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Buffy Cram takes the Magic 8

The surrealist SF author of Radio Belly fields questions from the Canadian literati on itinerant carpenters, adult-sized sippy cups and her favourite Beckett advice.

1. Lorna Crozier asks, “How did growing up with siblings (or without) affect your writing or your desire to be a writer?”
My brother and I grew up switching from our mom’s to our dad’s house every two weeks and the difference between these two households was quite drastic. We often found ourselves having to explain the world of our “other house” to our friends. So my first attempts at storytelling were collaborative; together we decided when to stick to the facts, when to exaggerate, when to be dramatic. I’m pretty sure this act of trying to bridge two worlds with story is what led me to become a writer. 

2. Timothy Taylor asks, “What do you think of prize culture in literature and what it’s done for good (and ill?) in the life of a typical writer?”
I won a few prizes when I was just starting to get published and this gave me confidence at a time when I really needed it. But when it comes to having a book in the world, I find focusing too much on prizes can get a writer down more than it can lift them up. There is a false notion out there that if a book is good, it will win prizes. The truth is sometimes great books get ignored and sometimes average books win big. It may be that reading is too subjective an act to measure accurately or it may be that prize culture in Canada is more political than we’d all like to think.

3. Todd Babiak asks, “If you had to stop writing, due to some fantastical calamity, what career would you pursue and why?’
I’d like to be one of those roaming carpenters in Germany. They arrive in a town wearing a certain corduroy uniform that is immediately recognizable to people. They get taken in, housed and fed, while they do whatever work needs doing. Then they’re on to the next town wearing their funny hats. That’s the life for me!

4. Sharon Butala asks, “What is the main question that you wish somebody would ask you, although nobody ever has?
I wish someone would ask me to tell my life story in haiku. I wish we would all ask this of each other on a daily basis. Think how much better we would know ourselves and each other.

5. Donna Morrissey asks, “What are the biggest hurdles to overcome in your personal life while you're creating a book?”
I find it hard to maintain a healthy social life while I’m deep in the act of writing. I tend to isolate and become a workaholic. I also find it hard to navigate the world of “things.” I bump into a lot of furniture and break a lot of glasses and dishes. Right now, for my own personal safety, I’m on the hunt for a nice adult-sized sippy cup.

6. Greg Hollingshead asks, “Auberon Waugh (by way of Randell Jarrell) has described the novel as a story that has something wrong with it. If you agree, do you think it’s because the novel is a difficult literary form to get right or because as a literary form it has something wrong with it? If so, why or what?”
I don’t think the novel has something wrong with it as a literary form, although I do notice a lot of stories get bogged down between the second and third acts. But I think from the point of view of a writer, any novel I ever write will have something wrong with it. It will never be the novel I set out to write. It will never live up to my highest hopes. The same thing happens in other creative disciplines too. The painter will never be able to paint the image exactly as it is in their mind. The sculptor will constantly be frustrated by the physical limitations of what they are trying to accomplish. For this reason I like Samuel Beckett’s advice to “fail better.” As a writer I’m resigned to the fact that I will always fail to capture the story as I first imagined it. My goal is to make peace with that failure, to accept the fact that I will always be trailing behind the story and it will always be getting away.

7. Gail Bowen asks, “If you could live in the world created by another writer, what fictional world would you choose, and why?”
I would love to inhabit the world as imagined by Dr. Seuss—an off-kilter, colourful world where everyone has comical hair and speaks in rhyme. 

8. Drew Hayden Taylor asks, “Do you think you or your books would have been successful, say... fifty or a hundred years ago? Or has the style of writing changed too much in the passing decades?”
Readers from a hundred years ago might feel as disconnected from my writing as I feel from the classics. When I read Proust, for example, I’m always waiting for something to happen. I want the narrator to stop sitting around eating madeleines, to get out of the house and do something. While I appreciate the writing, I grow impatient with the story. These days, writing is much more fast-paced and playful. Things happen. The world assaults characters at every turn. This is much more in synch with our modern world. A reader from a hundred years ago would likely find my writing too busy. They would probably long for my characters to sit down and reflect for a while on some dainty baked goods.

Buffy Cram's first collection of short fiction is Radio Belly. Her writing has appeared in Prairie Fire, The Bellevue Literary Review and Darwin’s Bastards: Stories From Tomorrow. She won a National Magazine Award for Best Student Writer in 2006, was a fiction finalist for the 2009 Western Magazine Award and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. 

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set count down final date: 11/01/2014
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