Interview With Jane Mortifee, Author of Out of the Fire

Can you share a bit about your journey to becoming a writer/published author? Looking back can you see any hints growing up that you would become an author? Why was now the right time to move in this new direction?

Writing a novel came as a complete surprise for me. Other than writing some poetry and lyrics in my teen years to accompany my three chord guitar playing ability, I have not done any writing for decades. This novel began as a result of wanting to record another CD and my musical director saying I should be writing my own songs instead of recording covers. So I took a creative writing course out at UBC with Paul Belserene on the recommendation of some writer friends of mine. 

You’d think I would have signed up for a song writing workshop but, for whatever reason, I didn’t even think of that. There have been many phases in my life where certain types of work have come and gone, and I have come to trust that new things show up as other things fall away. But, as I said, I never saw writing a novel as any sort of option! 

Out of the Fire is your first full novel. What inspired this story? 

One of the assignments that Paul handed me was to write about a character who had never left Africa. The character of Ntombi arrived. I knew there was a fuller story there and I just continued to write. 

   Guest Review by Ava Vanderstarren
This book is set in Africa. What is your connection to this country? What kind of research did you need for an accurate portrayal of the country, the people and the way of life there?

I was born in South Africa. We moved to Vancouver when I was three, but we still have relatives there and we had gone back to visit a number of times while my parents were still alive. My father had a sugar cane farm in what was then called Zululand, now Kwazulu Natal. He spoke fluent Zulu since he was a young boy and I have always felt an affinity with the Zulu people and their culture. In my early years my nanny was Zulu. 

During the writing of this book, I returned to South Africa three additional times. I read a number of books on Zulu culture and traditions and on Sangomas. I do not identify the place in the book as it could be any country in Africa and the tribe is the Mswembe tribe, a fictitious tribe as their practices contain many aspects that do not pertain to the Zulus.

How does the writing process work for you? Do you schedule a time every day, work madly when inspiration hits or ?

I just don’t seem to have the discipline to sit down on my own and write at a scheduled time. For the last 13 years, two or three times a year, I have had the great good fortune to lead yoga at the creative workshops offered by the wonderful Patricia Lee Lewis ( and Jacqueline Sheehan ( at various locations around the world: Guatemala, Puerto Rico, New Zealand, Mexico, Scotland, Wales. I would rent a place in whatever country before and/or after those retreats to continue writing. For some reason, I could not seem to write at home, so I relished the time away to work on the book. 

One of the unexpected gifts of not traveling due to COVID is the availability of online writing workshops that previously were only offered in person. So I have joined a number of writing sessions and seem to have no trouble showing up for the appointed zoom hours.

As an author - what do you enjoy most about the writing process? What feels like a chore?

I am always amazed at what comes onto the page. I do not have any sort of outline or framework ahead of time. In fact, I was writing Out of the Fire for almost 3 years before I knew what the story was. I had been writing scenes that had different characters that I knew were part of the same story, but didn’t know how they were related until one day when I was in Hawaii in a little cottage I had rented for the purposed of writing. In a flash, a scene came to me that made all the other scenes make sense… I finally understood the arc of the story and what had happened to make the characters make their choices. It was like magic. That is what I love about the writing process, not knowing what will happen next, or even what happened before that now explains what I have already written.

I don’t know that there is anything that feels like a chore. However, I did find the editing and rewriting process somewhat overwhelming when I began to try to put all the scenes together in some sort of cohesive order. Some writer friends have encouraged me to get Scrivener to help with keeping everything in some sort of order but it just doesn’t work for me, so I have masses of scenes that I have to try and wrangle into something. I write long hand and use the transcribing process into the computer as the first edit.

I will say that I suspect part of why I couldn’t seem to write at home, aside from the usual distractions of my other career and family and friends, was that I found writing this book to be an incredibly painful process emotionally. Many, many times I tried to abandon the book, but I felt the main character would not let me go - that she had ‘chosen’ me to tell her story. 

Jane Mortifee Discography!

Why did you choose to self-publish? 

I had submitted the manuscript to many agents and publishing houses without success. Aside from the possibility that they all thought it was no good, two friends of mine, one here and one in the United States who are both well respected, established editors, told me that no one in the publishing business would touch the book due to cultural misappropriation. All the characters in the book are black, aside from when a white character appears for a brief moment. As a white woman, it is considered by some inappropriate for me to write a black character’s story. I have meant no disrespect but rather a deep appreciation for the indigenous connection to the spirit world.

In the forward I write the following: "I have used many Zulu words and names throughout the book, and even though my closest connection to a native culture in my youth was to the Zulus, the depiction of ceremonies and traditions is a combination of my exposure to indigenous cultures around the world and the recesses of my imagination. My apologies if anything described herein comes too close to the actual practices of any tribe and is perceived as incorrect or inappropriate. In writing this book it has been my sincere desire to honour the Great Wisdom and Mystery of all cultures and their profound connection to the Divine Universal Spirit.'

What do you most want readers to take away from reading Out of the Fire? 

That healing is possible 

I know you're working on a second book. Can you share a bit about it and when it might be released?

I am actually writing two novels at the moment. Originally I thought they were one book, a generational thing, but for now I have let go of that concept and am writing them as separate pieces. 

One takes place in the stagecoach era beginning with a mail order bride. I have about four stories going in this book and still don’t know how each group of characters interface with the others…. part of the mystery and magic of it all. 

The other book is a more contemporary setting that follows the lives of two siblings who were both abused by a Catholic priest and how that affects their lives. Another very painful process. Not sure why I write such dark materia, but as a writer friend of mine said, "Better to get it on the page than to live it in your life", so I’m going with that!

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