Cataract City was highlighted at the 12th annual One Book One Brant last Sunday. This terrific event, hosted by the County of Brant Library, brought out eager readers from across Brantford and Brant County to listen to Craig Davidson talk about his novel and his writing process.
“Writing a story or a novel is kind of an act of faith”.
It is clear that Craig loves his craft, he loves to create stories that weave his own life experiences into fiction that engages readers. He strives to have fun while he is writing and appreciates the learning that takes place during the process. He told the audience that there are two kinds of writers: “the outliners vs. the seat of their pantsers”. He falls into the second group and drew the analogy of being on the beach with a view of an island, the island being the ending. He likes to set out in a boat, be buffeted by the wind, ride the currents, see buoys along the way and eventually find his way to the island. He enjoys capturing the spontaneity while he is writing.
Craig finds that knowing the setting provides a sense of calmness and zen. He likes to set his novels in communities that he knows and often describes the Golden Horseshoe area including St. Catharine’s, Thorold, Welland and Niagara Falls. Although he grew up living in many cities, he feels that he spent his coming of age years in St. Catharines where his family still resides – in fact, the title of his 5th book is Sarah Court which was where he lived. He traveled after high school and never imagined he would write about St. Catharines but discovered that “interesting things were happening right under my feet”. He noted that when you know a place it can “form a hub for other aspects of the narrative to rotate around”.
It makes it easier to write when you know the “key details like the taste of the water of the falls”. You “know it because you have lived it” and told the audience how he had experienced a time when a serial killer had been captured in a park that he had played in as a child which has been braided into a story. He does not tend to take notes but “packages up details like a squirrel gathering nuts for winter” and his writing becomes a “chronicle of your own history or past transposed into your characters”. With fiction, he can change the reality of a setting to suit the story. He told the audience that he felt that Cataract City had been “a love letter to Niagara Falls”.
“Aspects of my life have very much influence on my fiction and are a part of my fiction”.
He spoke about happiness and asked “who wants to be happy all the time”? He would find that “some kind of hell” as you really “can’t know the sweet unless you have tasted the bitter”. His stories may not include a redemptive ending but he feels that he needs “to grapple with the thorny bits”.
“Fiction is about twisting reality a lot of the time”.
While the setting might be a touchstone, the “people are the clay”, the “part of what you mold into your book”. He uses his own experiences and feels that “the memories as children or teenagers are some of the most resonant we have”. He spoke about his experience working at Mainland – which is not in a book yet but is material that is just waiting as writing can be a “chronicle of your own history transposed into your characters”. He admits that the people who are closest to you “end up creeping into your work” and his own mother has questioned whether a character is modelled after her.
He shares that “your own life is important” in writing and that experiences and “moments that linger in our memories” can end up in books. He expressed that he has felt joy, deep disappointment, regret, guilt, been heartbroken and been terrified and he “pulls some of these moments” into his writing so that it is “less like making something up, more like you are remembering”. He feels that he “synthesizes” experiences from his own life and calls it “deep remembering”.
Craig was open to questions and shared that he got the “writing bug” in highschool ending up finishing a Masters at the University of New Brunswick. He started to send out stories and for “3 years straight, got nothing but rejections” yet he kept at it, stating that you need to develop a “pretty leathery skin” as writers are going to be rejected. Through rejection, he learned and improved.
He shared that you don’t become a writer to make money but do it “because you love it”. He has spent time as a librarian and as a bus driver (see the post on Craig Davidson at the Grimsby Author Series speaking about his memoir Precious Cargo). He is thankful for his alter ego Nick Cutter who pays the bills and keeps the light on.
I was able to ask about his actual writing process and where he likes to write. He strives to write 500 to 1000 words each day and on a good day 2000-3000 words. He likes waking up, grabbing a coffee and getting right at it so he can finish by noon. He can write anywhere and feels that he writes best when he is also doing a lot of reading – selective reading. He was asked about writers block and said that sometimes his inspiration has been “the landlord kicking down the door” and that the most important thing is to keep your “butt in the chair”. He suggests pushing through when you feel like quitting and writing your thoughts down in rough. He tends to put away finished work for a couple of months before coming back and editing.
He grew up reading horror and stated that Stephen King is his favourite author. He has “enormous respect and admiration for him”. He also appreciates Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Clive Barker, Tom Jones and Leonard Gardner.
One Book, One Brant was a terrific event. Craig was very open sharing his writing process and opted not to do a reading. I really appreciated the time he spent answering questions and did not miss the reading since I learned some great advice for my future writing. Although I have not finished Cataract City, I do have a signed copy and this novel remains in my TBR pile!