystal Authorquest. On my desk to write and or outline, the third book in the Assured Destruction Series, Book 2 in the Terminals series, a YA near future scifi, some contemporary ideas I’m noodling around, and I can’t begin to explain how many other things. My agent has three books on her desk already.”

Are you a fast writer? Can you please tell me your writing process (planner or just write)?
A. I am an uneven writer. I switch genres, age groups, types of writing. Some books take me a long time to write and require a ton of research. Others have taken me three months (like the second and third books of the Assured Destruction series).

On any project I start with a logline, which I punch up to a pitch, and then a short outline. The book I’m writing currently I decided to write first as a TV pilot, now a book, and then I plan to rewrite it into a graphic novel format.

Q. Do you write a certain amount every day?
A. I certainly try to! I don’t write on weekends because I have four daughters. Some days I’ll have more editing work, or marketing, and I won’t have the chance to write as much new material. I always try to start out writing. This morning I started writing for several hours. Then I spent an hour on social media, and the rest of my day will be spent researching a freelance project I’m involved with.

Q. How is this book different from the others you have written?
A. All my books are pretty different, which is a bit of a failing of mine because readers like to know what they’re going to get in an author. One big difference with Heart Sister is that a good portion of it is written as a screenplay. It also combines a lot of what I learned from other books like mental health issues from Counting Wolves and hacking from Assured Destruction.

Q. You write all sorts of books in all sorts of voices. Which type of book to you enjoy writing about the most? Anything you don’t like to write about?
A. I really haven’t nailed romance yet and I’d like to crack that code. Generally I find that I come up with the idea first, which will dictate genre. Next comes what character best represents the idea (usually who will have the worst possible time dealing with it) and then character determines voice.

Q. Do you have a favourite genre to write (and read)?
A. I love to read and write middle grade and YA. I also love a good, door-stopper epic fantasy.

Q. Are you working on anything else right now?
A. I’m working on an upper YA urban fantasy at the moment. I have another upper YA contemporary that I’m trying to find a home for.

Q. Do you have a dream project?
A. I’d love to create a huge platform spanning project that was compelling in all its separate parts, but then when pieced together all the layers create a massive overarching story. I’m also really interested in writing stories for a virtual reality platform or mixed reality platform (imagine Pokemon Go! with an amazing story attached to it). Oh, I’d also love to write something that makes you burst into tears. And another that makes you want to pump your fist, cheering. (You can see my problem!)

Read my review of Heart Sister here.

Heart Sister comes out Sept. 15 from Orca Book ($14.95).