1:1 — Sarah Scott

Interviewed by Mark Killian

Welcome back to another edition of 1:1. Mark Killian here, standing next to a phone attached to a cement wall somewhere between America and Canada. I should be stirring maple syrup into piping hot tea and chatting with Sarah Scott at the moment, but instead, this interview will be coming to you live from a Canadian holding cell.

While I try to find her number, you take a gander some of my favorite Sarah Scott stories including Anderson Ridge, Someone Once Loved, Junum the Young, and her most recent piece, The Treaty of Niagara, 2015.

— Ringing —


1:1000: Hi Sarah! It’s me, Mark. Thanks for answering.

SS: Is everything okay? I waited at the coffee shop for two hours, but you never showed.

1:1000: Funny story, I’m in a holding cell on the US/Canada border, but don’t be alarmed. The Mounties have been characteristically polite, and best part is, there will now be a recording of our interview!

SS: What!?

1:1000: Oh it’s nothing. Just a little misunderstanding. Long story short, if your passport is expired, you shouldn’t borrow your friend’s and try to sneak into Canada–especially if said friend has a history drug-related offenses.

SS: Shouldn’t you call a lawyer or something?

1:1000: Lawyer, schmawywer! I promised you a 1:1 interview and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. So, without further adieu, what is it that you do for a living? Please say defense attorney.

SS: I’m afraid not. I work as a Senior Advisor–Major Project for a Canadian university which is basically a whole bunch of words that when strung together nobody ever understands at all. Basically I work with health researchers who are applying for large institutionally supported funding opportunities. I review and edit some sections of these grants and some sections I write.

1:1000: Have you ever helped someone raise their bail funding?

SS: I can’t say that I have.

1:1000: Shucks. Well, I’m not going to lie, that’s not the easiest job description to understand, but it sounds important, which is important. Can you speak to some of the research you’ve helped push forward? If so, are there any projects in particular you felt really attached to? If not, I’ll leave it at that.

SS: There is always such interesting stuff going on that sometimes the grants I’m involved with are more mind blowing incredible than any science fiction I have ever read, but the research isn’t mine and not mine to talk about. What I love about my job is that it involves constant learning, constant exposure to new things. I could spend four months working on grants dealing with juvenile diabetes and then I spend the next four months discovering cryo-electron microscopy. To be playing a part in helping these amazing people secure funds for their research, to watch them go on and work towards changing the world–it’s very rewarding, even if my contribution is microscopically small. I’m very lucky to have a job I love so much.

1:1000: Okay, I officially have career envy. That sounds INCREDIBLE, and meaningful. How often does the subject matter of these grants work their way into your stories?

SS: All the time. Never any specifics or anything, but the amazing science I am exposed to at work never stops inspiring me.

1:1000: Is that where your story Arcadia came from? This thirst for exploration?

SS: Yes probably in part. I wrote that when the Internet was buzzing with talk of KIC 8462852, the star they said was surrounded by alien megastructures. I guess I had space on the brain.

1:1000: That story piqued my imagination as well, but I didn’t have the discipline to write something down (whomp whomp). So how did you find yourself in this career? Assuming I didn’t sell my soul for the marketing industry, what would I need to do to find myself in your position?

SS: It wasn’t a career I went looking for really. I think that is my style, I just get swept along and fall into whatever is waiting for me. I’m not a planner. I studied Anthropology and English literature. When I graduated I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted something different before venturing back into academia. I wanted to travel and explore the world and explore myself, but I had a little sister that I couldn’t bring myself to be far from. I was 19 years old when she was born and I loved her so damn much, so I couldn’t travel too far while she was young. I got a job at the university and did well so it led to another job, and another one after that, and so on and so forth until I ended up in my current position. At one point I contemplated leaving and moving to Italy, but I met my husband and then suddenly here I am…married, two kids, mortgage. My whole life is a happy accident, it is actually how I started writing fiction too.

1:1000: Emphasis on the happy! You’ve traveled, you’ve explored career options, and you ended up in a job you love, surrounded by loved ones. Makes me question life choices–present circumstances included. Speaking of family, I LOVE your stories on the matter. Anderson Ridge is a real standout for me. The way you handled the son’s overactive imagination and the family hierarchy was just lovely. And your latest, Treaty of Niagara, is just downright hilarious! When you take a child’s perspective in a story, is that you thinking back on your childhood, or more you trying to put yourself into your children’s shoes? Additionally, how do other family members inspire your stories?

SS: It’s interesting to me that you mention Anderson Ridge first. That story is way more connected to family, specifically my family, than is probably obvious. The story was inspired by my Grandmother and her brother. She grew up quite wealthy in North Vancouver. Her family had a logging business and she spent part of the year living a life of decadence in the city and part of the year in the bush. She was the lady who could teach you perfect table manners for having tea with the queen and how to bait a hook to catch lake trout all in the same breath. She was amazing. When she died, her brother told a story about watching his mother and sister in a log cabin in the bush. His story was beautiful and it stuck with me. I am a lot like my grandmother in many ways, and many of my fondest memories were with her. That story is for her.

1:1000: Your grandmother sounds film worthy, and your story does your ancestors proud. Is Treaty of Niagara equally biographical?

SS: She was the best grandmother I could have asked for and an amazing woman. And no, Treaty of Niagara couldn’t be farther from my family. I wrote it while at Great Wolf Lodge with my kids. None of us like attention very much. Me, my husband, the kids, we are all shy, but you see people filming themselves and taking a bajillion selfies and the whole thing is so foreign to me. The quest for fame seems like such a strange thing, but we have these platforms like YouTube where anybody can have some shred of celebrity. The family in that story was nothing like my own, but I wanted to try to put myself in the minds of those people. I think maybe that is what I am always doing when I write, I’m trying to understand some perspective other than my own. It’s the unsatisfied anthropologist in me trying to get out.

1:1000: Well, I’m relieved to hear your children are nothing like the little monster in Treaty. I too am a little baffled by the families who care so much about their view count and social impressions. I also think it’s funny that you made the children in Treaty more social media savvy than your own, but you left the parent kind of disinterested/burdened by it. I often wonder who is to blame in those situations, the children or the parents? Who is really asking for the recordings?

SS: Yeah that’s a good question. I think I chose to present the parent child relationship the way I did because the other version of that story has been told. I guess I tried to imagine what I would do if one of my kids wanted to do things like that. Your kids have their own personalities and expose you to things you don’t always have any interest in yourself, but you do it for them.

1:1000: Were you concerned at all that readers would think you were writing about your own family?

SS: I am ALWAYS concerned about that. I guess it’s a hazard of writing. I worry that people will think the opinions of my characters are my own. I also worry that my family may think things I have written are about them. I think most writers borrow from real life at times. I have incorporated scenes that were inspired by an interaction with people in my real life into a larger story because I thought it fit, but that doesn’t mean the story has anything to do with that scene from real life. I gave one of my characters my best friend’s name, because she has this crazy middle name, but the character had nothing else in common with my friend.

1:1000: Well, I think your anthropological approach to writing is brilliant. I try to do the same, but I sometimes fear the characters I create in the process are shaped by stereotypes. How do you keep that in check?

SS: I try to be empathetic. I think empathy is the thing which is most missing from the world. It is the role of the anthropologist to try and leave your bias at the door–to try to understand someone else’s motivations from their perspective, and I try very hard to do that. I imagine that there are times when I do this better than others. We are only ever capable of truly seeing through our own eyes, so I try to be aware of what my perspective brings to an assessment of people and situations and I think the challenge of understanding others is a good challenge to engage in, not just for the sake of art, but for the sake of humanity.

1:1000: Agreed. Empathy seems to be in dwindling supplies these days, especially amongst BORDER AGENTS. Speaking of nations, are you a Canadian national?

SS: Born and raised!

1:1000: How does Canada influence your writing? Writers are often identified by the part of the world where they write, so what makes a “Canadian” writer?

SS: I grew up in Toronto and spent all my childhood summers in Vancouver with the aforementioned Grannie. I now live in Hamilton. I think all these places and lots of other amazing parts of Canada have influenced my writing. I want to write stories that capture the beauty of these places and the people who live in them. I also read a ton of Canadian authors, so that influences my writing as well. I started reading Margaret Atwood at 12 and have gobbled up every drop of her work since.

1:1000: Canadians always seem to be so happy with their motherland. Lucky! Assuming this little legal matter doesn’t get me permanently barred me from your wonderful country, what’s the one city I HAVE to visit?

SS: One city in all of Canada is hard to pick…It would depend what you are looking for, but since I miss the place so much right now, I will say Vancouver. Spend the day on white rock beach for me.

1:1000: That sounds much more pleasant than where I’ve spent this day. Anyway, of all the countries you’ve traveled to, which have inspired you the most?

SS: I have traveled most frequently to Italy since I have family in Tuscany. The beauty of Tuscany is breathtaking. It makes you want to write–to find the words that are strong enough to take a piece of that beauty home with you. But, I think visiting Paris has influenced my writing more than any other place I have travelled to. It was the first city in Europe I visited. I was 11 my first time there and I didn’t have any words that were big enough to capture the awe I felt. I think that trip did so much to shape me in ways I may not even fully realize.

1:1000: Parlez vous francais?

SS: Oui. bien sure je parle Francais.

1:1000: Once again, I’m stricken with life envy. So, Carmen Sandiego, what’s a the top of your travel bucket list?

SS: The top of my bucket list would definitely be traveling from one end of Canada to the other, from Victoria, British Columbia all the way out to St. John’s Newfoundland I would take the train wherever possible.

1:1000: Enough with the patriotism already!

SS: I would also love to see Petra in Jordan.

1:1000: Thank you! Have you been on any America escapades?

SS: A few trips down to Florida and into Oregon but that’s about it.

1:1000: Well that’s a few more ventures than I’ve taken to your turf, but enough about travel. Let’s talk about your audience. Every writer writes with someone or some group of people in mind. Who are the readers that fuel you? Your husband? Your sister? Your best friend? Do you ever share your stories with your children?

SS: I never really write for the kids. I make up bedtime stories for them, but I don’t write them down. I started writing to entertain myself. I had a three-week-old baby and a broken knee and I would have gone stir crazy without something to do, so I started writing. Before finding 1:1000, pretty much all of the writing I had done was for HitRECord, an online community that I accidentally became a part of, and that inspired me to start writing. Recently though, I have taken my writing to new places and that causes me to consider audience more than I had in the past. I suppose I don’t really know who my audience is, and maybe that is missing from my writing? But maybe I like it that way? Maybe I want whoever stumbles across a story of mine and reads it to take away whatever they choose? Maybe I don’t want to orchestrate their response too much and just hope that they have one?

1:1000: Well, and I mean this in the best way possible, thank goodness you broker your knee, and I hope the only thing that lingers from that injury is your passion for writing.

SS: Let’s just say I won’t be running any time soon, but I am glad I discovered writing. I can’t imagine my life without it, and it’s only been 2 years.

1:1000: You could’ve fooled us.

SS: Ahh shucks…thanks.

1:1000: Any final things you’d like the world to know about you or your writing?

SS: Nope. Just thanks for reading.

1:1000: Lovely. Well in that case, I’ll let you get back to your family and whatever you are currently writing at the moment.

SS: Good timing…I now have a two-year-old and a five-year-old climbing on my head.

1:1000: Now I kind of wish you were more into social media so I could see this adorable scene.

SS: It’s half adorable and half torture…they have all these sharp angles…tiny little elbows and knees…

1:1000: Speaking of torture, there’s a man in a Mountie hat heading my way, and it’s not Pharrell Williams. Wish me luck!

— Click —

Originally published at www.oneforonethousand.com on January 28, 2016.