Books

Why Sharon Butala wrote a short story collection about what getting old is really like

Season of Fury and Wonder is on the shortlist for the 2019 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.
Season of Fury and Wonder is a short story collection by Sharon Butala. (Coteau Books)

Sharon Butala is a Saskatchewan-based novelist and nonfiction writer and a three-time Governor General's Literary Award nominee. In 2002, she became an officer of the Order of Canada. Her books include the novel Wild Rose and the nonfiction books The Perfection of the Morning and Where I Live Now.

Her latest, the short story collection Season of Fury and Wondertells the stories of contemporary women in the winter of their lives. Each story is inspired by or is a tribute to a short story by literature's most celebrated writers, including Flannery O'Connor, Shirley Jackson, Anton Chekhov and Raymond Carver.

Season of Fury and Wonder is on the shortlist for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.

Butala spoke with CBC Books about how she wrote Season of Fury and Wonder.

Age-old story

"I've gotten to the stage in my life where I've had to admit — and could not avoid anymore in our culture — that I am old. Which is something I never thought would ever happen. I took it pretty seriously and started doing a lot of research about ageism and growing old. I had all this reading, research and thought behind me on the subject.

What I really wanted to do with Season of Fury and Wonder was tell the story of what it is to be old now in this present-day culture.- Sharon Butala

"But I had no idea I was going to write a collection of short stories. I woke up one morning and there it was. What I really wanted to do with Season of Fury and Wonder was tell the story of what it is to be old now in this present-day culture."

A return to short fiction

"I began writing short stories many years ago and I did very well with them. But after I had been through a few writer's workshops, had written 25 short stories and had published my first collection, which was shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award, I got bored.

"I had it down pat. I knew what the formula was and made it work for me. After that, I couldn't write short stories for quite a while. Fourteen years passed. I thought I would never write another short story because it wasn't happening in my psyche. It was gone.

"But I woke up one morning, this was over a year ago now, with this fully formed short story in my head. I went straight to my typewriter and I wrote it and titled it Act of Love. I thought immediately about Raymond Carver's short story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. He was a wonderful writer and that story is a masterpiece, but it's pretty conventional in its notion of what we mean when we talk about love."

The author of "Where I Live Now: A Journey Through Love and Loss to Healing and Hope" on her greatest fear, her idea of perfect happiness and more. 5:43

Writing about love 

"I had a whole other thing that I was writing about with Season of Fury and Wonder  — 'What ELSE can we talk about when we talk about love?' This is both a failing and also my strength. When I began writing I was harkening back to the writers that I had learned about in university as an undergrad. When I started writing, it was to meet the standards of writers like Faulkner and Hemingway and Cather. Faulkner said in his Nobel Prize-winning speech that the only subject worth writing about is the workings of the human heart. 

"In three months' time, I had this 10-story collection written. You can't explain something like that — you just write — and you talk about intuition and creativity."

Against ageism

"I think part of the reason that ageism is allowed to flourish — and continues to flourish — is because there is nobody out there saying,  'Old people are people too' above all. Older people have a certain benefit in thinking about the world because we have had long lives.

I think part of the reason that ageism is allowed to flourish — and continues to flourish — is because there is nobody out there saying,  'Old people are people too' above all.- Sharon Butala

"You should all be paying attention and not writing us off simply because our balance is poor or we don't look so gorgeous as we maybe once did."

Sharon Butala's comments have been edited for length and clarity. 

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