Georgina Beaty: Towards a vein of story

Uncategorized Jul 10, 2022

Georgina Beaty is the author of THE PARTY IS HERE, now out with Freehand Books.

Busy Women on Writing Books

This is the 15th instalment in an interview series on writing, profiling women writers who’ve written and published books while also working, parenting, volunteering, caring for family, attending school, and ALL OF THE THINGS.

This week, I'm pleased to introduce Stegner Fellow, Georgina Beaty. 

Georgina is the author of the short story collection The Party is Here (Freehand Books, 2021). Her fiction has appeared in New England Review, The Walrus, The New Quarterly, The FiddleheadPRISM and elsewhere. As an actor and playwright, she’s worked with theatres across Canada and internationally. She holds an MFA from the University of British Columbia and has been supported by fellowships and writing residencies at MacDowell, the Canadian Film Centre and The Banff Centre. She is a 2020-2022 Stegner Fellow in fiction at Stanford University

Please let everyone know a bit about yourself and the books you’ve written thus far. Own it and brag a bit for us!

The Party is Here is my début collection of short stories, though I come from the theatre world and over a decade of work as an actor and a playwright—so I’ve been lucky enough to work in different narrative modalities for my whole career.

The stories in The Party is Here concern relationships, often between women. They are about how we impact each other, about characters in the midst of making major life decisions. These are people with good intentions and massive blind-spots, navigating an environmentally precarious world. And, hopefully, they’re funny.

Usually there’s one slant on the ‘real’ - for instance woman can freeze-dry their eggs and bring their fertility home with them, putting it on display as a piece of art, but otherwise, it’s our contemporary world. Now I’m at work on some new stories, a novel, and some other projects.

What’s your current writing routine? Has it always been like this? What about it might be different for you now than in the past?

Routine has been tricky lately, to be honest. I usually write in the mornings, or that is what works best, because there’s only so much energy and capacity for all the things in a day, so I want to use that initial burst.

When I wrote The Party is Here, I was able to make it the primary project for about eight months, and I’d write new material for a minimum of four hours a day, then edit in the afternoon—but now I’ve more balls in the air and that dedicated time isn’t quite working and my focus feels more ragged. 

However, after Covid, I’ve also been writing more with people than I used to—in co-working sessions at a coffee shop, or working in a Google Doc and giving a friend the link so that they can drop in to spy on me at any time (I believe she adapted this idea from Amy Fung). That’s been helpful.

One strategy seems to work for a limited amount of time, then I switch to a different strategy. Sometimes it’s pretty haphazard, but right now it’s just about getting the writing done, so I’ll squeeze it in anywhere and am trying not to judge a 30 minute stint.

Lowering expectations, working on any scene where I can find a spring of curiosity, where is there a bit of movement or interest, and then go in there. 

Tell us the story of when you first got published. What was special about that experience for you?

The first publication was a short story in New England Review

That was the first time my fiction writing was validated. That was the beginning of thinking -- there might be something here.

It was the thing I cared about most, for some reason, the fiction writing, and so to have someone say they wanted to publish a story, that they thought readers would like it, that was so affirming. Maybe it’s the theatre kid in me, but it didn’t quite feel real without an audience.

When did you start "getting serious" about writing and what did that look like for you?

I created plays with other people right out of theatre school, but I shifted the focus onto my own writing in film, fiction and theatre about seven or six years ago when I enrolled in UBC’s optional residency MFA.

Before that point, I had this idea that if I want to write I could just do it, but I had a hard time prioritizing fiction in the midst of other consuming work. The MFA allowed me to focus on writing, and I’m fortunate that school models works for me—it really taught me what fiction was and could be.

I was able to get a SSHRC scholarship to fund the masters, and I’m beyond grateful to that program and the faculty there: Ian Williams, Charlotte Gill, Annabel Lyon, Sara Graefe, Kevin Chong. I didn’t know how writing would ever be a job, so I kept working as an actor, server, in child care etc. to make a living. 

At a certain point, I realized that I needed to put the other work aside for a moment if I wanted to write this book, so I did. But it hasn’t been a straight path.

I kept acting, I’ve been starting to write for film and TV, and then the Stegner Fellowship at Stanford was this unexpected and astonishing gift that’s giving me time and mentorship to work on my novel. In many ways, it’s the fellowship that’s allowed me to think there is some way that writing can be the focus of my life.

What have you had going on in your life over the years that wasn’t writing and may have made finding time to write challenging? What strategies did you use to overcome those obstacles and get the writing done?

I’ve had to make money. All of the life things -- relationships, moving, etc. Often I’ve put the art above everything else, and now I do want more ‘living’ in my life.

I think what works best for me is imbalance -- periods of intensity around the work, then times when more work-life balance is possible.  Also, I really like working with other people, collaboratively, and being physically engaged in my work.

Sitting and focusing for too long is sometimes hard, or sometimes I can’t see a strategy through a writing project.

I put my phone in a lock box, after the amorphous Covid-months of online-everything, I’m working to make time real again.

I go for hikes and dance classes, I’m in a new city and am slowly building community—and now things are in person again and I’m teaching. It makes it harder to find time to write, but I’m interested in everything I’m doing. Talking to colleagues, a writing community, reading, therapy, running, and deadlines…writing…in any way possible -- these are things that have been helpful. 

Did you ever think about giving up on writing? Why didn’t you? How did you move past that point and recommit?

I’m miserable when I’m not writing in some form -- so if I don’t write for too long, something starts to feel deeply off and so I keep coming back to this complex relationship.

I’m in the midst of re-negotiating my relationship with writing, I think. Something shifted when it became “work” and wasn’t the thing I snuck off to do on the side, and now I’m working on getting that play back into the mix. How? I don’t exactly know.

I’m trying to be honest about what I’m actually curious about, interested in, not interrogate the why, not fixate on whether or not it will be ‘good’, but just to try a thing and stick with the experiment.

Right now I’m writing a story mostly in dialogue without much interiority. I have no idea if it will be good but I’m curious about the attempt. 

What’s been your favourite part of finishing and publishing your books?

I so enjoyed the editorial process with Freehand, the process of the cover design with Natalie Olsen at Kisscut, and I’m just starting to hear from people who’ve read the book. It’s early days but I love that everyone is picking up on different easter eggs hidden within the stories. 

I was surprised and overwhelmed, in the best way, by seeing the stories in book form, as a physical object. The object-ness was unexpectedly striking. This sense of, oh, I did a thing.   

What’s your favourite book about writing or writing craft?

Right now I’m reading Craft in the Real World by Matthew Salesses and A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders.

I’m really interested in the ways that both of them, from very different POVs, offer expansive possibilities about how we might think and talk about fiction. 

Who do you consider your mentor(s)?

Ah! Too many people.

All of the writers who’ve influenced me, genius teachers and thinkers, and really, colleagues, people I’ve worked alongside who’ve been in the game longer than I have -- these aren’t always writers, or not exclusively, but there are too many to name and the acknowledgements in the book only skim the surface. 

What are you working on now? How are you feeling about it right at this moment?

A novel. I’m beginning again and getting closer to my own experience. It’s set in Alberta, it’s about freedom and chosen family, and there’s some absurdity…

I have and will continue to have many mercurial feelings about this project…I’m trying to be more responsive to the project right now, rather than exercise top-down control.

Actually, I’m writing a play for young audiences and a short story…but the novel is the steady background hum and it will be in the foreground imminently. 

What advice would you have for writers who do really want to finish a book but just haven’t been able to get there yet?

Lower your expectations, or set reasonable goals, or just, do what feels possible, anything, as long as you are continuing to write and touch the project in some way so that the ideas and characters and feelings don’t walk away.

Find a community, or course, or even one other person, to help with accountability and to articulate your process. For me, word counts aren’t as useful as following curiosity and interest towards a vein of story.

There isn’t a right way, there’s just the way that works for you.

And —write through the first draft without going back to edit and make changes. I’ll try to take my own advice. 

Book Cover Georgina Beaty The Party is Here

Georgina Beaty is the author of THE PARTY IS HERE, now out with Freehand Books

Georgina's debut collection of short stories, The Party is Here, is available now from Freehand Books or your local bookseller.


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