Craig Francis Power is an artist and writer from St. John’s Newfoundland. His first novel Blood Relatives was a finalist for the 2010 BMO Winterset Award, and won the 2011 ReLit Award.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
The first book really fucked up my shit. It wasn’t just the writing of it, the editing, the eventual publication and the tour itself, but a combination of these things, I guess. I was becoming a Writer, you know? Capital W. I began to introduce myself as a Writer, as opposed to a Waiter, or Dishwasher or whatever, so I guess that was a big change. Also, the knowledge that people I don’t know were reading it and judging me accordingly kinda made me want to hide away somewhere.
The newer work (which seems to be another novel at this point) is still putting itself together so it’s hard to really gauge what the differences might be. That said, it feels like a better book, but I’m sure everyone says that about their new work. But I do think it’s funnier at least.
2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I didn’t. I wrote poetry for a long time and generally was pretty shitty. I failed utterly. Fiction, for me, is a bit of a cop out. And to be honest, comic books were really where it was at for me growing up. So maybe I’m saying after all that I came to fiction first. But it was comics all the way. I wrote and drew my own. Super hero stuff, but then bizarre comics about ghosts or dogs or seafaring vessels or the Barba-Papas et cetera.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It’s fast at first, but it varies of course on how much time I put in at a day job. And most of my stuff just comes out blah blah right away. I tend to edit as I go, you know: writing a couple of paragraphs and reading and rereading them and fixing them as I go and then it’s on to the next bit. I hate writing drafts but am also resigned to the fact that if I want my writing to not suck, I’ll need to go through some revisions.
4 - Where does fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
It often begins in dialogue or short scenes that stitch together more or less. I never really seem to know where the hell I’m going with something. I don’t really do plot or whatever. The whole thing just kinda reveals itself to me over time, I guess. Like last time I was pretty sure it was a collection of short stories I was doing, but my pal and mentor at the Banff Centre, Curtis Gillespie was like, No way, you’ve got a novel here.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Public readings are vital, but this is not meant to suggest I enjoy them. In fact, before readings or what have you, I usually have myself a good puke somewhere before going on. Someone recently mentioned there may be medication for this, but I haven’t investigated, and further, not to sound all bulimic about it, but puking before a public read really helps my nerves.
Also, the best part of reading in public is not the actual reading, but, and I allow for this whenever possible, the Q&A session which sometimes follows. I find the conversation after a reading to be way more fun for everyone involved, whereas sometimes when I read at a place where that doesn’t happen I just feel like I’ve filled out some DMV form or something. I’ve checked off the boxes and can just go have a beer at home now, thanks, good night, you know?
Otherwise, I like events wherein the writer or whomever gives a presentation on their cute cat photos or something unrelated to whatever book they’re trying to push. There’s really a lot of room for experimentation that I enjoy.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
If by “theory” you’re referring to Literary Theory, then no, not really. I mean, I don’t really know anything about it. If I’m interested in falling asleep I’ll read that stuff because it’s just like reading the phone book or something. It’s just a bunch of words strung together that don’t really seem to mean anything. I suppose it’s possible I’m just dumb, like, I’m missing something or whatever, some magic gene or something, but otherwise I’ve found that I’m interested in certain things having to do with narrative form, class and gender that speaks honestly about my experience of the world.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
The role of the writer in our society is to write ad copy or to work for the TV/film industry. As for what writers should be doing, you can be sure I have an opinion about it, but would prefer to let them figure it out for themselves.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
It depends on the editor, but my experience thus far has been pretty sweet. I like not feeling like I’m in it alone, yet I also feel a kind of crazy possessiveness over what I’m writing, of course. Like, Don’t tell me what to do, but also, Please please tell me what to do. What a blast.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Dee Snyder: Stay Hungry.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to visual art to arts writing)? What do you see as the appeal?
It’s sometimes a real struggle. It’s just a different kind of thinking between fiction and visual art, but I find arts writing to be like a vacation. It’s not that it’s easy to write about art, but so much criticism is so safe and dull and sometimes incomprehensible that it’s fun to write in opposition to that tradition if you know what I mean. I had a friend who’d gotten a gig for one of the national Canadian art magazines and she covered this big-shot dude who’s been around forever and in public, everyone just fawns over him while meanwhile, maybe in private, they don’t so much. So she had this dilemma because the show of his she went to see she thought was just a totally vacuous rehashing of his career repackaged as something new or whatever. I mean, she just hated it. But she obviously just couldn’t trash the guy because who the in the country would ever hire her again? That’s a good and challenging place to be as an art writer.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I do most of my writing at night, drunk out of my mind on cans of Labatt Blue.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I have one or two books that I always go back and re-read passages from to spark myself. Just as a kind of reminder of how varied and beautiful writing can be. That helps. Also, walks are good. I live in Newfoundland and while my writing has very little to do with natural wonder or what have you, you should check out these cliffs. Further, I’ve been accused by friends in the past of just willing to hang out with undesirables I’ve met in some random bar because I just want to see what’ll happen next, know what I mean? I find inspiration can come from just listening to some drunk taxi driver in some dive go on and on about the Habs. Somehow.
13 - What was your favourite Hallowe'en costume?
Two years ago my girlfriend and I dressed as a monkey bridal couple. Her, the groom, me in a wedding gown. We got these masks I think from the dollar store. The satin actually felt really nice and she wore a very handsome suit. Second place goes to Spider-Man circa 1982. My grandmother made the costume for me.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
All of the above.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I guess I’d have to say Noam Chomsky. My “intellectual” friends always chortle when I mention him, I suppose because he’s just so undergraduate or something. But whatever, his writing really changed the way I see the world.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Finish plastering and painting our bedroom.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
In grade six, my teacher Mr. Rick Slaney, enrolled me and a girl in my class in a two day workshop for kids who were adept with the English language. If I remember correctly, it was a pretty awful experience, but something definitely happened inside me. We were treated to reading “difficult” texts and so on. There was something about having to write sentences that made sense. Also, I began to notice boobs. These two events had a profound effect on my imagination.
But to be honest, what made me write had something to do with being more or less pissed off and bored with everything I’d been reading.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Gun Dogs by the poet James Langer. I’ve known this guy for a long time, but damn what a fine collection of poetry. Best film? Drive, starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan, which I just saw and despite my initial scepticism, have to admit, really nails it.
20 - What are you currently working on?
Novel Number Two. It’s about Lee Wulff, the real life American sports-fishing god and conservationist who had a hand in starting what now is the cultural tourism industry in Newfoundland.
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