Winston interviews Stacey May Fowles
Stacey May Fowles is an author, journalist and editor. She has contributed to numerous online and print periodicals, notably Open Book Toronto, Torontoist, Broken Pencil and The Walrus Magazine. Her first novel, Be Good (Tightrope Books), was published to wide acclaim and remains one of the bestselling titles in the Small Press section at Pages Books. Most recently, she collaborated with artist Marlena Zuber on the illustrated novel, Fear Of Fighting (Invisible Publishing). She is the publisher of Shameless magazine.
Stacey May is a valued member of the This Is Not A Reading Series ensemble. The event to launch Fear Of Fighting, hosted by Mariko Tamaki, was a highlight of last winter’s TINARS season. She was one of the “celebrity assassins” at the TINARS event for Graham Roumieu’s 101 Ways To Kill Your Boss in January. And Stacey May will launch the Shameless magazine anthology, She's Shameless: Women write about growing up, rocking out and fighting back at TINARS on June 23. She and Winston sat down after the Roumieu event.
W: You wear many hats, publisher of Shameless Magazine, novelist, publicist for Tightrope Books, to name but a few. How do these roles complement one another?
S: I’m not always sure they do, but it does mean I’m never bored. Or sleeping.
W: What advice would you give to a teenage girl who wants to be a writer?
S: Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that can’t be a writer and that no one cares about your story, just work hard to be a writer and prove that people do care. Read everything you can and write every day, even if you think your writing is awful. It’ll get better. Find other writers who you respect and listen to what they have to say — writing can be lonely and it helps to have friends in the craft who are willing and able to get you where you want to go. Don’t ever settle for being the token woman or someone’s literary girlfriend. When some washed up jerk old man poet at a book launch tells you that you have a lot to learn, or your “poetry is cute,” or that he thinks you’re pretty and that you should come home with him, don’t be afraid to put him in his place no matter how much influence he claims to have. And don’t let anyone market you as a sex object or a “women’s writer” unless that’s exactly what you want. And when you find success and get caught up in the business, don’t ever forget why you started writing in the first place; because you love it.
W: Be Good and Fear Of Fighting tell very different stories. But they both exhibit a keen sense of psychology. Do you create fully developed characters before you start writing your narratives?
S: Occasionally I’ll meet someone and be struck by how fantastic it would be to tell their story. That’s usually where it starts. I’ll have an experience with an accountant or a hairdresser or a barista and find myself wondering about their lives. Other than that there’s no real method to how I write. I’d love to be one of those writers that develops a character or an outline before starting the writing process, but I think I’m much too impatient for that. The characters tend to develop along with the story. I’ve been criticized in the past for being light on plot, but I think I’m more interested in snapshots and vignettes, that when strung together tell a story that the reader needs to piece together themselves.
W: What books are currently on your bedside table?
S: I’ve suddenly gotten really into comics and graphic novels in the geekiest way. I realize I’m a little late to join the party, but right now I’m reading Watchmen, Suburban Glamour, Sword, Runaways, and Zot! I’ve also picked up The Great Gatsby again for the first time since high school.
W: Several folks have said that they did not want to part ways with the characters in Be Good after the novel ends. Any chance we will meet them again?
S: When I finished the book after five years with it I would have answered ‘yes’ to that question. When I wrote the last line I remember being miserable that the characters wouldn’t be in my everyday anymore. Now that I have some distance, I think it’s time to put them to bed. Every so often, though, I meet a girl at a party or bar and I think “She’s such a Morgan” and I fall in love with her as a result. I miss the girls of Be Good, but as everyone knows, there’s always going to be other girls.
W: What songs would you put on a mixtape CD for the star crossed lovers in Be Good?
S: 1) Come on Petunia — The Blow
2) The Truth About Cats and Dogs — Pony Up!
3) You Are What You Love — Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins
4) 22 — Magneta Lane
5) Ceremony — New Order
6) Crimson and Clover — Joan Jett and The Blackhearts
7) Too Drunk To Fuck — Nouvelle Vague
8) What’s Mine Is Yours — Sleater Kinney
9) Your Mangled Heart — The Gossip
10) Dancing With Myself — The Donnas
11) Blue (Donna’s 4 Track Demo) — Elastica
12) Out of The Races and Onto The Tracks — The Rapture
13) Destroy Everything You Touch — Ladytron
14) Rock and Roll Suicide — David Bowie
15) Never Let Me Down Again — Depeche Mode
16) I Won’t Share You — The Smiths
W: Where do you stand on that perennial conundrum: rock, paper, scissors?
S: Rock. Rock on. Rock hard. Rock steady. No contest.
W: Did you re-write sections of Fear Of Fighting based on Marlena Zuber’s drawings?
S: It was actually the other way around. While we did have some discussions about what might be easiest for her to depict, she pretty much took the finished manuscript and ran with it. She was so accommodating and even redrew some things when I made last minute neurotic writer changes in editing. She was the most amazing artist to work with and I was truly blessed to partner with her for the book. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
W: Who is your favourite character on Sesame Street? Why?
S: My immediate instinct is to go with Aloysius Snuffleupagus, primarily because of the imaginary/adorable/scapegoat factor, but when I asked a friend who he thought my favourite would be he said “Cookie Monster, obviously, because of the (never stop) eating thing.” Also, I feel the need to point out that the Count is such an incorrigible sack of shit. You can’t trust a timewaster like that.
W: What are you writing these days?
S: I’m currently finishing up the edits to the Shameless magazine anthology, She's Shameless: Women write about growing up, rocking out and fighting back, and I’ve managed to start a new novel that continues my tradition of writing about women in my own age bracket. The main character is on the edge of thirty.
And yes, my thirtieth birthday is fast approaching.