Truth versus fiction in ‘Moss-Haired Girl’

ARTS_moss-haired girl book cover

Winner of 3-Day Novel Contest comes to Vancouver

By Cheryl Minns, Arts Editor

With NaNoWriMo coming to a close this week, there’s another time-limited writing competition worth checking out: the International 3-Day Novel Contest. During the Labour Day weekend, writers are challenged with producing a novel of about 100 pages in just 72 hours. San Francisco author Rachel (R. H.) Slansky won the 2013 contest with her novel, Moss-Haired Girl, which will be published by Vancouver’s Anvil Press.

The novel begins with Joshua Chapman Green looking for answers about his family in his recently deceased mother’s attic. He comes across an autobiography by a circus performer named Zara Zalinzi that might be real or fake.

“I wanted it to be in the voice of the lead character, but the whole point of it is she is telling lies about who she really was to cover up the more painful truth,” Slansky said. “Then it occurred to me that I could have somebody who’s annotating this autobiography.”

The idea to change the story’s format came to Slansky only two days before the contest began, giving her little time but lots of inspiration.

“I already knew I was going to write about Zara; I didn’t know that I was going to have this other person who was going to be researching her life,” she explained. “I thought, ‘This is the perfect thing, but I don’t know if I can pull this off. I don’t know if I have enough time to create these two characters and tell the story in this way.’ But that’s why it was fun.”

In Moss-Haired Girl, Zara performs in a sideshow as a Circassian beauty. The Circassian beauties from Russia’s North Caucasus were considered the ideal image of light-skinned people in the 18th century, which led to using the term Caucasian to describe race. Then, in the 19th century, showman P. T. Barnum hosted exhibitions featuring light-skinned women with Afro-styled hair masquerading as Circassian beauties.

“It was kind of interesting to me that basically having an Afro is the ideal of white beauty,” Slansky said. “I have very curly hair myself and I had always thought about Circassian beauties as really intriguing.”

Slansky has participated in the 3-Day Novel Contest five times so far because she enjoys the time constraint that forces her to produce work quickly.

“I’m not very good at getting things done unless I have a real hard deadline,” she admitted. “The main reason why I started doing the contest was I knew that I would complete something in those three days if I signed up for it and told everybody I was going to do it.”

Her first novel for the contest—a sci-fi, historical, western—began as a way for her to deal with emotional trauma in a fictional setting.

“I could sort of have therapy through talking about it in a setting that it absolutely did not happen in,” she said.

Slansky will be promoting Moss-Haired Girl at the Brickhouse in Vancouver on November 29 at 8 p.m.

“I’m looking forward to it,” she said. “Even though I grew up in Portland, Oregon, I’ve never made it up to Canada. I’ve always really wanted to go.”

For more news on Moss-Haired Girl, you can follow Slansky on Twitter @RHSlansky.