By Ginny Monaco
Stacey May Fowles has published two novels, Be Good and Fear of Fighting – which was later adapted for the stage. Her third novel, Infidelity, is due from ECW later in 2013. She is a regular contributor to the National Post and her writing has appeared in Taddle Creek, Prism, and Maisonneuve.
In July of 2012, she was accepted into the Banff Writers Centre. She had taken time off from her job as the Director of Circulation and Marketing for The Walrus and intended to write a memoir “about coming of age in serial rapist and murderer Paul Bernardo’s hometown during his crimes as the Scarborough Rapist.”
Fowles was forced to confront her own assault in ways that left her “a walking open wound, telling stories I never intended to tell.” Her National Post essay “What can’t be published” is a thoughtful exploration of what it means to write about assault. Like most of her work, the essay is informed by two of Fowles’ major titles: writer and woman.
I recently spoke to her about what it means to be a female writer in Canada, how she deals with rejection, and her new obsession with sports writing.
Can you give me a quick rundown of your career path as a writer? How did you come to work at The Walrus?
I always wanted to write – knew that for most of my life. I was just never sure if that meant it would be my “job,” or something I just had to make time for. Early on I was writing fiction exclusively, and it was pretty clear there wasn’t going to be a living wage in that, certainly not for a long time. In my early twenties I was working on a novel and got a part time job with a literary journal as their circulation manager. I think initially I had hoped that it would be a door to becoming an editor, but instead I fell in love with magazine circulation and how well it compliments a writing life. I’ve been doing it for about a decade now, and have been with The Walrus for five years. It’s really helped me fund my writing projects while remaining connected to a writing community. I’ve paralleled my work there with writing more non-fiction – book reviews, essays, and more journalism-style work.
How do you choose the projects you dedicate your time to?
For the most part I get fixated on an idea or a theme or a question and have to work through it via writing. If anything, I just wish I had more time –there’s something soul-crushing about wanting to tackle a project and knowing that the number of hours in the day just won’t allow you to devote yourself to it properly. I think that’s one of the hard lessons I’ve learned over the years.
What inspired you to stage an adaptation of Fear of Fighting?
It was literally just something I wanted to try. I was presented with this amazing opportunity with Nightwood Theatre and a supportive environment to develop the work, and I dove in. It was a great experience to write in a completely different way.
How did/do you deal with rejection from magazines and publishers? Does it get easier with time?
I think it gets much, much easier over time. You build the confidence to not take it too personally, and to believe in your work. You start to look at is as constructive rather than heartbreaking.
When I was first starting out I had a binder full of rejection letters, maybe as an act of acclimatizing myself, maybe as evidence that I was doing the work. I was trying to send out as much as possible to make a name for myself, and every week a rejection was in my mail or inbox. My current writing means that more commonly a pitch gets rejected than a finished work, so that’s a little softer on the ego. The big rejections are when someone doesn’t want a novel every few years, which can be a blow, but you soldier on.
You basically have to train yourself to know that there are myriad factors in why a piece or a book can’t find a home where you’ve sent it. It’s all an act of faith, really.
What are your thoughts on the current state of CanLit? Do you feel like your writing fits under that umbrella?
I think there are elements of CanLit, especially those around representation and coverage, that are severely flawed. We seem to have defined our country’s literature in such a limited way that we fail to properly celebrate authors who are doing really innovative and interesting things, fail to embrace narratives that push the form forward. Having said that, I think if you look deep enough, you’ll see that this country’s contribution is far more robust than domestic prairie novels and the like. Mainstream critical culture needs to take more risks in terms of tackling more obscure titles, as does the award system and publishers themselves. I’m not entirely sure where my writing fits, but I think that may be something a writer never really knows. Classification can be limiting, so I think it’s more important to learn what you’re passionate about, what you do well, and go from there.
I know you did your undergraduate degree in women’s studies and a lot of your writing has dealt with feminist issues, but how do the two intersect in your career?
I think the intersection happens in both positive and insidious ways. I find that editors often assign me “women’s issues,” or books written by and for women, when I’m gagging at the bit to explore a full range of subject matter.
Having said that, I am unbelievably grateful to have the opportunity to confront sexism in higher profile, mainstream arenas. I’ve been very blessed to be given the freedom to write about inequity in publishing, sexual violence, misogyny, in places that may not otherwise confront these issues. I think if I wrote without feminism in mind I’d be doing so inauthentically. That doesn’t mean that everything I write is a “feminist work,” it just means that my work is informed by that perspective.
You are constantly thinking about how your gender effects the trajectory of your career, the choices you make, how you are seen by readers and critics, in a way men don’t necessarily need to.
What are you reading right now?
I’m going through a phase right now where I’m reading a lot of baseball literature, both fiction and non, primarily because the possibilities of sports writing really fascinates me. I think there’s an opportunity to look at it in a whole new way (there’s that women’s studies perspective again), and I’ve become a little obsessed with exploring that.
Can you tell me a bit about your upcoming book, Infidelity?
It’s out with ECW Press this fall, and very generally it’s a book about an affair. I’ve always been really interested in how our limited definitions of relationships don’t serve us well, and how people act out because they feel suffocated by them.
I had a desire to create characters who were fundamentally good people doing terrible things, serving a vital part of themselves they felt was lost with bad deeds. I think that subscribing to certain dictated life paths and playing certain roles can really harm us, and provoke us to harm others. I really hope the book raises some of these questions for readers.
What’s one thing that made you laugh in the last week or so?
I have an excellent group of people around me who make me laugh on a regular basis. I think it’s a necessity of being involved in the kind of writing that looks at difficult, sometimes painful subjects.
There are days where there’s just too many stories of sexism, of violence, too many things you want to take on, tackle, and try to solve, it becomes exhausting. I’m blessed to have people in my life who maintain a sense of humour through everything – I’m not sure I could sit down to write if I didn’t.
Ginny Monaco is a writer and journalist living in Vancouver, BC. She is a former Ubyssey Culture Editor and her work has appeared in countless student newspaper across Canada. You can follow her on Twitter, where she posts passionate diatribes about television shows, women’s issues and YouTube videos of cats.