(October 28, 2020) Liz Harmer is a Canadian living in California. Her first novel, The Amateurs, a speculative novel of technological rapture, was released with Knopf/Vintage in 2019. Her stories, essays, and poems have been published in Lit Hub, Best Canadian Stories, and elsewhere, and her second novel, Strange Loops, is forthcoming with Knopf Canada in 2022. Her children are 13, 11, and 8, and here’s how she describes motherhood in 3 words: “Challenge and Delight”
FROM THE EPISODE: READING LIST & REFERENCES
Romeo and Juliet, Baz Luhrmann (1996)
A Lover’s Discourse, Roland Barthes (1978)
Eros the Bittersweet, Anne Carson (Dalkey Archive Press, 1998)
The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis (Harvest Books, 1960)
“A Letter to a Young Writer,” Richard Bausch
Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, Meghan Daum (Picador, 2015)
The Baby Book, Barry Sears (Little, Brown Spark, 1993)
I’m interested in my own desire, and women having desire feels like this taboo thing that we’re confused about culturally.
I try to have an interesting and rich life where I am. I believe passionately that you can have an interesting, rich, not boring, settled, domestic life, just because you have a boring, settled, domestic life. I try to say yes to things, I try to meet lots of people, I do things that scare me a lot. I probably work a lot of it out in my writing by letting my characters do the things I can’t do myself or that I’m afraid to do.
I try not to be afraid to see myself in my writing. I don’t think you can avoid yourself coming into your writing. But that doesn’t mean that I’m writing about myself.
I did learn to not have precious writing time, but just to be writing all the time. Just a little bit every day adds up to a lot.
I want to model for my daughters that you can have more things in life than a family. Family is important, and you love the people near to you, but also, you have to invest in yourself.
The way I try to not feel guilty is to remind myself that it’s important that my kids see me as a person. I think it’s important for parents to not be the servants of their children. Kids need to learn to be on their own in the world, slowly, and it’s important that they understand that we’re also human beings who have needs and boundaries. Whenever I feel guilty, I think, “No, I’m teaching them good boundaries.”
I don’t want to be like, “Well, just claim your time,” because it’s not culturally possible to do that. I acknowledge that part of the reason I claim my time is because my husband doesn’t give me a hard time about it. One piece of advice I got that was really helpful to me is that everything’s easier after the youngest child is 5.
It was important to me to not get overwhelmed by my ambition. When you haven’t written anything, a book looks really long. How are you gonna finish a book? I got into a routine that was useful to me, which was, “I’m just going to finish a story. And then I’m going to finish another story. And then maybe I’ll edit those. And then I’ll slowly get to a third story.” As time passes, you end up with 15 or 20 stories. The habit perpetuates itself.
On the mornings I don’t teach, I walk the dog without my smartphone. I just walk outside. I let that be a time of collecting my thoughts and letting my ideas stew.
I Skype with a good friend once a week, and we write. That is a really precious time. When somebody else is keeping you accountable, or also doing writing, you feel permission to do it.
Here’s a hot tip: apple slices, peanut butter, and cheese are perfectly nutritious. You don’t have to make elaborate meals; you can just serve kids a pile of things.