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Bronwyn Fischer's debut novel an ode to Queer adult coming-of-age

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Bronwyn Fischer — Photo by Kevin Workman
Bronwyn Fischer — Photo by Kevin Workman

College is a time when young people experience adulthood for the first time. It is a period of uncertainty, growth, and mistakes. Coming of age in the halls of university inspired Canadian writer Bronwyn Fischer to write her debut novel, The Adult.

Finding herself on the page
When Fischer first started attending the University of Toronto, she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life. Looking for a class that could reignite a spark in her, she decided to try creative writing.

"I felt weird in university. I wasn't sure whether I wanted to drop out or continue with it," she explained. "I cooked for a little while, and then I was looking through a course list, and I came upon creative writing courses at the school, and I was like, 'Oh yeah, that was something I liked doing. That was something I was into.'"

Fischer had enjoyed writing, but she never saw it as a career opportunity. "I've always written a little bit, ...poems and whatever. Going into university, I didn't think about writing. I thought, 'Well, it was a childhood pastime,'" she admitted.

"For the creative writing courses, you had to apply by writing something creative, so I did. That reminded me of how much I liked doing it, and it helped me focus on school and gave me a purpose in doing it again."

Fischer continued with creative writing all through college. In her final year, she took a novel-writing class, which changed her whole perspective on developing a career in writing. "That made me feel like this is what I want to try and do and see how it goes," she recalled.

Image courtesy of Algonquin Books  

An "important and fraught period"
In her novel-writing class, Fisher started drafting the story that would eventually become The Adult. "The first time I had the idea for the novel was in that ...course," she said. "It was much different then, but that was the first time I had considered the dynamic of the Nora and Natalie characters and their relationship."

Years after graduating, Fischer returned to Nora and Natalie. Inspired by many of her experiences as a young adult in college, she just started writing. "I don't do a lot of planning when I write, so it's quite step-by-step. I will write it until it ends. When I had the initial idea, it wasn't fully planned out. It kind of just came to me," she said.

Writing about college students coming of age gave Fischer the space to dissect the ways she had changed throughout her undergraduate experience and reflect on some of the struggles she faced along the way.

"It's such an important and fraught period," she recalled. "When I was that age, there was so much tension in trying to understand what you should do and how you should be, and the right way of doing it all is such an overwhelming question."

She added little bits of personalized information into the story, like setting it at her alma mater and including many locations she enjoyed there.

"If you've had that feeling of— or if you're currently experiencing becoming a new adult... maybe it can give you a sense of solidarity," she said. "Sometimes having a work articulate [how] you feel about something can feel cathartic or make you feel less lonely. Hopefully, it can do that. It's a tough period to live through."

Learning while doing
Fischer was able to write the book due to several grants she was awarded by the Canadian Arts Council, which provides funding to help creatives begin their careers.

"I was lucky: I got a grant from the Canada Arts Council for a while, and that let me write more than I was," she said. "...There's pretty good funding in Ontario, Canada, for artists that are working."

Writing The Adult was a learning process for Fischer, who had never applied for public grants or gone through the publication process before.

"That's also a whole other world I didn't know about. Trying to get funding for different projects and having the time to write, as well as the money to continue to live, is an interesting dilemma," she explained.

She picked up odd jobs while writing, but the grants enabled Fischer to focus on her novel and the daunting process of seeking publication.

"When I was writing, I didn't know much about publishing. I didn't consider everything involved with the process, but it's very involved," she added. "It's a long process, and so many people are a part of it."

Eventually, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill picked the book up and published it. Because she was publishing in Canada, Fischer did not face any issues writing a book with overt LGBTQ+ themes. Canadian publishers often encourage such books.

Queer love, built in
Writing a Queer story felt natural for Fischer, who never once considered The Adult a heterosexual story. "For me, it would have felt more of a choice for it not to be [LGBTQ]," she said. "Maybe Queer is my default, because it wasn't something that entered my mind when I thought of writing coming-of-age. It was Queer coming-of-age. When I thought of love, it was Queer love. It was built in."

Fischer is working on some projects now, but nothing is fleshed out. She joked that enough time has passed since her initial writing of the book that now she has forgotten how challenging the process was.

"Writing The Adult was immersive, and I feel I have amnesia about the writing process. Now I'm romanticizing it," she said with a laugh. "I think when you're trying to find a new idea, you're trying to find a way of proving the new idea is right. My only experience is writing the last book, so when what I'm writing now doesn't feel the same, I get nervous. I'm trying to get comfortable having a lot of looseness and exploration right now."

While she cannot specify her projects, she knows that whatever she does next will be authentically Queer. She's also branching away from some of the themes explored in The Adult.

"What I'm writing right now is not a coming-of-age story, so I imagine I'll move on from [that]. Right now, that's not what I'm thinking about," she said.

What Fischer is thinking about is fantasy. "I love reading fantasy books," she said. "I just devoured Robin Hobb's first trilogy. Fantasy is dangerous. I will abandon all of my responsibilities and just read these huge books. I'm scared, because she's written 16 books, and I'm reading these 600-page books so quickly. I'm nervous about how much my life will be taken over by her."

For anyone looking to have their life consumed by a gripping novel, The Adult is available this week.