The Next Chapter·Q&A

Calgary author Natalie Sue revels in the humour of errant work emails and office rivalries in debut novel

The Calgary-based writer spoke to Ali Hassan about her novel, I Hope This Finds You Well.

The Calgary-based writer spoke to Ali Hassan about her novel, I Hope This Finds You Well

Portrait of an Iranian Canadian woman with wavy blonde hair.
Natalie Sue is the author of the workplace comedy novel, I Hope This Finds You Well. (Svetlana Yanova)
In Natalie Sue’s debut novel, the protagonist Jolene is sick of her corporate life. She’s been sending angry messages to colleagues hidden in emails. But when her secret is revealed, she’s forced to deal with the consequences.

From constant emails to coworker rivalries, the corporate world can be equal parts frustrating and entertaining. Such was the experience of Calgary writer Natalie Sue working in offices, which she fictionalized in her office comedy novel I Hope This Finds You Well.   

I Hope This Finds You Well by Natalie Sue. Illustrated book cover of an office cubicle and a water cooler station.
(HarperCollins Publishers)

I Hope This Finds You Well follows an anxious admin for Supershops, Inc., as she navigates a workplace of unsatisfactory colleagues. Jolene copes with the frustrations of her office job through passive aggressive messages in emails that are never meant to be seen. When she is caught and reprimanded, an IT mishap results in her having access to the confidential messages of her superiors. Can Jolene use this to the advantage of her career? 

Sue is a Calgary-based writer of Iranian and British descent. I Hope This Finds You Well is her debut novel.  

Sue spoke to The Next Chapter's Ali Hassan about her own love of office comedies.

I wanted to ask you what was your own experience with office culture?

When I was working in an office, I found that I was sort of stepping back and looking at it as an office anthropologist. I would be noticing the politicking that was going on and observing it from more of a comedic standpoint, maybe as a bit of a coping mechanism. 

I was sort of stepping back and looking at it as an office anthropologist.- Natalie Sue

A lot of things that I was observing were more of the universal: every office has the guy that walks around with a coffee and is looking to chat and the regular ways that people are acting when they're together with the fake niceties like, "I hope this finds you well," and if you have an enemy, you're sort of like, "per my last e-mail"... passive aggressive.

Those are fighting words when it comes to an office.

Tell me how Jolene, your protagonist, feels about her workplace

I think she's pretty isolated. She's leading a heartbreaking life in a lot of ways, I don't think she even realizes the extent of it. But I really wanted her to be someone that had a rulebook for the world and thoughts on how people, the world and her colleagues are and lots of judgments on them that getting this access to the emails would really pull the rug from under her in a way that would actually shake her world.

Jolene does have some mental health challenges before she even worked here. So office life can amplify a lot of that stuff. What are Jolene's struggles? 

When it came to crafting that part of her struggles I did want to address things that I had either had very personal experience with, just to leave authenticity to it. So I find when you're writing fiction, it's almost like you're making things up, but you have to be as honest as possible about it in a way.

And so for her, she struggles with anxiety, absolutely, which is something I've personally also experienced. She also struggles with depression and her coping mechanisms are just not healthy for any of it. 

I find when you're writing fiction, it's almost like you're making things up, but you have to be as honest as possible about it in a way.- Natalie Sue

There's another thing that people will connect with if they've been in the corporate world for long enough and that is the rivalry. Not just a general animosity, but competition for various positions. Jolene's definitely dealing with that. She is competing with a woman for a promotion. Tell me how she handles that competition. 

The fact that it's two women competing is something that I did debate because I personally find that women are generally supportive of each other in the office. So having another rival that was also one was a decision I made based on the fact that Caitlin, her antagonist, is such a driven person and she's true competition. She's also a true character foil for Jolene in that she represents a life that Jolene could have maybe had if she made different decisions.

Caitlin is also a great antagonist in that we come to learn that they both have serious reasons to kind of keep that job and so the only one of them being able to keep the job is an element that really amplifies it for both of them. 

I can't complete the interview without asking you if you're a fan of The Office, which I also like. 

Oh my goodness, yes! I've always loved office comedies and workplace comedies in general and it goes from like The Office and then Superstore is another one that I really love and I just love the ensemble of people that wouldn't normally spend their time together, working together.

I feel like there's just so much opportunity for humanity to seep into those moments. 

This interview has been edited for length.

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