Kerry Clare is a National Magazine Award–nominated writer and editor of the anthology The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood. Her essays, reviews and short fiction have appeared most recently in Today's Parent, Quill & Quire, The Globe and Mail, Joyland, and The New Quarterly. Kerry teaches blogging at the University of Toronto and writes about books and reading at her popular website, PickleMeThis.com. She is also Editor at 49thshelf.com.
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 was the essay anthology The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood, which I edited and contributed to, and it was a fantastic experience, a really great project to be a part of. I suppose it changed my life because it taught me that I was indeed capable of making a book. My new book is different because I wrote it myself, instead of with 25 other people. This is both exciting and also terrifying.
2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I didn’t! I think I wrote poetry before anything else, and it was by having my bad poetry praised at a very young age that I decided I would be a writer. Thankfully, I gave up the bad poetry habit eventually. In the last decade or so, I’ve been writing lots of non-fiction and having much more success with it than I was having with fiction, but then this novel arrived like a gift and I’m so grateful for it. For me, fiction writing and non-fiction writing each informs the other.
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 wrote my novel in a summer three years ago, writing 1000 words a day while my youngest daughter napped and my older girl watched Annie on the couch beside me. It was the most fantastic, exhilarating experience. I started jogging that same summer, and both writing and running were the same for me—the point was to just keep going, one word/foot in front of the other. But then I quit running because I hated it. The novel, however, got done. And then I embarked upon five major revisions over the next few years that served to mine the way toward the book the novel was always meant to be. It was a very cool process of discovery.
When I write non-fiction however, whether it be blog posts, essays or book reviews, my process is very different. I do most of the work in my head before I even set a word on the page.
4 - Where does a 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?
A book from the beginning. Mitzi Bytes has a framework, which is the plot of the novel Harriet the Spy, and I used that to build my book upon. Before that I wrote an unfinished project whose framework was a pregnancy. Before that I wrote a book that didn’t have any kind of framework at all, and as a result it was plotless and boring. I am hoping to challenge myself with my next project with a book that is more self-supporting…
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love readings. I am very good at them. I always read the funny parts. I like making people laugh.
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 am fascinated with women’s lives, as both a writer and a reader. Motherhood has been a preoccupation of mine for some time, although what fascinates me about it is changing as my children grow older. (The same ideas that preoccupied me as a new parent are excruciatingly boring to me now.) My next project deals with women’s friendships. And as my novel shows, I am very interested in how our online selves and actual selves intersect.
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?
The writer’s role is to ask questions, and to write books that makes readers ask questions. And for not every writer, but for many, it is important to write books that people will want to read.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I have never learned more from anybody than I have from the editors I’ve been fortunate enough work with. Goose Lane Editions employed their Fiction Editor, Bethany Gibson, on The M Word, and she was amazing. And I’ve worked with Jennifer Lambert on Mitzi Bytes, who is so kind and wise and generous. These women helped me find the book my books wanted to be.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Caroline Adderson: “Of course, the best antidote to the disappointment of the literary life is to read.”
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (short fiction to essays to reviews to the novel)? What do you see as the appeal?
How terrible would it be if we had to say everything in the same way! I like the variety. My attention span is not massive, so I welcome diversions.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
Like most people, I write around the rest of my life. Luckily my children both go to school now, and I write between 9 and 3, and this is also when I do my work for 49thShelf.com (which is the best job in the world). I don’t have huge blocks of time in which to write, but I write more than when I did. And then in the evenings, if I have managed my time well, I get to read.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Books. And then sometimes they break my heart because I realize the book I’m writing will never be that good, but then I write it anyway. I also find the swimming pool is where my best thinking gets done.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The smell of cake baking. And the smell of bacon, because I live in a house with four units and someone is always cooking bacon sometime. (Although it must always be the guy in the basement, because nobody else eats pork.)
14 - 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?
Not directly, although all these things make their way into my work if they’re part of my world. For example, my character in Mitzi Bytes is reading To the Lighthouse, because the summer I wrote the novel, I was reading To the Lighthouse. I am accustomed to using whatever is close at hand.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
My friend Rebecca Rosenblum is important to my work, and has been for more than a decade. I am excited that her new book is coming out on the same day as mine. I also love works by Maria Semple, Carol Shields, Marissa Stapley, Elizabeth Renzetti, Rebecca Solnit, Zadie Smith, Margaret Drabble, Rachel Cusk, Caitlin Moran, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and many more.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Get old. But I’m not in a hurry.
17 - 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 continue to dream of being the person who writes the Hot Type books column for Vanity Fair. I also am quite sure that some day I’m going to end up working in a bookstore.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I like sentences. And getting attention. And books. Oh, do I ever like books.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I don’t watch many movies—I have been too busy watching Mad Men over and over again for the past eight years. But I did see Hidden Figures with my seven-year-old daughter and we loved it. Oh, and I adored The Apartment, with Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon, which I only watched because they referenced it on Mad Men.
The last great book I read was Birds Art Life, by Kyo Maclear. Also Deep Salt Water, by Marianne Apostolides. And Son of a Trickster, by Eden Robinson.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I am working on a magazine feature about small worlds and children’s literature. I am also looking forward to getting to work writing the second draft of my next novel about two women’s friendship over twenty-five years and how their relationship is both made and broken by their respective experiences of maternity.