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From the archives

Carbon Copy

In equal balance justly weighed

Slouching toward Democracy

Where have all the wise men gone?

By Populist Demand

When urban and rural voters went separate ways

My Tour of Nowhere

I’ve still not seen my books in a bookstore

John Elizabeth Stintzi

It has been months since my two debuts — a novel, Vanishing Monuments, and a poetry collection, Junebat — came out, but I’ve still not seen either of them in a bookstore. Not in person, at least. In April, I was supposed to see my books in a lot of bookstores. I had a three-week tour lined up, with around twenty events, in Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Guelph. In May, I should have seen my books in, at least, St. Louis, Lincoln, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Kansas City (where I currently live). In June, I was planning on Vancouver, Portland, maybe New York City, and, hopefully, Los Angeles.

We all know why I couldn’t visit any of these bookstores. In the second week of March, shortly after my partner and I decided not to attend a large literary conference in San Antonio, it became clear that I wouldn’t be going anywhere. Despite the fact that my publishers, Arsenal Pulp and House of Anansi, had teamed up to arrange an excellent tour — especially for a debut author publishing with indie presses — and despite the fact that I’d funnelled a majority of my energy for the first months of 2020 into making sure I could do these books justice, I was suddenly staring down the barrel of a pandemic.

I probably should have been suspicious when everything seemed to be going extremely well. Winning the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s RBC Bronwen Wallace Award in May 2019, selling my two debuts to two of my favourite Canadian presses in the weeks that followed, and being photographed in January for a Quill & Quire cover: each of these things alone should have been a warning that something big was going to come along to ruin the moment. With each of these milestones, I should have remembered that as well as things have turned out for me, nothing has ever come easy. Every good thing comes with caveats.

The hardest thing about publishing my first two books at this strange time has been how unreal those publications feel. I suffer from depression, and one of the greatest challenges I face is getting out of my own head and being present. My brain is always searching for a way to subvert or obfuscate reality, to justify the deflation and pain it wants me to feel. I was looking forward to my tour not because I’m particularly well suited for travel or socializing, but because seeing posters for my events, and having people sit and listen to me read, and seeing some of those same people line up after with my books in their hands for me to sign were all experiences I knew not even my brain could steal from me.

Vanishing Monuments and Junebat were both, in their own ways, harrowing to write. Both touch on mental health — specifically depression. Both take root in my coming to terms with being non-binary. This aspect of my identity can feel unreal, particularly in public, where it is often illegible. Since my books centre on non-binary experiences, I was particularly excited to meet queer people with whom I could be confident in my identity’s legibility. I envisioned my tour as an opportunity to have my work as well as my own queer self validated.

With these events cancelled, the texture of my life hardly changed with the publication of my books. I’ve done a bunch of virtual events, of course, which have been nice. I’ve had some heartening profiles and reviews written, and have received some generous notes from readers. But the fact this has all happened remotely means it’s easy for my brain to reject that I’m finally a published author. Instead of getting the experience of launching my books across Canada and the United States, I’ve been doing little besides walking my dog, worrying about the state of the world, and collecting unemployment. The milestone I’d been working toward for so much of my life has passed by with little pomp.

The most positive outcome of all of this is how losing my tour brought me back to writing. The pandemic forced me to realize how little control I have over my life, while also illuminating where the little control I do have resides. And that is in creating the work itself. I may not see my books in a bookstore in 2020, but I can at least hope they will still be on the shelves by the time I publish again.

John Elizabeth Stintzi wrote My Volcano.