Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Susan, a lesson in awesomeness (part 5 & 6) or why you should floss

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Today I’d like to introduce you to two Susans (actually, a Susan and a Sioux) who are both incredibly talented poets better known for their work in other genres. Susan Olding is best known for her non-fiction work which, not surprisingly, resonates with poetic beauty, and Sioux Browning is a prolific and incredibly talented screen writer who also happens to be a closet poet.

Without further ado, I present you with Susan Olding

1)What makes you so awesome?

Regular doses of fish oil and Cross Fit classes.

2) What inspires you to write when you’re feeling stuck?


Also, words. Reading something I truly love.

That includes friends' work. I don't know what it is about peers' work that can be so stimulating, but for me, at least, it often unlocks the doors. Rachel Rose ( and Kelly Cooper are particular inspirations.

3) What fascinates you?

Just about anything, if the bug bites. I'm a "dive in" kind of person, easily obsessed. I guess you could say that I'm a serial monogamist learner. I'm often woefully blind to anything but the current obsession.

4) What poem do you wish you had written? Why?

Poems, not poem.

Too many to count.

A recent example: "Herself, Revised," from Steven Heighton's Patient Frame.

5) What do you wish you had known when you started writing?

Talent is not a prerequisite. All you need is love and work.

A bit of confidence wouldn't have hurt, either. That's what I lacked, more than knowledge.

6) What’s your best joke?

Oh dear. It's a family joke that I'm so bad with jokes! I don't tell them and rarely remember them. If I'm in a room with someone who loves to tell jokes, I usually retreat into my own head after a while. Jokes are great for a standup routine, but who wants to be positioned as a perpetual member of an audience? Jokes can get in the way of genuine conversation.

Wit and humour—that's something else again. I adore puns and wordplay. And situational humour. And slapstick. Is it okay to say I laugh at that?

Susan Olding is the author of Pathologies: A Life in Essays (Freehand Books), winner of the Creative Nonfiction Collective’s Readers’ Choice Award for 2010. Her poetry and prose have appeared widely in literary journals, magazines, and anthologies across Canada and the United States. She has been a finalist for a National Magazine Award, two Western Magazine Awards, and a CBC Literary Award, and she is the recipient of a number of prizes and honors, including the Brenda Ueland Prose Prize for Literary Non-fiction. Born in Toronto, she currently lives with her family in Kingston, where she volunteers for Kingston WritersFest (, works for Precision Nutrition (, swings kettle bells in City Park, and writes in her garret room.

And now for the incredibly charming Sioux Browning (honestly, two minutes in a room with her and you’ll be swept off your feet -- this woman could charm the pants off of pants)

1)What makes you so awesome?

Egad. Um. I'm a decent teacher of writing, I think. I'm loyal right down to a molecular level to those I love. I'm a dedicated volunteer; public service is important. I'm an optimist. I'm curious. I make good soup and good sweet tea. I love words: the way they evolve and sound and shift in meaning and represent small groups. I think dogs are kind of magical, even when farting. (The dogs and me.) Also, I'm nothing without my Sweetpea.

2) What inspires you to write when you’re feeling stuck?

Walking, quirky newspaper stories, weather, Dr. Pepper.

3) What fascinates you?

Dogs, history, science, the way tall grass moves in the wind, geneology. Human behavior.

4) What poem do you wish you had written? Why?

Oh, so hard to answer. Either "The Good-Morrow" or "The Flea" by John Donne. When I was in Grade 12 we studied the Metaphysical Poets and they blew my tiny mind. They were so frank and creative and sexy and dirty and loving and devout. "Diving Into The Wreck" by Adrienne Rich is my life theme poem. I love the idea of going deep into a work I'm editing to see what makes it seaworthy and what might sink it. And, of course, "The Panther," by Ogden Nash. Poems that make me laugh are some of my favourites.

5) What do you wish you had known when you started writing?

To avoid writers who misguidedly think that writing is a contact sport. It took a long time for me to learn to put my head down and do my own thing but to wear a helmet just in case. I wish I had known I'd never get dental; I would have flossed more at the beginning. And I'm glad I didn't know at the start how extraordinary the journey of evolving as a writer is. No point spoiling the surprise.

6) What’s your best joke?

I like quotes. Two faves: "Outside of a dog a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx, and; "Show me someone with both feet firmly on the ground and I'll show you a person who can't put their pants on." Anon.

Sioux Browning (born Susan) was granted her first name in Grade 9 by a friend who was a fan of Siouxsie and the Banshees. The notion of writing for a living occurred to her late, after many, many random jobs: bottling spices, ski liftie, treeplanter, fighting forest fires, shipper of upholstery fabric, newspaper editor, counter of blades of grass... She has written for a number of Canadian TV shows, published poems and non-fiction pieces in periodicals and anthologies, and has taught screenwriting for seven years for the University of British Columbia's Optional Residency Masters Program in Creative Writing. She loves to write in several genres but only very, very slowly. She lives in BC near the Rockies with her Sweetpea and several quadrupeds.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

Sarah Tsiang

Sarah Tsiang is the author of A Flock of Shoes (Annick Press, 2010), Sweet Devilry (Oolichan Books, 2011), Dogs Don’t Eat Jam and Other Things Big Kids Know (Annick Press, 2011) and Warriors and Wailers: 100 Ancient Chinese Jobs You Might Have Relished or Reviled (Annick Press, 2012). Her latest picture book, Stone Hatchlings, will be released in fall, 2012.

Go to Sarah Tsiang’s Author Page