During the dog days of the pandemic last summer, people got creative recalibrating how they were spending all their extra time at home on quarantine projects. Some did minor renovations, others baked bread. Carley Fortune, executive editor of Refinery29 Canada, decided to write a book.
Set in Ontario’s cottage country, Every Summer After is a made-for-Netflix love story of 30-year-old magazine editor Percy, who unexpectedly finds herself back at the lake where she spent summers as a teen and face to face with her childhood best friend-turned-lover, Sam. The nostalgic book jumps back and forth between present and past to unravel what exactly happened that caused a rift between them 12 summers ago.
It’s the kind of project Fortune had long wanted to do, and being stuck inside during lockdown and back where she grew up — just outside of Barry’s Bay near Kamaniskeg Lake, not-so-coincidentally where the book is also set — gave her the motivation and inspiration to write and publish fiction for the first time. She put pen to paper last July, and by the end of the year, she was shopping her novel to agents.
I caught up with Fortune, who called in by phone from (surprise!) a lake, about finally taking the leap as an author and how her book, which comes out fittingly in summer 2022, is a love letter to her childhood and Canada.
I’m sure anybody who has some type of job as a writer has always dreamed about writing a book, including myself! But the dream also feels so out of reach. Was there something specific that made you say, ‘This is the time to do it,’ or made you really believe that you could?
“I’m the same way. I’ve always wanted to write a book. The most natural or expected way for a journalist to publish is to publish a non-fiction book, and that idea is just so unappealing to me. I had tried to write fiction before, but I never really got off the ground. But last summer, I was feeling very kind of stressed out and, like many of us, having a bit of a hard time. I realized that I had not done any creative work for myself since I was a teenager. So I just made a snap decision that, ‘Okay I’m going to write a book, and I’m going to finish it this year, and I’m going to make it reasonably good.’ Like that was my goal: to finish it and to make it good enough to the point where I felt I could send it out to agents.”
I think anytime anyone pursues a passion project and something they’ve been wanting to do for a long time, it takes a lot of discipline to really motivate yourself and get things going.
“I’m really lucky because I spent time on the weekends working on it, and I have a husband who was helping — he would look after our son while I was writing. I just found that I loved it so much. It was kind of the thing that kept me going during the pandemic, and it was a real revelation to me. So it didn’t feel like I was having to be disciplined in a way. It felt like a form of self-care honestly.”
You mentioned in your afterword that you had spent summers by a lake. How much of you and your experiences were written into the story?
“Neither Percy nor Sam is based on me or anyone I know, but there’s a bit of me in both characters. [My family and I] had been living in Australia for a time, but when we came back to Canada, my parents decided that instead of moving to Toronto where I was born, they would move up to the lake [like Percy]. I grew up on this little dirt road on Kamaniskeg Lake, and my parents ran a restaurant, so that’s quite a lot like Sam. When I decided to write this book, I really wanted to pay tribute to the cottage country where I grew up. All the glittery lake scenery and the drive north to Barry’s Bay from the city, that’s all very much drawn from my life.”
I’ve only visited Canada a couple of times, like Banff and Vancouver, so I very much was on Google Maps just looking up places. It looks lovely.
“It’s such a beautiful corner of the world, and particularly where the book is set and where I am right now. There are still a lot of cottages up here, and it’s still pretty quiet. It’s my favourite place to be. My parents sold our house on the lake about 10 years ago, and we had been renting this cottage up on a lake here for about five years. The owner is American so he couldn’t come up here last year, and he let us spend the summer here. I was just feeling very nostalgic about my time growing up on a lake and my friends from that time so the book is really infused with that nostalgia.”
I have to ask, how do you say Canadiana?
I’m so American, sorry! I’ve never heard that term before. I feel like I learned so much about the Great White North.
“I’m so glad to hear that because definitely when I was writing it, I really wanted to pay tribute to the part of the country where I grew up. But I was very open to hearing what publishers and agents thought about it being set in Canada. Because you hear from a lot of people in Canada say, ‘No, an American audience is not interested in any kind of movies or books that are set in Canada.’ So I was so happy that both my agent and my editor were keeping it set in Canada and I hope readers enjoy that too.”
I mean, a lot of movies and TV shows are filmed in Vancouver and Toronto so a lot of stories that we enjoy in the U.S. are really from Canada.
“We’re definitely a cultural powerhouse, and we don’t sing our praises enough.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.