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The Other Side of Youth: A stunning new collection from Kelli Deeth

The women in The Other Side of Youth, Kelli Deeth’s incredible new short fiction collection, often find themselves at places of intersection, moments in life where small, seemingly innocuous decisions have come to pass and the long, drawn-out repercussions of these decisions are still waiting to be felt.

Deeth writes deftly and expertly about matters of the heart, about the private conversations we have with ourselves and the burden of loneliness we often feel even within the embrace of our closest, most intimate relationships. Her characters are fully realized–unafraid to reveal either their tough survival instincts or the dark truth of their own vulnerability.

I read this collection in a single setting, drawn in by its careful prose and its engaging, powerfully understated narratives.

The Other Side of Youth was released in fall 2013 by Arsenal Press. Kelli Deeth’s acclaimed story collection, The Girl Without Anyone, published by HarperCollins, was chosen as one of The Globe and Mail’s Best Books. Her stories appear regularly in literary journals such as Event, The Dalhousie Review,  The New Quarterly, Joyland and The Puritan. Kelli Deeth holds an MFA in creative writing from The University of British Columbia and teaches creative writing at The University of Toronto. She lives and writes in Toronto.

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Congrats on the publication of The Other Side of Youth. How does it feel to have your second collection out there in the world?

Thank you. It feels great. There were times I wondered if the collection would ever see the light of day. As you know, it’s almost impossible to get a collection published in Canada. My optimism paid off.

How long did it take for the stories in the collection to come together? During the writing process, did you imagine the project as a completed collection?

I wrote some of the stories in my early thirties, but many of the stories were written in the last little while. I knew I was writing a collection of stories, that they would all go together, but it wasn’t until the very end that I could start to see overlapping themes, and how the stories worked together.

What do you think, as both a writer, is the best feature of the short story form? What can a short story do that no other form is able to manage?

A short story is immediate. I think that is its power and that’s why it exists and continues to exist.  It’s not a variation on the novel. It’s somewhere between poetry and theatre. It grabs you and holds onto to.

Looking back, how did you fall into your writing career? Did you write when you were young? What was the first thing you wrote?

I did write when I was young. I wrote poems. The first thing I remember writing was loops on a piece of paper on the floor of our kitchen. I saw my mother writing things so I wanted to do what she was doing, but I didn’t know any letters, so I just did loops. The first thing I wrote was likely a poem about my father driving in the snow, but I don’t remember writing it. Someone saved it. I might have written others that weren’t saved. I wrote a lot more once I started school. It became the thing I felt I could do without a lot of help or needing to ask how to do it. I wrote stories and poems as a teenager. But I didn’t think I would be a writer. I thought everyone wrote. It was just something I did. Then I came across Alice Munro’s Who do You Think You Are? I read it sitting on my bedroom floor (floors, again), and when I was finished, I said to myself, I’m going to write stories, and I’m going to get them published.

Have you had pressure (from publishers or others) to write a novel, after all the success of your first collection? If so, what was that like?

Yes, more an expectation than pressure but the expectation becomes a pressure. It’s hard. It was much harder when I was younger. I couldn’t stand up to it. I was so afraid of falling back into the great obscurity I seemed (then) to have momentarily emerged from. But then I learned that being true to yourself is important for your sanity and your happiness. And you need to be able to stand behind your work. I couldn’t stand behind any of the novels I tried to write after my first collection—they were awful, and I knew it. I hated myself for even writing them. It was a terrible time in my life, not being true to myself.

In the stories in The Other Side of Youth, there’s a loneliness, a solitude to your narrators that resonated for me and made me think of the incredible gulf we often feel with the people closest to us–lovers, family, close friends. Can you comment on this a little more?

I wasn’t aware of that when I was writing the stories, but I guess a character’s loneliness or sense of absence is what I grab on to in a character, what I feel, and I try to explore the story that’s around it, the details and circumstances, the losses that drive the characters. Loneliness, even within couples and within families, that seems real to me, and honest.  But it’s also painful and unexpected—it goes against what we believe our lives within couples and families will be. I seem pulled into that tension—I mean it’s endlessly interesting to me.

Most of your narrators are also women at a certain stage in life–late enough that certain illusions or ideas of how life will play out have faded, but young enough that there’s still a strong sense of mystery, an anticipation of what’s still to come. It feels like a coming to terms with this period of life–if not always making peace, then some kind of pause or reflection. Was this something you were conscious of when writing? Can you discuss how the age of your narrators informs these particular stories?

I didn’t really plan to write stories about women of a certain age or stage in life. But when the stories all started coming together, I could see what I had done. I think the women characters feel very afraid—of decisions that they have made, mistakes they have made, things they have done and not done, attained and not attained; they are surprised, too, to find that they don’t really have the answers, that they are still fumbling.  I think they face this in the stories, that they are older in years but not necessarily in other ways. Most of the women characters are in their mid-thirties.  They have enough behind them to regret, enough ahead of them to worry, but also to hope.

What’s next? Are there any projects you’re working on now that you can share? 

I’ve got lots of little pieces I’m working on.  I have no idea how they’ll come together, but I’m trusting that they will.

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Follow Kelli on Twitter or check out her website to learn more about her writing, teaching, and upcoming events.

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