The Working Writer: Hannah Macready Interviews Journey Prize Longlisted Author Fawn Parker

photo by Evan Smith

Fawn Parker is the author of Set-Point, Jolie Laide, and Dumb-Show. She is co-founder of BAD NUDES magazine and BAD BOOKS Press, and president at The Parker Agency. Her story, “Feed Machine,” was longlisted for the 2020 Writers’ Trust McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize.

Hannah Macready: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, Fawn! Your story, “Feed Machine,” published in EVENT 48/3, was one of my favourite pieces in recent years. Your writing has a hilarious edge to it, a unique sort of sarcasm that brings an innate weirdness to the foreground. It’s also a tragic story in many ways, as the main character grapples with a threatening eating disorder in a strange, public setting. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? How do you start your stories? How do you finish them?

Fawn Parker: Thank you for having me! I appreciate your kind words about the story.

Usually it starts with a moment that I can’t let go. In this case, the image of two girls feeding a mechanical digestion machine. Then I try to build a plot inside of it, and I like to touch on things that are real to me, too. That way the emotions feel authentic, but the story isn’t just a real moment from my life. 

HM: If rose-coloured glasses are a way to view the world with forced positivity, what colour glasses does Fawn Parker view the world with and why?

FP: Haha. I guess they would be completely opaque or something.

I like to establish a tone that ‘plays dumb’ if you know what I mean. Of course I want to make some sort of statement about the world, but for the most part I like to make characters who don’t have a huge amount of self awareness. 

HM: “Feed Machine” was longlisted for this year’s Journey Prize. Congratulations on that achievement! How does it feel to know your work is resonating with the public? Do you enjoy being in the spotlight, and does it help your writing practice?

FP: Thank you! It was exciting to be on the list. It wasn’t something I’d really expected for myself. I don’t like to be in the spotlight as a personal entity, but I am always so excited when my work resonates with people.

I’m not sure yet if it helps my writing practice. I like to think yes, but I do think there is a certain pressure that comes with writing for more people. So in a way, the more I publish, the more I wonder about how my work will be received. 

HM: I read in a past interview that you listen to music when you write. There is certainly an old trope of the writer typing out the climax just as a Bach symphony reaches a crescendo. You strike me as someone with a range of tastes and interests. So, are you a Bach gal? A crust-punk queen? A pop song prodigy? What songs or artists bring your words to life?

FP: It’s funny that you say crust punk because I spent a brief time living in Montreal’s “crust-punk lofts” a few years ago.

I like to listen to classics like Harry Nilsson and Donovan. I listen to this album How Sad, How Lovely by Connie Converse all the time. She disappeared in the ‘70s and was never found again!

HM: You founded a literary magazine. You run a publishing agency. You are completing your MFA and teaching at the same time. Somehow, in between all of this, you’ve completed two books (Set-Point, ARP 2019 and Jolie-Laide, Palimpsest, 2021) among a range of literary works (Looking Good and Having a Good Time, Metatron, 2015). How do you make time to write? And how do you keep yourself motivated?

FP: I do have a habit of overworking myself. I try to prioritize writing when I can, which I’m lucky enough to be able to do right now because I’m on a Canada Council grant. Otherwise, I fit it around my schedule. If I have a 9-5 job, I’ll write from 6-8 a.m., stuff like that. I guess I stay motivated because writing is really it for me. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid and it’s what I enjoy most.

HM: I hear that a lot from writers: “I overwork myself.” Why do you think that is so common in this field? Is it the competition? The lack of paid work? Is it something that can be fixed?

FP: I think you’re right about both of those things; it’s probably the competition and the lack of pay. Maybe also the extra hoops we all jump through behind the scenes.

I’ve seen so many people post online about how much trouble they’re having even navigating the granting sites—figuring out which to apply for (and when and how), and that’s not including the work that goes into writing a grant proposal, and the risk of dedicating so many hours to writing one and then not receiving [funding]. Then there’s trying to find an agent, trying to find a publisher, and all of this while you’re working a full time job doing something else. By the time you’ve got a full, polished draft of your book, and you’ve spent six months getting it ready, there’s another year of work ahead of you sometimes. I think it’s impossible to be a writer and not be overworked, if you’re thinking of the business end of things. Writing for pleasure alone is different, I imagine, so I do think balance might be the answer.

HM: You’ve had the unique experience of seeing the world of publishing from multiple sides. As a writer, looking for publication. As an editor, deciding on publications. And, as an agent, sourcing and representing writers seeking publication. What knowledge have these perspectives given you in your own career? What advice could you give to aspiring writers?

FP: I think the main thing I’ve learned from working behind the scenes is that no one is ever going to be as precious about your work as you are. I would submit a query to a publisher and imagine them with their face against the monitor, devouring it line by line, really giving me the benefit of the doubt if I made a mistake and thinking I am a genius when I did something good. I really don’t do that, and I don’t think anybody has time to do that. If the person reading the work doesn’t get the general sense that the work is strong, consistent, and has the potential to “hook” a reader, it probably will go in the reject pile no matter how delicate the metaphor on page 4. But maybe I am a corrupt person!

As for advice, I try to do two things consistently: I take every opportunity that comes to me, be it an internship, a publication, a prize, etc., and more importantly, I try to write all the time and write better each time. When I feel embarrassed by something I’ve published, I feel glad that I’ve figured out more of what doesn’t work, and what I don’t want to do again. Which is great, because I am so embarrassed about so much of it… 

HM: I like the idea that you build on past mistakes and use them as fuel for future projects. On that note, have there been any projects of yours that have been particularly difficult to get through?

FP: Yes! The book I’m writing right now has been through so many drafts. I started writing it when I was fresh out of my undergraduate degree. I had all of these fancy ideas about writing a “postmodern novel” and about writing like a male academic, making sure no one would ever accuse me of writing “women’s lit.” Ideas like that are a waste of time, I think. Now I just want the book to be honest. It would be a compliment to me if it were marketed to women.

HM: Thanks again for taking the time to speak with me. I’m a huge fan of your work, its weirdness and its beautiful portrayals of imperfection. I can’t wait to see how your career develops from here. What is the next achievement you’re looking forward to? What does the future of Fawn, the writer, look like?

FP: Thank you for these great questions, Hannah! I’m applying for my PhD right now, so I’m excited about that. I also have a novel coming out next fall with ARP Books. It’s called Dumb-Show and it’s a campus novel, which I never thought I’d write. I love the people at ARP.

There are some other things I can’t talk about yet, but hopefully I’ll be announcing all of that soon.

Hannah Macready lives in Vancouver, BC.