Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Why Kevin Hardcastle wants to be remembered as a 'damn good writer'

The 2018 CBC Short Story Prize juror answers eight questions from eight fellow authors.
Kevin Hardcastle's debut novel is called In The Cage. (Biblioasis/Katrina Afonso)

Kevin Hardcastle is a writer on the rise. He was named by CBC Books as a writer to watch in 2017, won the Trillium Book Award in 2016 and the 2017 ReLit Award for short fiction for his short story collection Debris. His debut novel, In the Cage, came out earlier this year.

Hardcastle is currently a juror for the 2018 CBC Short Story Prize alongside Eden Robinson and Heather O'Neill.

We asked Hardcastle to take the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answer eight questions from eight of his fellow authors.

1. Kim Thùy asks, "Have you ever fallen in love with a character from your own book?"

It would be pretty hard for me to do that in an exclusive way, given what I put them through most of the time. But I will say that I have loved parts of characters — and what they do and feel — which makes it sting all the more when they are set upon by whatever they've got fated in the course of the narrative. I would say that Sarah, however, from In the Cage, show equal parts toughness and sensitivity, and it is hard not to care for her deeply.

2. Alison Pick asks, "How would you most like to be remembered?"

I would like to be remembered as a damn good writer, and as a writer that understood and cared about craft most of all. If I can do that, then I'm a writer that people could rely on for good work and good stories, especially if you put your heart into them, which is what I try to do with every word. I would like that to extend to who I am outside the writing too, if that's possible to separate out. As a person who showed heart in their actions, who did the best I could and fought as hard as I could for the people and things that I held close.

3. Johanna Skibsrud asks, "What non-literary inspirations inform your work?"

I am often influenced by other arts but when it comes to literature, often even more. I always write to music, and many of my sensibilities have been informed by that music. I admire the narrative drive and the storytelling of artists like Drive-By Truckers, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash. My most significant artistic influence was and will always be Nirvana, whose approach and energy changed the way I thought about art entirely, and meant the most to me at a formative time. I also have learned much from film, and the way that you might see a story visually as you write it. Lastly, much of the aesthetic of my work is informed from physical work, such as training in Muay Thai, where I learned, in a very pointed way, how to dismiss your ego and put in your hours and your reps, work on form and dynamic movement, and understand that there is no magic to art that doesn't come from working almost obsessively on your skills and honing your tools over and over.

4. Tomson Highway asks, "Do you ever get jealous of other writers? If so, why?"

I wouldn't say that I get jealous, but I do often see some writers have success where I'd like to, and then I try to figure out how I can get there as well. For the actual writing, I greatly admire some brilliant writers and their work, such as Alistair MacLeod or Cormac McCarthy. But I wouldn't say that I'm jealous of their great skill, as that can end up hamstringing you and might stop you from trying to see how you might learn from better writers. I try not to cut myself off from the possibility of improving as a writer, and potentially getting to that level, by internalizing the best lessons of the finest authors and taking that as a challenge to become better.

5. Linwood Barclay asks, "Does writing get easier the more you do it, or more difficult because you don't want to repeat yourself?"

I find that I have settled into my voice and style more comfortably with practice and that I am still trying to develop that until it is a good as it can possibly be. I feel like I'm going to be that guy for awhile, which some reviewers have mentioned, who writes about what I write about and focuses in tight on certain things that I think matter the most. That might not be varied enough for some readers, but, whatever I write, I want it to be good more than I want to experiment in new forms or be different just for the sake of it.

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

The hardest thing about being a writer is getting to eat and pay rent while I'm doing it. If you've been through enough of that, you tend not to overcomplicate or create mysteries about the job of writing. That kind of difficulty can drive you to take advantage of the opportunities and the time you have to write, but I'd be happy to be confident I know where my next meal is coming from and put that out of my mind while I work.

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

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, I haven't had to research a great deal for the first two books I've written, at least not in an academic way, other than the standard research about sawed-off shotguns and lockpicking and Kevlar, you know, the regular things. Much of the material, and the details of it, come from my life experience, and places and people that I know the look and feel of in a very practical way. It's not always necessary or advisable, but, for example, it makes more linear to write about the miseries and peculiarities of selling gas and power contracts throughout northern Alberta when you have done it, just as it make it more linear to write about having a maxillary fracture and knowing all of the particular sensations that come with it because you have had one from having your face broken in sparring.

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

I'm not a believer in writer's block, and I think that's a dangerous game to play if you start to buy into that as the reason you aren't writing. But, I have had times where ideas and materials are coming less readily to me. I've always navigated it by thinking of characters and atmosphere and tone before plot, before constructing an entire world. If I can locate the right character, or feeling, or driving force behind a narrative, I can often build on that. I would suggest that a writer always be reading or watching stories, listening to music and lyrics, observing how people behave and thinking on why they do what they do. You can see a person, out there in the wild, do one thing, one little thing, and get a story out of all of the ingredients that might have gone into that person doing that little thing.

Kevin Hardcastle's comments have been edited and condensed.