Q&A: Susan Olding, Part 2

Susan_Olding B&WThis is part two of a two-part Q&A with writer Susan Olding. For some background on Susan and the first half of the interview, click here.

Tyee Bridge: Do you ever discuss your pieces or your ideas for pieces, before or after composition, with friends and family?

Susan Olding: Sometimes, yes. My husband’s a wonderful reader, so if I’m in a late draft of something but stuck on it, I sometimes ask him to look it over. But I tend not to show or talk about my work in the early stages. Most of the time if I write about people in my life, I let them know before publication. In some cases, I have asked for permission. In particular, I asked my brother whether it would be okay to publish “On Separation” and to use Jen’s real name. He generously agreed.

Tyee: There’s that great William Carlos Williams quote in his autobiography where he says: “Under different circumstances I would rather have been a painter than to bother with these god-damn words. I never actually thought of myself as a poet but I knew I had to be an artist in some way.” Do you work in any other medium besides writing — or if you could, what would you choose and why?

Susan: As a child, I loved to draw. I also played piano and made up compositions. Now, I doodle. Badly. And sing to myself. I have to agree with Williams on the “god-damn words.” Sometimes it would be so freeing to just use another part of the brain. The way I try to deal with that is movement. I go skating, or I lift weights. Anything to get away from the screen or the page. Although I do find that starting work in a notebook, by hand, can be releasing. I still do it most of the time. Maybe it’s closer to drawing. And get most of my ideas when I am scribbling in a notebook or walking.

Tyee: What are you working on at the moment? Any plans for future essays or other pieces that you’re willing to talk about?

At the moment, I’m working on a second book of essays – and the piece I’m writing now is on reading. Or rather, not reading. I’m also working on a poetry manuscript, and until recently was plugging away at a novel. But I had to put the novel aside for a while because I just don’t have the time to devote to it.

Tyee: The self-doubt you mentioned earlier must be a precondition of any kind of creation. I remember reading a quote somewhere that being an artist is like taking step after step into the dark. You never know what’s right in front of you, and even less about what might be further down the path.

In your striking and beautifully written Maissoneuve piece from last year about your affair, “In Anna Karenina Furs,” self-doubt is also part of the story itself. Was that piece—about a time when you doubted your marriage, your decisions, even your own character— more challenging or tricky to write than others?

Susan: The piece I’m writing is always the most challenging one. “In Anna Karenina Furs” wasn’t more challenging than any other — although the story that forms one strand of the narrative was more difficult to live than some of my other stories.

In fact, in some ways it was easier to write than others, because I had the benefit of terrific on-site editors. I wrote it while I was a participant in the Literary Journalism program at Banff, and while there I had the privilege of working with a generous and thoughtful faculty advisor, Katherine Ashenburg, as well as a group of stimulating colleagues. Not to mention, time, space, prepared meals, mountain hikes, and a room with a view. It’s a kind of writer’s paradise.

When you finish, they eject you from the garden. While the Writers’ Studio and some of Banff’s other programs can be taken again and again, if you choose (and if you get admitted), you only get one shot at the Literary Journalism program. Unless you go back as an instructor. Now there’s a thought.

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