Michael Christie on the fears that wake him up at night
Michael Christie's sophomore novel, If I Fall, If I Die, follows a young man's first steps in the world after spending years indoors with his agoraphobic mother. Christie's novel is one of 17 Canadian books longlisted for the International DUBLIN Literary Prize, a prestigious annual award worth €100,000 ($141,840.00 Cdn).
Below, Michael Christie answers eight questions submitted by eight of his fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.
1. Gail Anderson-Dargatz asks, "What irrational (or rational) fears about your writing life wake you at 2:30 in the morning? Do those fears dog you in the day or disappear in the light? How do you come to terms with them so you can write?"
Lately my 2:30 a.m. fears are mostly climate change related, intermixed with despair concerning the imperiled future of things like quality public education and inclusive and reasonable democracy. I guess what I'm saying is this: Who cares about my stupid writing life! I'm worried about my actual life and the actual lives of my fellow humans. Clean water, well-paid teachers, small class sizes, affordable college and university tuition, sensible political discourse, meaningful employment and an Arctic teeming with polar bears — these are things to lose sleep over.
2. Nazneen Sheikh asks, "Do you have set writing hours?"
These days, out of necessity, my writing is confined to daytime hours while my kids are in school. Sometimes I'll edit at night if things are ripping along particularly well, but usually I'm too exhausted.
3. Jo Walton asks, "What time of year is best for your creative productivity — summer or winter?"
Fall always gives me a bit of a creative boost. And by "boost" I suppose I mean this sharp, somewhat painful stab of realization that always comes around September 1: "What the hell have I been doing all summer just laying around? I'm wasting my life!"
4. 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?"
I played in some informal bands in the late 1990s early 2000s, and I've always been an avid music fan. But whenever I've tried to record anything I become overwhelmed by the unlimitedness of music production and songwriting: "Why put this effect on this track and not on that one?" "Why choose this vocal take over another?" I was utterly paralyzed. But it would be fun to be a musician, less solitary than writing, more physical. Though I always tried to tell stories with my songs, which begged the following question from a friend of mine, a much better musician than I: "Why don't you just tell stories?"
5. JJ Lee asks, "If you had to write a country song right now, what would the chorus be?"
As mentioned above, I'm no songwriter, so I think I'll pass on this one. Besides, nothing could ever compete with Loretta Lynn's incredible "Don't come home a-drinkin', with lovin' on your mind" or the entirety of Dolly Parton's "Jolene," surely the saddest song ever written.
6. Douglas Coupland asks, "Sometimes when I'm on deadline, I'll check into a hotel and not have my cell phone or anything and do what has to be done. That's my way of finding seclusion and writing a book. What's yours?"
This "finding seclusion" stuff is so tricky, and so inexorably bound up with class, in my opinion. I've never had the discretionary resources to check into a hotel just to do some writing, and the thought of justifying that expense to my wife, while we waffle over whether to pay for swim lessons for our kids or to just try to teach them ourselves, is pretty much unthinkable. Despite our various limitations, however, it is true that we writers must find ways to carve out the mental (and sometimes physical) space to work. My solution? Headphones. A good pair of headphones is the poor man's hotel room.
7. Eden Robinson asks, "How long is your mull time before you write?"
That's a really tough one. I don't really have much of a plan when I first stagger my way into a new writing project, so I guess I do my mulling (and, my wife would say, brooding) during the writing process itself rather than before. For me, the writing is the mulling.
8. Susan Juby asks, "What do you tell new writers about the economics of being a writer? Are you a hope-giver or a hope-dasher?"
To be honest, I expect the economic future for everyone to be pretty bleak, and this includes writers, even more particularly millennial writers. Add to that the precariousness of full-time work in general and the rise of unpaid contract writing jobs, and things don't look good. But who ever planned to get rich as a writer? How much money do we really need anyway? Life will always be a struggle. As a writer you probably won't earn a middle class living, and job security is nonexistent, but you'll be happier. So screw it. Learn to cook. Buy a transit pass or a bike. Appreciate cheap stuff like used books and used clothes and old movies from the library. Get a job you don't totally hate to pay the bills. Write like crazy.