Saturday, August 20, 2022

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Cian Cruise

Cian Cruise has a degree in film studies and philosophy, and works as a freelance writer, strategist, and consultant. Dad Bod is his first book of essays. His cultural criticism has appeared in Hazlitt, Maisonneuve, Playboy, Vulture, and Little Brother Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @CianCruise. Cian lives in Almonte, Ontario, with his family.
Image Credit: Jennifer Snider Cruise
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
More than anything else, Dad Bod taught me to let go of perfectionism. I wrote it under a fairly tight deadline, while working full time, moving out of Toronto, and taking care of my son (we had little childcare due to the pandemic). I accepted those constraints and attempted to write something that mirrored those circumstances: a lack of control, melange of intersecting influences, and exceedingly limited bandwidth. It was freeing. This feels very different from my previous work, in both fiction and non-fiction, which was often characterized by tighter reins.

2 - How did you come to non-fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or fiction?
Luck of the draw. I've been working in both fiction and non-fiction for as long as I've been publishing, and continue to oscillate between those two registers. The fact that my first book is non-fiction largely stems from having a better pitch for Dad Bod than for the novels I'm working on, and the material connecting with my editor.

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?
Getting started is the fun part, for me. I love looking at a blank page and covering it with scrawl. The first draft is probably my favourite part of the creative process, sometimes too much fun, because revision can be extremely difficult when I carve too deep a pathway the first time through those unknown woods. Especially in non-fiction, where I tend to write to fill a somewhat pre-determined thesis-emotion-structure, and each aspect of the weave feels load bearing to the greater whole. That means I often approach revision like a web, tugging on each change to see what elements it affects within the piece. It's something I'm always trying to wrap my head around, and understand deeper, to be able to revise in a more intentional way.

4 - Where does a work of prose 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 all begins from a single skeleton key something-or-other. Often it's a sentence, or the title. Or the juxtaposition between the two. Or, in fiction, a particular scene. If it's the right skeleton key, then it unlocks everything. Everything falls out of that one key moment (or sentence, or paradox, or what have you) and as long as I can carry that in my heart/mind as I work on the piece then I know I won't go too far afield, and I'll also know when it's done because that thing will be exhausted, captured alive, articulated, transcended, or transformed. When that key feels like it fits many, many locks at once — too many that I can't explicitly contain them, that's when I know I'm working on a "book" from the very beginning.  

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I do enjoy readings, since my first love of writing is fun wordplay and ripping yarns and the momentum of the spell that carries you through a work of prose. Public readings feel like a chance for a writer to experience that feedback loop firsthand with their audience, rather than having to imagine it from your garret. I also really want people to be entertained and engaged with my writing, and readings helped me understand (especially when I was starting out) what worked, what didn't, and how absolutely incorrect my assumptions could be about which was which.

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?

This question honestly stumps me. I entertain plenty of theoretical scaffolding within my work, but I don't feel comfortable explicating the theoretical concerns behind my own writing. That feels a bit like trying to bite my own teeth. As far as the questions I'm trying to answer with my work, it's different for each project. With Dad Bod the question was something like, "Can I take a profoundly ridiculous conceit and turn it into something meaningful, while having fun along the way?" Sort of a self-parody that simultaneously stretches towards authenticity.   

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

To make books people will actually read. To hurt people in interesting ways. To co-create hallucinations. Not necessarily in that order.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Ha. Definitely both, now that I've had the luck of working with some really outstanding editors. Difficult to stretch yourself after you've already put everything you had into something, essential to pull you past your own limitations.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Keep going.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (nonfiction to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
Not easy at all. I write non-fiction because criticism is a big part of who I am and how I understand myself in the world. I'm pretty sure the first decade of cultural criticism I wrote was basically an oblique defense of my own inchoate storytelling aesthetic, told through dissection of all the narrative art that shaped me. I write fiction because I have these stories clanging around in my mind, and I want to see them out in the world. I want stories *like these* to be real. I want to contribute to the existing pile of stories, rather than only analyze. So the two registers fuel each other, in my spirit, but that does not necessarily mean that the development of craft in either genre supports the other, despite them both being prose. The appeal would be if I could manifest the critical awareness gained in non-fiction to produce better fiction. Fingers crossed.

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?
When I have one, it's to write in the morning, edit in the afternoon. Nowadays, a typical day begins with a toddler deciding that breakfast is 5:45am, so I punch it in a lot more at night, which is rank chaos.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Books. Usually ones that share nothing in common with what I'm trying to do. Or walks. Or conversation with a few close friends.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Freshwater lake rot. I grew up where the St. Lawrence River joins Lake Ontario, so nothing hits my olfactory quite like the admixture of algae, fish decay, and the tang of ozone.  

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?
Film, television, and video games have played a major impact on my development as a writer, in part because I've written about them so damned much, but in part because I've been so ensconced within the visual metaphors and vocabulary of those media so often, for so long, especially as a child, that they helped form my fundamental creative imaginary. My creative metaphysic, as it were, was shaped by narrative visual art at least as much by literature. That bleed is very fun and also very hard to harness appropriately, since so much of what sings in one medium would be left on the cutting room floor of another.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
As far as informing my approach to non-fiction: Sheila Heti, Dave Hickey, Geoff Dyer, Joan Didion, Robert Louis Stevenson, Lin Yutang, Anne Carson, Steven Erikson, Alan Watts, Zhou Zuoren, and Mary Beard. At least, that's who I can see on the bookshelf across from me right now.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Publish a novel.

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?
Maybe a historian, if I could grow bushy enough eyebrows.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I love writing and I am absolutely miserable when I don't write.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Jurassic Park, just crackerjack. Locke.

20 - What are you currently working on?
The audiobook narration for Dad Bod and a fantasy novel.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

No comments: