Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Missing and Not Missing Fiction

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It occurred to me the other day that Infidelity is the last piece of fiction I’ve written. There hasn’t really been anything since. I mean, I know that seems obvious, but I actually “finished” the novel years ago, the mechanisms of publishing so excruciatingly slow, an exercise in patience that refuses to offer any quick and easy gratification. I haven’t started a novel or tinkered with a short story or even scrawled down some ideas since I finished a draft for submission. That moment of completion while stowed away at the Banff Centre during an unusually cold September in 2010 seems so far away now.

Of course there’s been edits and countless rewrites of scenes and dialogue, but nothing new. Nothing fresh and wide open. It’s probably the longest I’ve gone without fiction and I’ve barely noticed, likely because in the interim non-fiction moved into my life and firmly took its place in my attentions.

“You’re gonna do this for now,” it said.

In cocktail conversations and Q&As people have asked me about another novel. “What are you working on now?” they say. Yes, there is one lurking in the back of my mind, but not a single word of it has been written. I’m not sure when I’ll start. I often wonder if I should feel guilty about this, if I should feel embarrassed that the impulse in me is on hiatus, because I really don’t mind. Does that make me less of a writer? Less devoted to what I do? I wonder why saying all this feels like a confession when the break never really bothered me all that much.

There was one tiny moment since that I delved back in. In the late summer I was asked to be part of a collaborative short story for the National Post’s book section, the requirement only a few hundred words. I was supplied with a story in progress, pieced together by other authors (at the time all unknown to me), and was told to add on. I remember the week was rammed with day job and non-fiction freelance deadlines, and I struggled to carve out the time to get it done. When I finally did sit down to stitch in a scene the whole process had a messy, euphoric feeling, like having a glass of wine after a long hiatus and then feeling your head spin. Like visiting an old friend you haven’t seen in a while, the one you always got up to no good with, always had one drink too many with, always ended up scaling a fence and swimming in a neighbour’s pool naked with.

People ask me a lot about the relationship between fiction and non, which one is harder and which one I love more. My totally unhelpful answer is “it depends.” Sometimes (and lately) I enjoy the sturdiness of non-fiction, the way I feel a responsibility to structure, to getting the details right, to telling the truth and honouring those living, breathing things that make up the narrative. It feels clean. It feels like it has more rules to rein me in. There is a click, click, click of everything falling into place that makes me feel upright and purposeful.

Fiction—the novel—makes me feel lost until the very end, searching for something for months and then years, for a feeling that I am doing it right, a feeling that often never comes. You lean into that a lot. At a certain point you simply accept it and see what comes. Maybe over the past few years I haven’t been able to go back there, needed the reassurance of the essay. Maybe I’m not quite okay with being lost just yet.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Stacey May Fowles

Stacey May Fowles is a writer and magazine professional living in Toronto. She is a regular contributor to The National Post books section and currently works at The Walrus. Her latest novel is Infidelity, out this fall with ECW Press.

Go to Stacey May Fowles’s Author Page