Erin Klassen, Writer

March 8, 2017



Interview By: Liron Davis
Photos By: Angela Lewis

Some people just make magical things happen. By conjuring up ideas and bringing the right people together, they create extraordinary works of art. Erin Klassen is one of those people. This literary alchemist founded With/Out Pretend, an independent Toronto-based publishing company focused on producing, promoting and distributing works by emerging female-identified writers and visual artists. She’s already published three books to date, including You Care Too Much (a favourite of ours) which features 17 female contributors’ written and visual musings on self-care. We caught up with Erin during her exclusive shoot for Fortnight to talk about why self-care is so important and where she draws inspiration to keep creating. With women like Erin at the helm, the future is undoubtedly female.

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FORTNIGHT: Who are you? And what do you do?

ERIN:  I am Erin Klassen, and I started With/out Pretend in 2015 with the idea of self-publishing books. I consider myself part-publisher, part-author, part-editor, and overall general collaborator.

FORTNIGHT: Can you tell me about the book you published, You Care Too Much?

ERIN:  It’s a collection of art and writing by 17 women on the question of self-care. This book started because I was writing short fiction that had a lot to do with self-care as a bigger concept. I saw self-care as something the media wanted you to believe was a checklist of things you could essentially buy to feel better and I thought it was a bigger conversation. I was exploring what it meant to take care of ourselves so that we could be better people, lead more meaningful lives, and in turn, be the kind of people who had the capacity to take care of others. That is where the impetus of the book came from. Then I started to talk to other women who I was hoping would be contributors for the book and they seemed to really resonate with the idea. It all spiralled from there.

FORTNIGHT: Why is self-care important to you?

ERIN:  I think that self-care starts from the place where you feel the worst. A lot of times people think it’s this very surface thing – like getting pedicures or going to a therapist – as if everything is a fix-it situation. But if you think about your lowest moment and the journey from that moment to getting out of it, that is where self-care starts. That’s why at the end of the book there is a lot about trauma and coping. When people are reading the book I hope that they feel like they are a part of that conversation. I hope they feel inspired to look at their own methods of coping and their own needs. Also, I hope they become inspired to write their own stories or make their own art about it because I think that is a powerful thing.

You Care Too Much, Creative Women On The Question Of Self Care
Photo credit: Laurie McGregor
YCTM credits: Art Direction Jen Spinner / Cover Image by Angela Lewis

FORTNIGHT: Why do you think it is hard for people to develop sustainable self-care practices?

ERIN: For me, I feel like I get overwhelmed by all of the things that I should be doing, that I’m expected to do, and that other people expect from me. I think sorting out what your priorities are is really important so that you’re not feeling overwhelmed and sad all the time.

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FORTNIGHT: What would you say to someone who was reading the book and was going through a hard time?

ERIN: In our most recent round of books, I included these postcards with prompts that I gave to contributors at the very beginning of the collaboration process. I thought it would be really cool to give to readers if they wanted to journal their thoughts. The postcard calls on the reader to identify moments when they are feeling low, happy etc. and then it walks them through the process. It is a repetitive exercise that I hope will help the reader.

Our definitions of self care are limited. We can create new ones.
Notice a moment you’re feeling low. Describe what it feels like physically. Describe what your thoughts sound like. What was the last thing you did before you caught yourself feeling this way? Now that you’ve recorded this, what will you do next?
Notice a moment you feel happy. Describe what it feels like physically. Describe what your thoughts sound like. What was the last thing you did before you caught yourself feeling this way? Now that you’ve recorded this, what will you do next?
Think back on a time you experienced a particularly hard thing, event, illness, encounter. What kinds of things did you do to cope, to deal, to protect yourself? Did those activities, objects or environments help? Why or why not?

FORTNIGHT: Where do you draw inspiration from when creating new pieces?

ERIN: My number one source of inspiration is talking to other people. What starts as a weird idea in my mind, develops into a bigger concept with even just one conversation over coffee. Certainly that is how You Care Too Much happened. Angela Lewis (a contributor to the book) was my first coffee date because I really admired her work in Little Brother specifically. But that happened with all of the contributors, which is where I get my inspiration from. Ideas hatch when I am connecting with people.

FORTNIGHT: You do a lot of things throughout the year, so what gets you motivated to keep moving forward and creating?

ERIN: I get excited by ideas and I don’t spend a lot of time comparing the stuff I do to other things that are like it. I just have an idea and blindly assume that no one has ever had it before because I’m sure thousands of people have done similar things to You Care Too Much for instance, but I just don’t spend a lot of time making sure that it doesn’t exist. I get an idea and then it needs to become a reality. I also think we are all just trying to fill our time with stuff that matters to us and our communities. Sometimes those communities are big and sometimes they are small. That’s what motivates me – the idea that I can have a good time and maybe make something that matters and hopefully connect with a few other people that it matters to as well.

FORTNIGHT: Do you feel pressure about having to be “creative”?

ERIN: I don’t feel pressure to be creative. But I feel a lot of pressure to be honest. I hold myself to a very high standard of what I call a “gut check.” I check to see if my work is trying to be something I’m not or trying to do something that I think will be successful but doesn’t come from the place within. Being honest is what I care more about.

FORTNIGHT: Do you feel pressure to have to create more?

ERIN: I feel less pressure about stuff like that. I’ve started setting things in motion and now I feel like I have to move things forward. I see that as an opportunity as opposed to ten years ago when I would have felt like all eyes are on me. But as you get older, you realize that no one is watching you. You’re the only person that is so focused on yourself and you’re in charge.

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FORTNIGHT: Which writers do you admire? And what is it that draws you to them?

ERIN: Some of the first ones that came to mind are Anaïs Nin, Michael Ondaatje and my new favourite Chris Kraus, who wrote I love dick – a book I’m obsessed with. Also obsessed with Anne Sexton and so many others. But what draws me to them is their willingness to be bold and not needing to compare their work to others. They just put out the thing they want to do. I think in the literary world people are constantly telling you about how things are supposed to be done. But I’m not going to do it that way. I am not trying to be obstinate, but it’s just not interesting to me to do the things that have always been done. What I love about these writers is that they are not afraid to be themselves, say what’s important to them and bend the rules.

FORTNIGHT: What is a really good piece of advice you’ve been given?

ERIN: My favourite piece of advice that I think about four to five times a week is something my Grade 7 guidance counsellor, Mr. Berger, told me. He said, “be yourself. It takes less energy.”

FORTNIGHT: What advice would you give to a young woman interested in pursuing a career as a writer or publisher?

ERIN: I have three things. The first is inspired by a Susan Sontag quote that I’m newly obsessed with, but it is basically don’t wait for approval or permission or for inspiration to drop from the sky to move forward. The second is don’t expect it to always click or feel perfect or easy. If you’re a creator there are going to be a lot of days that feel difficult and won’t feel right, but you can still do the work. And the last one is to listen and ask advice, but also more importantly develop your own sense of what feels good.

FORTNIGHT: What’s on the horizon for you?

ERIN: As a publisher, this year I want to try publishing someone else’s work for the first time. Right now I am working with an experienced writer but a novice novelist, probably on a collection of essays. And then the second thing is I have another book idea that I’m super excited about. I’m really hoping to launch that book in November. I’m going to try and keep the rhythm of putting out two books a year, but that’s a lot.

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FORTNIGHT: What is your equivalent of the power suit? An outfit that makes you feel strong powerful, like you could take over the world?

ERIN:  The components of this outfit are nylons, red lipstick, and a ‘90s side part.

FORTNIGHT: What are some of your favourite independent labels and products?

ERIN:  I’m a big fan of vintage and I trust my favourite curators of vintage, like Sub Rosa in Kensington Market and Penny Arcade. The same goes for boutiques like Likely General and Souvenir – everything they carry I would like to own. My favourite handbag is ‘Made By Opelle’. I also have independent publishers I love like Little Brother and Shameless Magazine.

FORTNIGHT: If you could be locked in one store overnight and raid its contents, which would it be?

ERIN:  I’m a vinyl addict so I pick Cosmos Records in Toronto. Aki the owner specializes in rare soul you cannot find. Every record you could ever want is there.

FORTNIGHT: In three words or less how would you describe your personal style?

ERIN:  It is impossible for me to ever use three words or less but I’ll try. I’m inspired by Brenda, from ‘Beverly Hills 90210’.

FORTNIGHT: What’s the last book you read?

ERIN:  I just finished ‘Sister Outsider’ by Audre Lorde.

FORTNIGHT: What’s your favourite song to put you in a good mood?

ERIN:  ‘Good as Hell’ by Lizzo.

FORTNIGHT: Who is your greatest support?

ERIN:  My mom, my partner Joe and all my friends. I’m lucky to have a pretty great support network.

FORTNIGHT: What’s your favourite way to unwind?

ERIN:  Watching Star Trek’s ‘Deep Space Nine’ or ‘Next Generation’ in my sweatpants.

The Ivy  Seamless Bodysuit. Fortnight Lingerie, Spring & Summer 2017 Collection


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