Susan Sanford Blades’s debut novel, Fake it So Real (the title is taken from a line from Hole’s “Doll Parts,” a song Courtney Love wrote about the insecurities of being in love with mega anti-rock star Kurt Cobain) is a story that spans decades. It begins in Victoria, B.C. centred on a single mom and her two daughters. The three of them have anything but a traditional family relationship, and the spectre of their missing father, who once sang in a punk band called Dorothy’s Rainbow, is hard to shake.
Part of the book is set in Edmonton during the mid-1990s. Sanford Blades grew up in Edmonton, and even worked at West Edmonton Mall, before moving to Victoria in 2005. For any of us who remember Edmonton in the 1990s, there’s plenty in the novel to make you nostalgic for a Funky Pickle pizza slice after a night of dancing at Rebar.
ED: Your descriptions of Edmonton in the 1990s, especially Whyte Avenue, may have some readers in this city feeling nostalgic …
SSB: That was my picture of Edmonton. I actually came back two summers ago, the summer before the pandemic. Obviously, it’s changed a lot, but, the things that were the same, it was like, “aw, yeah!” The Black Dog is still there! (Note: Blackbyrd Myoozik makes an appearance in the book.) I wanted to set those chapters in Edmonton because I know it so well. That’s the Edmonton I lived in, that I knew. It’s nostalgic not only for Edmonton, but for my youth, I guess. It’s where I came of age. I have a lot of strong attachments to the Edmonton of the ‘90s.
ED: Sara (one of the daughters in the book) gets off the Greyhound in Edmonton, and she sees it as simply a pit stop. She ends up being rooted in a city she had never planned to call home. Do you think that’s an example of how many of us come to Edmonton? That we saw it first as a temporary home, a place to establish ourselves, but then come to call it our permanent home? Or am I reading too much into it?
SSB: This sounds awful, honestly, I love Edmonton, but growing up I always thought of it as a place that people leave, not a place people come to. That was my experience growing up, people I knew said, “Of course I’m not going to stay here forever.” But, probably, everyone thinks that about their hometown. But maybe it is a place where people go, they get jobs there, think they’re going to be there for a few years and then they fall in love with it.
ED: The now-long-closed Sears store at West Edmonton Mall also appears as a setting in the book. It’s amazing how many authors, when writing about Edmonton, can’t resist the mall. It appears in so many stories …
SSB: The mall is like a metonym for the city. The mall is the city, in a way. It’s supposed to be this big, flashy place but it’s really trashy and gross. It’s also a symbol of my coming of age … I actually did work at that Sears in the mall. That’s where that came from. At first, when I got the job, I was like, “This is the coolest thing ever, I got a job at the mall!” But the more time you spend there, the more you realize what a strange place it is.
ED: I used to work at a Sears, but not in Edmonton. I built furniture displays.
SSB: I always wanted to get a job doing the displays, dressing the mannequins and stuff. I used to dress the mannequins anyway and my manager at the time told me to stop because that was someone’s job …
ED: Parts of this book were previously published in separate, shorter chunks. Was the intention always for this book to be a single narrative, or did you recognize you had separate pieces that would work well together in a novel?
SSB: I think that, pretty well at the beginning of writing all of these, I was intending for them to go together in a book. I started off with maybe one or two of the stories before the book idea … I was originally going to tell Meg’s story (the youngest daughter) but then I got sick of sticking with her. So, I decided I am going to write from her mom and her sister’s points of view, as well. They all grew from there. Everything just started rolling. It all just flowed from there.
ED: How long has this story been with you?
SSB: This book took about 10 years to write. I wasn’t spending all of my time on it, but it was a labour of love.
ED: You’ve put so much into this, but have you started on a new project? Is it hard to turn the page on a project you spent a decade on?
SSB: I am working on something new, and I have been for a while. I have just recently started work on a draft that I’m happy with. It’s actually completely set in Edmonton in the ‘90s. I am excited to be working on it. But it’s taking me a while to get into the skin of my new character, to get to like her, because after spending so much time with these three [from Fake it So Real], you feel like they’re part of your family. And I do miss them and it is weird to see them in other people’s hands and hear other people’s impressions of them. It’s like sending your kids off to kindergarten for the first day. You think, “Oh gosh, other people are going to be interacting with my children and judging them.”
ED: But, launching a book during COVID is challenging, where you can’t do a lot of promotion.
SSB: Obviously, this is my first book, so I don’t know what it would have been like. I was lucky enough to have a launch party. Once I realized this was going to be a book, I’d been thinking about my launch party. I wanted it to be bigger and a lot more fun. I wanted it to be a dance party! But, we couldn’t do that. I did it in early November, right when the numbers [in B.C.] were starting to rise again. But I was able to have a COVID-safe launch and we played music bingo and it was a lot of fun. And, now, I’m doing a virtual tour thing, where I’m getting people to read it across the country and send me a photo of them and a little something about what they liked about the book. And, plugging local bookstores, to encourage that connection between buying books at a local independent bookshop and having the independent bookshop know about the book, too.
The author also made five mixtapes, four based on characters in the book, and then a miscellaneous one, for the launch. Here are some of the songs that she picked.