Susan Paddon was born and grew up in St. Thomas, Ontario, attended McGill and Concordia in Montreal, and lived overseas in Paris and London before settling in Margaree, Nova Scotia. Her poems have appeared in Arc, CV2, The Antigonish Review and Geist among others. Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths (Brick Books) is her first book.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book has helped me move through a lot of grief. I wrote it after the death of my mother. I am currently working on a novel. I am working with a lot more characters than I did in my first book and the work is very different because I am telling these lives in a different form. I suppose, however, like in Two Tragedies, my current work does offer a series of snapshots – no, perhaps, it’s not snapshots. Maybe, I could say that before I was writing in snapshots, but I am now working in my novel with a series of short home videos (not my own).
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I have always been attracted to poetry. I do write in other forms but for this book, poetry seemed to find its way into my vision of how to tell it. That was the voice that came.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I think I usually have ideas that develop very quickly, but it is the finishing – the fine-tuning – that really takes the most amount of time. Sometimes an early draft will resemble the finished work and other times, maybe only a line will remain. I make copious notes on anything that can be written on.
4 - Where does a poem or work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I think for my current project, I do have a few smaller ideas that have come together – found their way into this novel. And they keep coming, which is good and not so good. I need to say stop at a certain point because not every new direction is a good one. I often get a line in my head or a situation that I want to explore and the work is trying to get to and from that place.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I just finished a tour for Two Tragedies. It was an amazing experience. I was really nervous about doing so many readings but in fact, the experience made me way more comfortable with sharing my work and saying, yes, this is what I wrote.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I have no idea what the current questions are. I try to question time (how it is changes – particularly, how it is different when you know you have a limited amount left), faith, mourning, public and private death in my work. I think those were my main thoughts writing this first book. I will never forget being in a grocery store line with my mother when we saw a magazine with Farah Fawcett on the cover. The caption said something like, “Only Days to Live!” My mother was also dying.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I think I write because I can’t not write. I don’t write to publish, although, when it happens it can be wonderful. But what is the role of the writer? Maybe to take us somewhere we couldn’t get to on our own that day. That hour. Maybe somewhere we know well, or have never seen before. When I read, I want to be taken somewhere and to feel like I know that place for the time I’m there. The place can of course be just a new emotion or way of seeing.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Both. Barry Dempster was a fantastic editor. Stephanie Bolster was also instrumental in getting this book out of my head and onto the page. Of course, I think we are always afraid of being told that something we love has to be let go. But it is also so amazing when someone inspires you into writing something better.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Do your best. I find that very comforting.
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
It changes. Generally speaking, I like a clean house and to work at the kitchen table. I covet beautiful desks, but I never use them. One day I’d like to have a huge set of drawers for all of my files and notes. I need to be alone (or if I can’t be alone, I should be in a café with strangers.) I like music. Background music. Too much coffee doesn’t work. Wine usually puts me to sleep. Food doesn’t really work either – while I’m writing, that is. It isn’t good for me to depend on anything that could run out (like almonds, say) or that I could over do it on (like almonds, say).
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
A walk. A playlist. A drive. I always write while I drive. But of course I can’t write anything down until I stop, so I have to go over it over and over again until I have the line or the idea memorized.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Hmm. I don’t understand certain fragrances – like where they come from. My grandmother’s china cabinet, for instance, that I have, still smells like her old house. But what made everything smell like that? I can’t identify the smell. What the heck does it smell like? I live in Cape Breton now. Home smells like fir trees and wood smoke. We have a puppy. Her smell now also reminds me of home.
13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
“La Traviata” by David W. McFadden is one of my all-time favourite poems. For me, film, painting, photography and music all influence my work. I wrote my first book listening to Philip Glass’s “Metamorphosis 2” on repeat.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Robert Altman, Raymond Carver, Chekhov, Paul Thomas Anderson. “My Heart is Broken” by Mavis Gallant. Anne Carson. Sharon Olds.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Make a stained glass window.
16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I would love to be a potter. I also wish that I had some carpentry skills. I really admire people who can build what they can imagine.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I just started doing it and never stopped. You don’t need fancy equipment or expensive insurance. I get a lot of pleasure out of trying to write what I can imagine.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Johanna Skibrud’s Quartet For the End of Time. I saw Charade on a flight recently and thought it was fantastic.
19 - What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a novel.