Cordelia Strube on what her family thinks of her writing
Cordelia Strube is known for her novels about families struggling with crisis and chaos. Her latest novel, On the Shores of Darkness, There Is Light, follows a young girl who is making plans to run away because her mixed-media art horrifies the adults in her life.
Below, Cordelia Strube answers eight questions submitted by eight of her fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.
1. Lynn Coady asks, "Is there a poet, philosopher, musician, painter or any other type of artist outside the world of fiction who has inspired your work in a concrete way at some point or another? If so, who?"
J.S. Bach every day, because he never fails to remind me that it's all just work, that you keep at it, year after year, and sometimes, frequently in his case, you produce something that rejuvenates the human spirit.
2. Kate Pullinger asks, "Do you pay attention to the opinions of your family — parents, spouse, siblings, children, etc. — when it comes to your writing, both in terms of what you write about, but also how you write?"
I don't pay attention to anybody's opinions while I write. It would stop me writing. Once I've finished a first draft, my partner and daughter read it. Their feedback is crucial — they don't pull any punches — and their input fuels me to go back in to the novel. The rest of my family (I have five siblings) rarely comment on my novels. I have a Scientologist brother who became astoundingly hostile when he read about a character in The Barking Dog being ripped off by Scientology. One of my sisters, when she read Alex & Zee, said to me, "I had no idea you were so sad," missing the point of the book which is that life is messy, despite the occasional blast of jubilation, and you just get on with it. My eldest brother is a good friend and always reads and sometimes buys my books, even though he would prefer to read V.S. Naipaul. I dedicated Dr. Kalbfleisch and the Chicken Restaurant to him.
My mother makes a valiant effort to understand my fiction but she'd rather share a cup of tea with Alistair MacLeod. I dedicated Teaching Pigs To Sing to her because I love her, not because I thought she'd love the book. Before he died, my father — never loose with praise where his children were concerned — recognized that the dying man in my play Mortal was based on him and told me I'd made him "a star." I like to think this was a sign of approval. Now I dedicate my novels to my daughter because she's my biggest fan, as I am hers.
3. Todd Babiak asks, "Do you want to change anything with your writing? Or do you simply want to entertain and stimulate as many people as possible?"
I want to change the world. And entertain and stimulate as many people as possible while I'm at it. I've written nine novels and numerous plays and the world has not changed. Lots of work ahead.
4. Sharon Butala asks, "What do you think of the age-old notion that the best writing comes out of a life led outside the bourgeoisie, where so-called "rules" of normal middle-class life are deliberately broken and impulse is your guide, rather than duty or convention?"
Good writing comes from everywhere. Tolstoy was an aristocrat, Evelyn Waugh upper class, as was Virginia Woolf. Graham Greene was upper middle class, the list goes on. Writers are classless, driven to write because their world is driving them nuts. They try to make sense of it, create some kind of coherence out of the chaos, by writing it down. Rich or poor we're all inside cages, often of our own making.
5. Helen Humphreys asks, "Which of your books is your favourite?"
They're all very alive to me. Picking a favourite might hurt their feelings.
6. Timothy Taylor asks, "Are video games good for children?"
I'm not familiar with video games other than, in many of them, annihilation is involved. The good guys and bad guys kill each other. I don't believe in good guys and bad guys; I think we're all capable of committing both generous and horrific acts. To me real life is not black and white but blurred. Encouraging children to believe that problems can be solved by blowing somebody up seems reckless in a world redolent with violence. It's also questionable whether staring at a screen for extended periods of time is good for anyone's sanity.
7. Sharon Butala asks, "Do you ever feel trapped by your writing life and wish you could escape?"
Most days I feel trapped by my writing life and wish I could escape. The hitch is I don't know where to escape to. On a good day at the keyboard, I experience the "unbearable lightness of being" because I think I might have written something that works. The next day there's a good chance those same words will sag on the page. I am plagued with doubt, and veer dangerously towards self-loathing. I keep at it because writing is the only gig for which I've received consistent recognition. I've been doing it, in some form or other, for 20 years. Somebody out there likes me. Also (and this makes my nearest and dearest worry about my mental health) my characters are my friends. I love them, need them. They make me laugh and cry. Without them I'm just, well, me.
8. Drew Hayden Taylor asks, "Other than writing novels, what other art form (i.e. plays, movies, music, visual art) do you wish you possessed or had a better grasp of?"
All of them, and brain surgery too. I am alarmingly limited in my grasp of things