Magic 8 Q&A

Why Craig Davidson doesn't let criticism get to him

The author of the memoir Precious Cargo answers eight questions from eight fellow authors.
Craig Davidson is the author of the memoir Precious Cargo. (Kevin Kelly)

Craig Davidson knows what it means to be a passenger on your own bus. His memoir Precious Cargo is about the year he spent driving a school bus for a group of students with special needs, and the lessons they taught him along the way. 

Precious Cargo will be defended by Greg Johnson on Canada Reads 2018.

Below, Davidson takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight questions from eight fellow writers.

1. Greg Hollingshead asks, "What role does self-doubt play in your life as a writer?"

That's kind of like asking a fish, "What role does water play in your life?" It's pretty much the element most of us are born into, or if not, we quickly inherit it when our first works come out and we face criticism. Rare is the writer who doesn't face it, and some of those who don't probably ought to. I just take it as a regular part of the gig, same way a mechanic knows he's going to get grease under his nails. 

2. Drew Hayden Taylor asks, "Which comes first, the title or the book?"

I'm terrible with titles, so if I'm lucky one springs up while I'm writing. "Cataract City" is the nickname of Niagara Falls, so I just stole that. "Precious Cargo" is the legal definition of what bus drivers transport, so I stole that too. Maybe I'll be lucky enough to steal all future titles.

3. Shani Mootoo asks, "What was the best surprise you had in the process of writing your latest published book?"

That would be a book under my pen name, Nick Cutter. Best surprise was probably a blurb from Robert R. McCammon. He's one of my all-time favourite writers, so it was a stroke of enormous luck.

4. Kim Thùy asks, "If you had to choose, would you prefer one extremely successful book or many much smaller successes?"

Hmm, good question, one I'm sure we all ask ourselves. The one-book success is probably what I'd go for. The Eminem mic-drop moment, just walk off the stage and say: "I'm done — unless I want to write more, the option of which is now firmly in my court." At that point you'd write because you want to, not because you need the money or were still chasing that elusive success. In the end, most of us would be lucky to attain the latter, which is perhaps even harder because it means you've hung in the game through various slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

5. Nazneen Sheikh asks, "Do your books continue to surprise you? Do you catch yourself saying, Who the hell wrote this book?"

I suppose sometimes, yes, but more and more it's becoming a situation where I feel nobody but me could've written it. I have my style, my obsessions, my place where I set everything, all of which seem about as unique to me as my own fingerprints. Which is good and bad — once you've been writing long enough, you tend to have your tactics and tricks and methods of approach, which, even if you wanted to, can be tough to break from. At least that's how it feels to me.

6. Shilpi Somaya Gowda asks, "Do you ever get stuck creatively? If so, what do you do to get your creative juices flowing again?"

Not really. I have books I finish and don't much like, but I finish them. They don't see publication in that state, if at all, or sometimes I pillage them for those few elements that worked and put those gears in the engine of another book in hopes they mesh better, but generally I just plow through to the conclusion of a given project, assess, occasionally despair, then get back on ye olde horse and ride again.

7. Michael Winter asks, "Do you have a window you can see out of when you write or do you purposefully write up against a blank wall?"

I have a window to my left right now as I write this, but it's got blinds on it and it's a grey day out. On nicer days I'll look out from time to time, see what my neighbour's up to, Rear Window-style. I write facing a wall festooned with notes, actually, and some photos of my son.

8. Lawrence Hill asks, "If you could start your life all over again and writing were not an option, what work would you most love to do?"

I don't know, a fishing guide? I say so having lived in a big city the past six years — maybe I'm pining a bit for wide-open spaces. Could be that's just a passing fancy.

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