August 16, 2016 Neil Wadhwa

Jane Ozkowski on Writing Watching Traffic

Watching Traffic by Jane OzkowskiSeven years ago, my friend Gwen came home from a trip to Germany with a box of her grandmother’s gold-capped teeth. Gwen studied jewelry design and metalsmithing at the Ontario College of Art and Design, and using the gold from those teeth would save her from having to spend hundreds of dollars on gold in school that year. It was a logical explanation, but the idea of someone’s grandmother giving them a box of old teeth stuck with me. I started imagining other situations where a grandmother might pass on such a strange and somewhat disgusting gift. I asked myself: Who might the grandmother be? Who would she give her teeth to? What would the receiver do with a box of gold-capped teeth? A few weeks later, I had the opening for Watching Traffic written.

When I began writing Watching Traffic, I didn’t necessarily realize I was writing a novel. I was twenty years old, and my main purpose for working on this strange little story about a girl and a box of teeth was to learn how to write. I didn’t set goals for word counts or chapters or even expect that I would ever finish the story. I just wanted to write for a set number of hours each day in order to experiment and find my voice as a writer. As I came back to my desk each morning, I found it was much easier to continue working on one story rather than to face a blank page each day. Slowly, an early version of Watching Traffic took shape.

Seven years later, I still can’t quite believe that Watching Traffic exists as an actual real-life book. I’ve dreamed of being a writer my whole life and have been devoting myself to writing since I was seventeen. It took years of waking up before sunrise to write before work and prioritizing writing over movie nights, barbecues, picnics and sometimes even sleep. Now that I have an actual book I feel a little stunned. I feel as though I should still be editing and making adjustments. After seven years, it’s hard to let the story go. I keep trying to tell myself that the story doesn’t belong to me anymore. It’s time for it to go out into the world and find a new home in other people’s minds.

Watching Traffic by Jane Ozkowski

Emily has finally finished high school in the small town where she has lived her whole life. At last, she thinks, her adult life can begin.

But what if you have no idea what you want your new life to look like? What then?

While Lincoln gets ready to go backpacking in Australia, Melissa packs for university on the east coast, and a new guy named Tyler provides welcome distraction, Emily wonders whether she will end up working forever at Pamela’s Country Catering, cutting the crusts off party sandwiches and stuffing mushrooms. Is this her future? Being known forever as the local girl whose mother abandoned her in the worst way possible all those years ago? Visiting her spacey grandmother, watching nature shows on TV with her dad and hanging out with Robert the grocery clerk? Listening to the distant hum of the highway leading out of the town everyone can’t wait to leave?

With poetic prose and a keen eye for the quirks and ironies of small-town life, Jane Ozkowski captures the bittersweet uncertainty of that weird, unreal summer after high school — a time that is full of possibility and completely terrifying at the same time.

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