Michael Crummey on loss, death and campaigning for literary prizes
Acclaimed Newfoundland author Michael Crummey has had plenty of time to think about the writing process lately — as winner of the inaugural $50,000 Writers' Trust Fellowship, he's gotten the chance (we hope!) to relax and let the creativity flow.
Crummey's two most recent novels, Galore and Sweetland, were both shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction. His latest book is Little Dogs, a collection of selections from his first four books of poetry, as well as new material.
Below, Michael Crummey answers eight questions submitted by eight of his fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.
1. Andrew Pyper asks, "Do you ever worry that the whole practice of writing and reading, while enjoyable and perhaps gratifying, simply doesn't matter very much?"
I ask myself that question about everything in my life. Writing, reading, drinking, marriage, raising kids, NFL football, sex, laughter, French fries, chopping wood, carrying water, watching the stars. And the simple answer, in the grand scheme of things, is that none of it matters.
But the grand scheme isn't where we live. And the trick for me is to keep my head down (except when watching the stars) and make the most of what there is in front of me. And somehow that makes everything seem worth it (most of the time). Whatever you do, do it joyfully, as unto the Lord. Even if you're a dyed-in-the-wool atheist.
2. Donna Morrissey "How do you deal with daily life while you're in the middle of creating a book?"
I get up and do laundry. I drive kids to school or to work. I walk the dogs. I write for a while. I wash the dishes. I write for a while. I take a load of yard waste to the dump or mow the lawn or go for a coffee with my mother. I read. I write for a while. I try to calm Lisa Moore down (you'll be fine, the book will be great, you'll make your deadline, you'll be fine). I write for a while. I pick kids up from school or from work. I answer emails, I wash the dishes. I watch crap television with my wife, eating Kettle Brand salt and pepper chips and drinking a Sapporo. I thank my lucky stars. I go to bed. Repeat as often as necessary.
3. Charlotte Gill asks, "What is your kryptonite?"
Kettle Brand salt and pepper chips. With a side of Sapporo. Resistance is futile.
4. Sharon Butala asks, "Do you know how the heck we separate the writer-self from the writer's life, that is, the writing from the writer's person?"
I would like to invoke the Death of the Author clause here. Don't mind me, I'll be gone the once.
5. Zsuzsi Gartner asks, "What are you so afraid of?"
The fact that I'll be gone the once.
6. Kate Pullinger asks, "What relationship does your writing have to your own childhood, both in terms of where you grew up as well as whether or not you were a happy child?"
Feel like I answer this one a lot, so I'll try to be brief. Grew up in a dying mining town, next to Red Indian Lake (last refuge of the last of the Beothuk Indians before they became extinct), listening to my father talk about his early years working in the now defunct fishery in outport Newfoundland. What can I say? Loss is my only real subject.
7. Todd Babiak asks, "When literary prizes rely on audience participation, through social media, do you promote yourself in any way?"
No. Not so far anyway. Don't want to come across as judgmental here, cause God knows I've done my share of questionable self-promotion over the years. But there's something about campaigning to get people to "vote" for you or your book that makes me feel nauseous. The relationship between literary prizes and artistic merit is questionable at the best of times. When it comes down to who has more friends, or less compunction about badgering people, I'm out.
8.Helen Humphreys, "Which of your books is your favourite?"
Until I wrote Galore, I always said that a little book called Hard Light, which was published by Brick Books about fifteen years ago, was the best thing I'd ever written. Happy to have shifted my affections elsewhere, finally.