Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Why Cynthia Flood believes too much revision can be a bad thing

The author of What Can You Do takes our Magic 8 Q&A and answers 8 questions from 8 fellow writers.
Cynthia Flood is the author of short story collection What Can You Do. (Imaging by Marlis)

The prose of short story writer Cynthia Flood is sharp, minimalist and concise. Her 2013 collection Red Girl Rat Boy was shortlisted for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. Her latest book, What Can You Do, is a collection of 12 short stories that features flawed characters who are emotionally broken and adrift. 

We asked Flood to take the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answer eight questions submitted by eight of her fellow writers in the .

1. Scaachi Koul asks, "What question do you hate being asked about your career or writing? Why?"

I hate being asked why I chose to be a writer, because choice wasn't involved. If I didn't write, life felt awful. However, as a single parent I worked full-time, so for years fiction got fitted in around the edges. After I retired, things opened up.

2. Trevor Cole asks, "How do you decide what to write about next?'"

Sometimes a scene or event or image just arrives, or I page through notebooks, overhear something at the beach, remember a person seen in an office long ago. A few times I've awakened to find a story in my head, as if a dream told me to wake up to meet it.

3. Barbara Gowdy asks, "How old were you when you knew you would try to become a professional writer?"

Twenty-three. I was walking home to an apartment in Queens, very late, in moonlight, and the understanding arrived.

4. Alexi Zentner asks, "What's your worst writing habit?"

Too much revision. Sometimes I've lost possibly good work by going over and over it like a dog with a bone till nothing good is left. I've worn it out.

5. Anthony Bidulka asks, "Have there been moments in your career, early or late, when you doubted yourself as a writer?"

Yes. This still happens when I admire another present-day writer and feel inferior. Doubt? Despair, more like. What's the point of going on? I'll never be that good. I have no problem admiring and loving the work of dead writers.

6.  Melanie Mah asks, "What's the hardest thing about writing/being a writer?"

When I've done everything I can think of to a story draft and must accept the fact that I haven't, at present, the skill to write it — that's hard, especially if chunks of the draft are really good.

7.  Billie Livingston asks, "What's the most peculiar thing you've done in order to research a story?"

For a story about a small leopard who escaped from her cage into a suburban neighbourhood, one night I crawled along the ground by a back fence near where she found herself free. Dogs began barking. Someone opened a back door to see what was up, so I crawled to a Douglas fir and hid behind it till the person went back inside. The cat, of course, climbed the tree.

8. Saleema Nawaz asks, "What do you do when the writing is going badly, or not going at all?"

Sometimes I can walk the horrible feeling off, if I go far enough into Stanley Park that I must make a decision about each step — fill up consciousness. Or I'll sort things, throw stuff out, re-arrange furniture. Then walk again. I don't read, except newspapers, et cetera. Completed books just make me feel worse, no matter their genre. Eventually, change happens.