Award-winning journalist Carley Fortune joins Zibby to discuss her debut novel, Every Summer After, which is already a New York Times, USA Today, and #1 Canadian national bestseller. The two talk about how the novel was inspired in part by Carley’s love for the tiny town of Barry’s Bay as well as her time growing up there. Carley also shares how finding her diaries from adolescence informed the story and how writing this book during Covid helped her reclaim her creativity.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Carley. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Every Summer After: A Novel.

Carley Fortune: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Zibby: My pleasure. First of all, congratulations on your book. Very exciting.

Carley: Thank you.

Zibby: Can you tell listeners what it’s about and what inspired you to write it?

Carley: It is a sweeping love story about Percy and Sam who meet when they’re thirteen years old when Percy’s family buys the cottage next door to Sam’s house on a lake in Barry’s Bay. The two of them are best friends. In the present as thirty-year-olds, they haven’t spoken in more than ten years. The book is told in alternating now-and-then timelines. It’s over the course of six summers in the past where you see them meet and become best friends and fall in love and one weekend in the present where they’re reunited. It’s a very tumultuous weekend. The whole time, you’re trying to figure out what it is that caused them to split apart and whether they can overcome the mistakes of the past.

Zibby: I love that. Tell me about your connection to Barry’s Bay. I read your Scary Mommy piece about your aunt and all this stuff. It was mentioned there. Give me the lowdown. Where is Barry’s Bay? Tell me about this whole — tell me.

Carley: I would be thrilled to. Barry’s Bay is a real place. It is a small town, 1,200 people in rural Ontario. I grew up there. I lived there from fourth grade until the end of high school when I moved to Toronto for university. It had been where my family’s cottage was when I was born. I was born in Toronto. We lived in Australia for many years. Then when we came back, my parents decided they didn’t want to live in the city. They wanted to live on the lake, so we made the cottage a home. I grew up much like the character of Sam in the book, down a dirt road in the middle of the bush on the lake, and spent my summers on the dock, swimming all day, reading. My parents had an inn and restaurant in town. At night, I was working at the restaurant. Sam’s family has a restaurant too. The book is very much a love letter to that part of the world. It’s been so fun to see people learn about Barry’s Bay because even where I am in Toronto, most people have never heard of Barry’s Bay. It’s so tiny.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, that sounds like an idyllic way to grow up. I’m like, put me on a little dock with a book, please, right now.

Carley: I loved that part of it. I think, though, sometimes you don’t appreciate what you have when you’re younger. I was dying to leave and go to the city and make a big life for myself. I have missed the lake. That’s one of the reasons why I wrote the book. My parents sold that house maybe ten years ago, but we still cottage in the area, my husband and my kids. We had been up there in 2020, which is when I started writing the book. I was very nostalgic for the summers of my youth.

Zibby: How old are your kids?

Carley: My oldest is almost six. He’ll be six in November. My youngest just turned one.

Zibby: Amazing how you can get anything done with — .

Carley: We don’t have time for anything, but we do everything, right? That’s exactly how it is.

Zibby: That’s my whole thesis statement.

Carley: I know. I know.

Zibby: You’ve had so much experience in journalism and working with Refinery29 and all of that. How did you go from the dock to here?

Carley: I studied journalism in school. I always wanted to write. I always wanted to write a book, but I didn’t think you could be an author as a full-time job. It seemed impossible to me that you could make a living that way. Barry’s Bay is a very working-class town. My parents, as restaurant owners, which is a very tough business — I saw a lot of financial struggle. I was like, no, not going to try to be a writer. I’m not going to be able to make a living that way. I became a journalist, which was probably not a better decision, and studied journalism, started working right out of school, and just moved up in the world of magazines and newspapers. Eventually, my last job was launching Refinery29 in Canada, the editorial side of the team, and overseeing that. I always had it in the back of my head that I wanted to write a book, but I just never thought I would do it.

I had this moment in 2020 when we were up at the lake. I had read my teenage journals in lockdown a couple of months earlier, one of those first lockdown weekends. I’d never read them before. I was thinking a lot about those teenage years. Then we were up at the lake for July and August because the owner of the cottage that we rent is American, and he couldn’t get across the border. He let us squat there all summer. I got off a very stressful work call. Work has been really tough that year. I thought, that’s it, I’m going to write my book. I don’t know what that book is, but I’m going to write it. I’m going to finish it by the end of the year. It will be good enough. That was the goal, just to get a book done. It felt really important in 2020 to reclaim my creativity. I hadn’t done any creative work for myself as an adult. It had always been for an employer. I like to say it was fueled by righteous indignation and nostalgia.

Zibby: I love that. The best part of what you just said is saying that it was good enough. I feel like there’s this — at least for me and other perfectionist types, it’s hard to say, I’m going to try something. I’ll do it, but I won’t have time to finish it. I don’t know, maybe this isn’t the perfect time. You can so easily fall into those traps. Well, I could work on it this morning, but I only have an hour, and so it probably wouldn’t be better. I’m going to wait until I have six hours. There’s always some rationalization. If you say, you know what, I’m going to do it this morning for an hour and it’s going to be good enough and then I’ll pick it up another time, that’s so freeing. It makes my shoulders sort of exhale.

Carley: The way I approached it, because I’m very goal-oriented, I figured out how many words the manuscript should be. It was eighty thousand words. Then I calculated how many days were left in the year and then how many words I’d have to write a day to get there. It was 388 words. I was like, I can do that. No problem. I’d get up before my son woke up and before I started work and do it then. I didn’t worry too much about whether it was good. As an editor, I knew that I just needed to have something. You can’t do anything if you don’t have something.

Zibby: I was at this author event last night. Some of the authors were saying that they needed big stretches of time because to really get into their voice in the novel and back into the characters, that alone takes a big chunk of time. Others were saying they could just open up the laptop online at the bank or something. Do you feel like you need that kind of marination time at the beginning reorienting yourself or not?

Carley: I didn’t have it, so I didn’t have that. That is not how I worked. Even with the second book, which I’ve been working on now — I just finished the third draft. When I started writing it, it was six weeks after my son was born. I was writing it in his nap time. We were up at the cottage that summer too. You can’t really have two small children at that cottage without having eyes on them at all times. It’s not child-friendly at all. I’ve just not really had that in the initial drafting phase. My husband took a paternity leave starting in September. He’s a teacher. He has been off with the baby this year. I have had larger chunks of time. That has been wonderful. I would say what I spent a lot of time on with the second book is just fighting self-doubt. I would waste hours just trying to get over that hurdle of, you can’t do this. The first book was a fluke. This isn’t going to be any good. Nobody’s going to like it. That’s what I spent a lot of time doing. Maybe if I had just had that short window of time, I wouldn’t have wasted it on all those voices in my head. I think every writer is so different. I have decided I will never have ideal conditions, I don’t think. I don’t even know if that exists for anybody. I just tell myself I’m going to write it. It’s work. I’m going to do my work. That’s how I approach it.

Zibby: Wow, I love that. This other author, Jane Green, was talking about how she worked at The Guardian. They were like, “You have to write two thousand words about shoe soles,” or whatever, “in the next hour. She’s like, “I didn’t have time to wait for creativity to strike. It was due.” I feel like you’re saying the same. This is your work. You get it done. This is when you have to do it. No questions. No rationalization. Boom. You can just do it.

Carley: I think that is absolutely it. I think working as an editor helped me with that mindset. Writing is an art. It is also craft. At the end of the day, it’s nothing special. I was talking with a very good friend of mine about this this morning, how it’s work like any other work. It’s different. It looks different because it’s creative. I think when we hold something up on this platform or put it in this reverent place, that we make it not accessible, but it is. It is accessible. It doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it’s doable.

Zibby: Interesting. It’s almost like pushing fiction to journalism. If you were an artist, if you were like, here’s a canvas, you wouldn’t be like, it’s just work. I’m giving you twenty bucks. Go do it. I guess you could. I don’t know. Never mind.

Carley: What’s the end product?

Zibby: You’re right.

Carley: I think when you’re approaching first drafts, you just have to have faith that your future self will improve it and also that you have an editor who you trust who will also help you get there. You just have to have faith in that process.

Zibby: I love that. I’m viewing this as a — not that I play football or anything. Just the way you said handing it off, you’re throwing this pass that you don’t even know, but it’s yourself who gets to catch it.

Carley: Yes, exactly.

Zibby: The other day, I was debating — I can’t remember why. Maybe my twins’ birthday or something. They just turned fifteen. I was debating if I should post a picture of myself massively pregnant with twins. I literally said to myself, my younger self would kill me for doing this. I can’t do that to her. There’s nothing she would’ve wanted less than to be plastered all over the internet looking like that. I was like, I can’t do that to her.

Carley: That’s so interesting. I was thinking about that, too, recently because, as I mentioned, I had read my childhood journals before I wrote the book, not with the intention of writing a book, just as curiosity. I kept journals from the age of seven throughout university. I did this presentation to — my imprint, Berkley, set up this really smart, I thought, influencer event where we presented our books. Four authors presented our books to bookstagrammers and reviewers and book influencers. We could talk for three to five minutes about an aspect of our books. I talked about how my journals informed writing a book. I read little pieces of the journals and showed some of the notes that were in there to the audience. I was like, I don’t know how teenage Carley would feel about this. Would I have been so mortified? Would I be like, oh, my gosh, I can’t believe somebody’s interested in this? This is so cool. I couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t have an answer.

Zibby: That is a really good exercise to do, though. How would you convince, in three to five minutes, somebody to cover your book, read your book? It’s more than the elevator pitch. It’s so hard. It’s so hard to keep people’s attention and differentiate yourself quickly and describe something that is an immersive experience that takes hours. It’s like a joke. It’s a miracle that any books ever sell.

Carley: My answer to that was bad performance art of reading journal entries, which was so embarrassing.

Zibby: Oh, my god, that’s so funny. Although, now I’m like, ooh, maybe I should open up the cabinet with all my journals. In the back of my head, I’m always like, I’m saving those to write a middle-grade novel at some point.

Carley: You should read them one day. My husband went to read his — he kept a LiveJournal back in the, I guess it would be early two thousands, one of those online LiveJournals, and had downloaded it and kept it. He was like, “I’m going to read my LiveJournals.” He started, and then he stopped. He was like, “No, I absolutely cannot do this. It’s too awful.”

Zibby: The only one I read — I found a travel journal when I was — after eighth grade, I went with my parents and my brother to China, Japan, and Hong Kong. A week after we got home, they got divorced. I’ll just preface the trip with that. I kept a little travel journal. I read it out loud to my kids, my little guys who were seven and eight at the time. They got to know me when I was thirteen, fourteen. There were some things that were so similar. I don’t know if you found this in your journals. I was writing down everything I ate, which I still am so focused on. I’m like, I had the salad on the plane. It really wasn’t very good. Then I ate this. I’m like, oh, my god, here I am in Japan eating a Caesar salad or something ridiculous.

Carley: That’s so funny. Still today when you have a bad lunch, you’re like, argh, I need to .

Zibby: I’m like, I had Caesar salad yesterday. It’s the same thing. Some things just don’t change about us.

Carley: It’s so true.

Zibby: What did you find in your journals that rang so true for you now, if anything?

Carley: I feel pretty different from that person. Most of them are of the teenage years. They’re so dramatic. When you’re using your journal, it’s when you’re at your most emotional. I had a really close circle of girlfriends, but I felt so alone. I felt like nobody understood me. I really wanted a boyfriend. I did not have a boyfriend in high school. I had so many crushes, all unrequited too. I wrote extensively about that. That really stuck with me, that idea of wanting to have someone who made you feel seen and heard. It all just felt so present. It was twenty years ago, but it felt so present to me. There was a note that I wrote my crush telling him I liked him that I never sent.

Zibby: Aw.

Carley: I know. It starts out saying, I think it’ll be easier if I tell you this way. Obviously, it was not easier because I didn’t send it.

Zibby: Did you tell him a different way, or you just never told him?

Carley: I’m trying to figure out which crush that was. I think I did tell that crush, and it did not go well. I’m not sure. It could’ve been — anyway.

Zibby: I think across the board, telling crushes does not usually pan out well.

Carley: It’s not a good strategy.

Zibby: Not a good strategy.

Carley: I had no game. There was a letter from my best friend that was six pages long breaking up with me, which was really hard to read because that was a really hard time. The thing that actually made me cry was a little note, torn piece of paper from a girl who said, “You look so pretty and stylish today. Have a great class.” I never felt pretty in high school. It brought up so much for me. I think we often think of teenagers as quite silly and that their problems are small and overblown, or we think of teenagers as hooligans. When I was writing the book, I really wanted to be empathetic about that experience. I think there’s something about those young relationships that really stick to your ribs. Reading the diaries, I was like, gosh, this feels like yesterday.

Zibby: The nicest thing brought tears to your eyes. I feel like it would’ve been the — I don’t know. I wouldn’t even know where to start with the things that would make me cry going through my journals. I feel like there would be so much. It would just be from one thing to the next. You’re right. The intensity of feeling, though, in those years, it’s so intense. It’s like we’re missing a layer of skin. The sensation is burning and raw.

Carley: There’s so much transition in a short period of time, just life transition plus all the hormonal changes and the social changes. Adolescence is a developmental phase. I think you would find this interesting, a piece I wrote for Refinery29 about motherhood and becoming a mom and learning how to be okay with just being good enough. I spoke to this doctor who studied matrescence, which is that —

Zibby: — Becoming a mom.

Carley: Becoming a mom as a stage like adolescence because there is all this physical change and social change and relationship to your partner and your body. All of that change is kind of like going through an adolescence but different. I can really appreciate the teenage years through that lens now.

Zibby: It’s so true. I found that research fascinating. You become somebody totally different. Yes, you’re caring for someone, but you have become someone different overnight.

Carley: It’s so quiet to other people. Also, because everybody goes through it, it’s a little invisible, but it’s such a huge shift for yourself. I know I was not prepared for it at all. I found myself really flailing.

Zibby: I’m still flailing. It’s been fifteen years.

Carley: I’m not having the, who am I? Will I ever be the same? What is this life? Although, with my second son, for his entire — he’s fifteen months now. For his entire first year, I was like, what did we do? Why did we do this? What have I done? What have I done? I think I’m past that now.

Zibby: It does get better. That sounds so trite.

Carley: No, it does. It does.

Zibby: It does get so much better. You’ve seen with your older. Just this morning, my younger guy said something so funny about, “Isn’t it true that mommy long-legs have longer legs than daddy long-legs?” I was like, “There are not mommy long-legs.” He’s like, “Yes, there are.” I’m like, “I don’t think so.” Anyway, we got into this whole debate. I’m like, you seem like a normal person, and yet kids have the most bizarre thoughts. I was like, how great that this is the morning, that I’m not cleaning up — I’ve been through all of it for so long that I can just have a sense of humor and find the joy and not be utterly stressed all the time because now they can at least get themselves ready for camp.

Carley: Getting themselves ready, that’s a game changer.

Zibby: It is huge.

Carley: I’m waiting for that with the youngest.

Zibby: We had one day where I was like, “Take a shower,” and they didn’t involve me once. They went in, took the shower, turned off the shower, got dressed, brushed their hair. I was like, .

Carley: The clouds parted.

Zibby: Seriously. It was like I had reached the end of the road and gotten to the pot of gold or something. Sorry, this is totally just a random, fun conversation at this point. I hope people are enjoying your book, Every Summer After, and that now you’ve fallen in love with Carley and her middle school, high school experience and will pick up her book. Thanks for the very fun chat.

Carley: Thank you so much. This has been a joy.

Zibby: Let’s stay in touch. Hopefully, I’ll see you in Toronto or something.

Carley: I would love that. Absolutely.

Zibby: Thanks a lot. Bye.


EVERY SUMMER AFTER by Carley Fortune

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