Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Stacey May Fowles

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September 30, 2013 - Stacey May Fowles is Open Book: Toronto's 2013 Writer in Residence.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your new novel, Infidelity.

Stacey May Fowles:

Simplistically, as the title suggests, it’s a novel about an affair — the kind of affair, given the statistics, I imagine happens all the time. Two very different people, both of whom feel trapped by life’s expectations, have a chance meeting and embark on a clandestine relationship. They find solace in each other. Really it’s about the inertia of the thing, how they believe themselves to be powerless to stop it and just give in. It’s about their fear, their excuses, their combined delusion that what they’re doing is wholly justified.

OBT:

In Infidelity, your characters Ronnie and Charlie find escape in their affair from pressures exerted by their partners and from society in general. What drew you to write about this subject?

SMF:

I’ve always been interested in the kinds of pressures society puts on us to conform, especially on women in interpersonal relationships. When we give in to those pressures without question and against our true desires, we end up hurting not only ourselves, but those around us. We become lesser versions of ourselves, really. I think so many people make choices based on what they’re “supposed” to do and want, and then wake up one day surrounded by a life that is not really theirs. Loving one person until death, sharing a bed, marriage, kids, home ownership, office jobs, dinner on the table at six — being a “responsible” adult so often comes with sacrificing parts of our identity, the things we love and are passionate about. When we stop making choices, we stop being ourselves. Ronnie and Charlie are victims of their own cowardice, really. They couldn’t stand up for the kinds of lives they wanted, and therefore ended up living someone else’s. It’s that inauthenticity that finally gets to them, and they act out in a way they think is justifiable.

OBT:

Infidelity is one of the oldest themes in literature. Why do you think this is the case?

SMF:

Probably because monogamy is our sanctioned, default setting. It’s assumed, and so many people embark on it without thinking twice. We’re all told to strive for ironclad, shared life coupledom as an ultimate success, and some people are simply not built that way. Infidelity is an age-old theme because it keeps happening — we culturally haven’t really figured out how to tackle its root, how to have those kinds of conversations, how to deal with the uncomfortable question of wanting something other, or even nothing at all.

OBT:

This Magazine reviewer Sheena Lyonnais calls Infidelity "one of the best novels ever to be set in Toronto." Can you recommend two or three other books that take place here?

SMF:

Michael Redhill’s Consolation. Zoe Whittall’s Holding Still For As Long As Possible. Tamara Faith Berger’s Maidenhead. Mariko Tamaki’s Skim.

OBT:

In addition to writing fiction, you also write non-fiction for publications such as The Walrus, Quill & Quire, The Afterword, Hazlitt and http://www.openbooktoronto.com/magazine/winter_2008/articles/girls_club>Open Book. How does your non-fiction writing affect your fiction writing and vice versa?

SMF:

I always thought of myself as a fiction writer, and actually came to non-fiction much later on. The process is different but the impulse is always the same. Usually I become obsessed with an idea or a problem, or I’m striving to figure out how I feel about something — writing it down, regardless of the form it takes, is how I try to find resolution. I always think of non-fiction as the meticulous, responsible sibling to fiction’s messy, drunken daydreaming — for me, both are just methods to get an answer to a question. Sometimes it takes a day, and sometimes it takes years.

OBT:

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

SMF:

Take care of yourself. Try not to get too bogged down by “the culture.” Surround yourself with good people. Find a supportive day job. Don’t compare yourself to other writers. Listen to editors. Take excellent vacations and read trash. Write off the outfits you wear to readings.

OBT:

What are you working on now?

SMF:

I’m working on a non-fiction book through the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. It’s my first book-length non-fiction work, and the subject matter is pretty personal, so I wanted to enroll at King’s to get the support I needed. The experience is completely new territory for me, but given the community that King’s has provided, working in this form feels more comfortable than I would have initially thought. It feels like an enormous risk to work on a book this way, but it’s also exhilarating at the same time.