Story and Essay News

I’m so pleased that “The Trip,” a new story, is out in the latest issue of The Feathertale Review and thrilled that my essay “Chase and Catch” (published in CNQ: Canadian Notes & Queries) has received an honourable mention for a  2017 Short Works Prize.

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Smells Like Heaven

Smells Like Heaven receives a review in the Winnipeg Free Press: The structure of the connected stories works like the turning of a kaleidoscope

Smells Like Heaven makes Hamilton Magazine‘s list of Hot Hamilton Reads.

GetLit: Listen to Sally Cooper’s interview with Jamie Tennant below.

Set in the fictional town of Fletcher, the connected stories in Smells Like Heaven span thirty years. Fletcher is a town the characters strive to escape, but keep returning to, as they stumble through life searching for ways to connect and transcend their claustrophobic pasts. Following two sisters—Devon and Christine—as well as their friends and lovers, Smells Like Heaven exposes the core of what it means to be transformed by love.


Praise for Smells Like Heaven 

“Sally Cooper’s stories hold a strange beauty and offer canny wisdom about life’s injustices and mercies as they twist and untwist the kinks of linked lives. “

Catherine Bush, author of Accusation


“In gorgeously evocative prose, Cooper depicts and makes heartbreakingly palpable the evolution of imperfect lives. Her characters, full of sharp desires they can’t outrun, seeking connection and solace at almost any cost, remind us of what it is to be human, frail, even blind. Cooper is a writer of extraordinary gifts.” 

Kelli Deeth, author of The Other Side of Youth


“The best lies, she believes, are close to truth.” This line from Sally Cooper’s story collection, Smells Like Heaven, captures the feeling of quest in Cooper’s characters as they set out and sometimes return to home in a small town, exploring love, friendship, and the creation of new families. This collection is deeply felt by a writer who dares tell fiction’s truth.  

Kim Echlin, author of Under the Visible Life


Smells Like Heaven Mixtape


Who doesn’t love a good book playlist? The stories in Smells Like Heaven span thirty years. Some of these songs appear in the book; others, well, you’ll see. Slip this cassette into the deck and enjoy the ride. I know I did.

  1. Grateful Dead’s “Ripple” has to come first. I originally called the book Ripple and did title one of the stories “You Fall Alone.” Music can define character, especially one who embraces the Deadhead ethos as Will does. Heck, he even has the song on repeat in his VW van.

2.”Margaritaville” is a kind of signature song for Ron, a man who never passes up an opportunity to dance. It’s boozy and spongey and as light and breezy as Ron wishes life were. It’s one in a long line of cheesy songs in the background as his daughter aims to figure out how to close the gap between them.

3. The Bee Gee’s “More Than a Woman” has the whiff of awkwardness  and awareness that can exist between adult siblings and parents. It’s not surprising that  Devon’s dad asks her to dance to this song at his wedding.

4. Terry Jacks’ “Seasons in The Sun,”  like “One Tin Soldier,” is a song whose lyrics we used to write out in ballpoint pen in grade school and sob over on the school bus. So 1970s. It has a place on the playlist for this book about friendship and the worst kind of loss wrapped in a sugary-poignant pop package.

5. Minnie Riperton’s delicate voice expresses a saturated, out-of-time love for characters  whose relationships take place on the edges of their regular lives. It’s music one might have heard on a K-Tel album on an older sibling’s record player during grade school. Mature, silky, illicit.

6. “Right and wrong don’t matter/when you’re with me my sweet.” The pain and longing and surrender Nina Simone wraps around each word of “Don’t Explain” speak to an intense need for connection and love and how far we’re willing to go to hang onto it.

7. John Cougar Mellencamp, whose songs once played at every country dive along with the likes of ZZ Top, Steve Earle and John Fogerty, has become Dad-Rock for Millenials. Overhearing John Cougar (as we knew him then) on the phone means you’re stepping into Dad-world and should send up alarm bells if you’re a teenage girl talking to your older crush.  The twist is in the lyric.

8. The Boxer” is the sort of beautifully-harmonized acoustic guitar-accompanied song that soulful university students play at afternoon pubs and in residence rooms. Pair with Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” and The Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” for full effect

9. “Turn the Page” is the jaded outcome for the amateur guitar player now in middle age and less able to outrun life’s complexities. Metallica’s version has more shrill anxiety and dark gritty regret than Bob Seger’s weary original.

10. “Eastbound and Down” because Burt Reynolds.


Should Your Children Read Your (Adult) Fiction?

Picture of a box of the short story collection Smells Like Heaven by Sally Cooper

Can We Read It Yet? 

This week ten copies of Smells Like Heaven arrived in a box on my doorstep. I waited until my children came home then filmed them painstakingly taking turns opening the box with an old steak knife. When they took out the books, they looked even happier than me, not an easy feat. I’ve found the cover gorgeous since I first saw it but holding the object in person and seeing all the little touches not picked up by the two-dimensional jPeg took the experience to another level. I crowed about the red spine, the pretty splotches on the back cover. I clutched a copy to my chest.

Then I noticed my 8 year old daughter scanning a random story in the middle and blurted, “You can’t read it yet!”

“When can we?” my 10 year old daughter asked.

I mumbled a few ages: “18? 12?” then changed the subject.

What About When the Rest of the Family Reads It? Launch month (yes, it’s arrived!) represents the turning point when the book ceases to belong to the author. Others will read it, form their own relationships with it and, it is hoped, take the stories into their hearts. I’m used to this wrenching, this letting go. I’m even used to (sorta) my parents reading my stuff. My mom read my first book in a day then called me in tears. My dad hasn’t spoken about it, but I’m assured that he’s read it.

My children are another matter. The thought of them reading my book adds a new level of feeling exposed, as if I’m revealing something intimate and adult about  a world I might protect them from otherwise. I do write for adults, though some of my characters aren’t much older than my daughters. The stories are complex and resemble the kinds of stories I might offer to them in glimpses in our conversations.

How Do Memoirists Handle This Conundrum? This week I went to my first Graphic Novel Book Club at Epic Books. The book we discussed, Calling Dr. Laura, by Nicole J. Georges is a graphic memoir about a woman coming out to her mother after finding out a secret about her “dead” father. We discussed whether Nicole Georges would have shown the book to her mother. Hard to say. But I admire Georges’ fearlessness in creating it, and her vulnerability, both necessary qualities when writing memoir. Fiction, too.

What Would Alice Munro Do? Alice Munro once wrote: “A child’s illness, relatives coming to stay, a pile-up of unavoidable household jobs, can swallow a work-in-progress as surely as a power failure used to destroy a piece of work in the computer.”

While I don’t tend to write when my children are around, my writing has shadowed their lives since they were wee. My choices first to return to teaching after motherhood then to leave my teaching job altogether have informed how and when I write, but this book is proof that motherhood hasn’t derailed my writing. Quite the opposite.

Why should I feel awkward about my children reading my stories? They’re sophisticated consumers of story. They would ask about what they couldn’t understand.

Would I give my daughters this book if another writer had written it? No, not yet. Soon. And that time is coming fast.

What I’m Into These Days: Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt (esp. episodes featuring Tina Fey); Sopranos rewatch; graphic novels; Sparkling Water; exploring my city on my bike; contemplating quitting sugar; A Tribe Called Red.

Found Objects and Launches

Buy More Art

This week I visited some neighbours’ studios on a local artists’ tour and found the above sign propped on the kitchen counter at a house around the corner from me. My mom bought me a resonant work of art made of found objects (including linoleum from the city where I went to university). We would have bought much more art if we could have. My 8-year-old daughter has committed herself to saving up to buy art and was inspired to make this piece out of Battleship pieces, paper clips, earrings and buttons. (Oh, and a piece of wood which may or may not be part of our disassembled sauna):



The weeks leading up to a book’s launch into the world can be heady and weird. Suddenly people are talking about your book instead of wondering why you never leave the house or answer the door during the day. Smells Like Heaven is lucky to have two launches on the horizon: one in Hamilton, the city I now call home, and one in Toronto where I lived and worked for over a decade. The Hamilton launch takes place on June 20. Here’s a poster for the Toronto launch:

Another Story SLHposterforweb

Speaking of launches, our magazine Hamilton Review of Books has not only just released its second issue but is hosting a panel and fundraiser next week called “It’s Great and I Like It.” Why are we fundraising? So we can pay our writers! Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 12.57.49 PM.png