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How the author of Quality Time found time for reading

By Kobo • July 05, 2023Author Interviews

Suzannah Showler is a poet and new parent. Her debut novel is Quality Time.

In this installment in our EveryReader series we spoke with her about writing her first novel from scraps of other writing projects, and why her Kobo eReader is one of her favourite things.

Kobo: I saw an adorable photo of your baby in your lap while it appeared you were reading from a Kobo eReader—can I ask what you’ve been reading to her?

Suzannah Showler: [laughs] Let me first clarify: I wasn’t reading to her.

Kobo: Aha! So it’s some “me time” during naptime. I love it.

SS: Basically for the first eight months of my daughter’s life the only places she would nap were in either a moving stroller or right on top of a human body. If you’re familiar with the practice of “contact napping,” we were doing a lot of that.

Having a Kobo around meant I could continue to be a person while she naps on me. My Kobo has honestly been like a lifeline to me for months now. I don’t know if I could be a parent without it. It’s allowed me to continue to read books and stay tethered to the adult world and to my intellectual life. I read a lot while on leave with a baby resting physically on top of me and reading one-handed, which obviously can’t be done with a physical book. I’m often in a dark room with her too, and with the Kobo I can continue to read. I can even switch sides and use whichever hand feels comfortable. It’s been amazing. It’s my favourite thing.

And I love that it’s waterproof—that’s another great feature for parenting.

My Kobo has honestly been like a lifeline to me for months now. I don’t know if I could be a parent without it."

Kobo: Parenting is really a shock to anybody’s lifestyle. Work, hobbies, friends, it’s all suddenly up in the air when you add this massive new responsibility, and it can also bring a change in reading habits and tastes. Is that something you experienced?

SS: That’s an interesting question. I read a lot of novels, but I also read non-fiction. But I’ve found in these past few months I haven’t been so excited about reading non-fiction. I just want to be in fictional spaces.

I’ve been reading more popular books than I used to. I just read Curtis Sittenfeld’s Romantic Comedy, and though I love her work that’s maybe a book I wouldn’t have picked up in the past. I seem to be drawn to books I can get right into and read really fast.

But I’ve also gone on binges and read everything by an author. I’ve recently read almost all of Tessa Hadley’s novels. I read all of Jhumpa Lahiri, including her non-fiction book about translation, and her most recent self-translated novel, Whereabouts.

Kobo: Before parenthood, were you reading eBooks or audiobooks at all?

SS: I did have a Kobo that I used mostly when I was traveling. But if I was at home I’d read physical paper books. But now I read eBooks almost exclusively.

I seem to be drawn to books I can get right into and read really fast.

Audiobooks are entirely new to me. I was not an audiobook person, but because one of the other places my daughter likes to nap is in the stroller, I started listening to audiobooks. That’s been a really wonderful discovery.

Kobo: Did you find yourself listening to different kinds of books than what you’d choose when you were sitting down to read?

SS: My taste is definitely different in audiobooks. I have more of an interest in popular fiction in audiobooks. But I’ve also been listening to a lot of older books, classics, many of which are re-reads for me. I’ve read Middlemarch a couple of times, but I recently listened to it for the first time. And I recently listened to Anna Karenina—that was another long one.

I’m enjoying returning to these older books I hadn’t picked up in a long time.

Kobo: But there’s always a book ready for you when she’s ready for naptime.

SS: Sometimes I’ll even switch back and forth between the audiobook and eBook, like when I’m really immersed in a story on my Kobo with her sleeping on me and the next nap is going to be in the stroller, then I’ll pop in the audiobook.

Kobo: I want to ask you about your novel, Quality Time: it’s set in the past, so I guess it’s a novel of historical fiction. Is that something you wrestled with or did it feel natural to set this story in the past—even the not-so-distant past of the early 2000s.

SS: I think because Quality Time came from scraps of writing that I had sitting around for a long time. So some of those scraps came into being around the time the novel is set, so they didn’t start out as “historical fiction.” They’ve changed quite a bit through revision, but the original DNA was formed contemporaneously with the period in which it’s set.

When I was writing this book, it had been about seven years since I’d lived in Toronto. Writing it was like returning and trying to remember things that once felt very fresh and present. I went through the archives of Torontoist, a now-defunct site I wrote for back in the early 2010s, to figure out how the protagonists’ anniversaries would map onto historical events and the various things happening in the city. That’s how I got a sense of the city’s mood, the vibe, what kinds of things were people invested in civic life talking about and reporting on then. I was doing historical research even though it was a period not that distantly past.

Kobo: Why not bring the story forward closer to today as you were pulling together fragments into this novel?

SS: I feel that there was a time just before all of the technological and political shifts of recent years had fully taken root, and the seeds of those changes—mostly devastating changes, I think—were there even if we weren’t seeing the effects on an everyday basis.

I wanted to write about a time that wasn’t an antediluvian pre-internet era, but where we weren’t carrying devices that turned everything around us and our own lives into commodities. It was a narrow sliver of time before these technologies became pervasive.

It’s a time that’s very potent to me and potent in my memory. Partly that’s a product of the age that I was then—I think whatever historical moment you’re in when you’re a young adult remains alive to you.

When I was writing Quality Time it had been about seven years since I’d lived in Toronto. Writing it was like returning and trying to remember things that once felt very fresh and present.

Kobo: Is it typical for you to work from an archive of fragments to develop a larger creative project?

SS: I do hang onto a lot. There’s stuff buried in there that I have no idea about.

Quality Time came from two failed short stories that never worked and I never finished. In my MFA program at Ohio State I took a screenwriting class just for fun. And in that class I took those two stories and thought, what if these were the same people? The process of writing the screenplay forced me to confront plot, which I’ve always struggled with in fiction. Working with the machinery of a screenplay gave me something to write towards, plot elements and plot points. As a poet I can describe and describe, but making something happen is hard.

Then during the pandemic I took that screenplay and thought, since I have a plot here, is this a novel?

And then I added a 300-word piece of flash fiction about raccoons attaining self-consciousness. Two failed short stories, plus one failed screenplay, which had kind of become a jokey rom-com, plus this scrap about raccoons, add them up and that equals a novel. [laugh]

Kobo: I have to ask, if you’re familiar with the concept of “love languages,” is “quality time” one of your love languages?

SS: Maybe it is between me and places I care about. I really like to be present and to observe what’s happening, to be immersed in things—is immersion a love language? ◼

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Quality Time by Suzannah Showler

A vivid time capsule from an era of Millennial love, recession discontent, and city garbage strike racoons, Quality Time is about that rare, innocent moment when we feel like masters of our own fate, and what happens when the real world starts to press in from the edges.

View eBook    View Audiobook

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