Your first book, The Bull Is Not Killed, came out in 1998. CourageMy Love, which came out in 2001, was your next release. Finally, after a decade, The Art of Sufficient Conclusions came out. How good did it feel when you got the first copy in your hands? What kinds of responses or feedback have you been getting for The Art of Sufficient Conclusions?
A decade was far too long between books, and I hope that never happens again, but when I finally held a copy, it felt as though the wait was worth it for finding the right publisher and editor. Mansfield Press provided the most rigorous editing process I’ve ever been through so I felt confident it was the best book it could be, which is no small thing, particularly for as personal book as this one. The cover is perfect and thoughtful, which is not always the case. I had to fight over the cover of Courage of My Love to get it changed from a stock image of a passive woman to one with energy and life. The most satisfying responses are from women who, like the main character Abby, grew up fatherless, see some reflection of themselves in her and realize they may not be so strange after all.
The Art of Sufficient Conclusions is described as a “literary mash-up of fiction, memoir, and archival material.” That’s quite the balancing act! Did you have to rein yourself in at times? Did Nonfiction Sarah take over at times? Was Literary Sarah trying to steer things?
The most difficult part was stepping away from the factual and making Abby less like me, while still being true. It was constraining at times.
As they say in real estate: location, location, location! Setting plays a significant role in all three of your novels. In fact, in their review of Courage My Love, The Globe and Mail said: “Sarah Dearing so strongly depicts an angle on a place and a time, so profoundly evokes a stench and a feeling, that it creates a true literary landscape. It’s a place you could paint from memory.” Wow! Talk about high praise! Talk to me about place. Do you have to love a place to write about it? Can you write about a (real) place you’ve never been to?
Place intrigues me on several levels. I’m constantly aware of how my environment affects my mood and perspective and I need it to change frequently, even if it’s something minor like rearranging the furniture or taking a different route somewhere. It’s contradictory because I also love the familiarity and ritual surrounding certain kinds of places, like cottages, where even minor change feels like an affront. Loving a place provides a great deal of motivation to try to do it justice in writing, but it’s not necessary. It might be easier, or more enjoyable, but it’s not a prerequisite. London, England features significantly in The Art of Sufficient Conclusions, and I write about not loving it at all. I think it’s possible to write about a real place without ever having been, but where’s the fun in that? Travel allows us to be different versions of ourselves and to discover things about who we are, either personally or culturally. I think that’s an important part of being a writer.
The publishing landscape has undergone a sea change since your previous books were released. How do you feel about the changes in the book world? What opportunities do you see in ebooks and social media?
I remember it was a bit of a parlour game when writers got together to bitch about our publicists and now we have to be our own publicists. There’s an irony there but since I try not to look backwards, I am actually quite ambivalent about changes in the book world. I think the potential is there to reach more readers through ebooks but I don’t think ebooks have reached their full potential yet. As far as social media goes, I suspect it is effective but I’m not very motivated to self-promote right now. I only want to focus on my next project, particularly after such a long gap between books. Once I’m in a fictional world, I need to be as fully immersed as possible, to the exclusion of just about everything else. I hope I can get more in the swing of it with my next novel.
I have to ask this (I already have my own answer to the question...) but if a hot-shot Hollywood director showed up on your doorstep and offered you a bucket of cash to make a movie of The Art of Sufficient Conclusions, who would you cast as Abbie?
The first person to come to mind is Lauren Ambrose, who played Claire in Six Feet Under. I’m curious who your choice would be.
What can you tell me about your current work in progress?
I have two novels in progress, but the one I’m focused on right now (maybe because I’m tired of winter) is inspired by time I spent working at a dodgy hotel on Corn Island, Nicaragua, and is more like my first novel in terms of style. It’s also narrated by a 13 year-old girl who is nothing like me, which is sort of like taking a vacation from myself. It’s a wonderful thing to be constrained only by the authenticity of voice and plot.
Mystery author Elmore Leonard once said: “My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: when you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip.” What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Read lots of great books in whatever genre you’re writing and feel envy.
What do you think is the biggest misconception, the most frequently circulated myth about writing and being an author?
The glamour of it all?
What are your thoughts on the following quotation: “The tendinous part of the mind, so to speak, is more developed in winter; the fleshy, in summer. I should say winter had given the bone and sinew to literature, summer the tissues and the blood,” John Burroughs, The Snow-Walkers.
It sort of dismisses all the brilliant literature from perpetually warm places. I get what he’s saying, but maybe it’s more about the hardship and isolation of winter; the sensual and social aspects of summer. Desert/seaside might be an equally apt comparison or mountain/valley.
When you take a break from writing and have time to curl up with a book, what do you like to read? Who are some of your favourites?
If I really want to get out of my own head, I go for a good mystery or spy thriller from the likes of Ian Rankin or John Le Carre. I think David Mitchell is the most interesting contemporary literary writer and eagerly await whatever he publishes. T.C. Boyle for his expansive vocabulary and George Orwell for his economy.
The last question is a bit of a freebie: What is the one question you wish I had asked you but didn’t? Now, go ahead and ask and answer that question.
Is CanLit ready for a pot-smoking heroine?
In 2002, the Canadian government tabled a bill to decriminalize the possession of marijuana and I kept meeting pot-smokers, particularly among the 20 to 30 age group. It seemed like a very mainstream activity and since the book is meant, among other things, to document a particular time (post-9/11) this detail seemed important to include.
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