canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

TDR Interview: Craig Davidson

Craig Davidson is the author of Rust and Bone, a new story collection of full of dog fighting, sex addicts, boxers and magicians. He is currently attending the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Given a chance to talk about the Calgary Flames, he said: "I HATE THE FLAMES! No, I shouldn’t say that: I hate Flames fans." Given a chance to be an insect, he'd be be an Africanized Honey Bee. Asked to describe his book he contemplated "It’s like A COMPLICATED KINDNESS, except with no Mennonites and plenty of dog fighting!", but in the end decided he'd "rather the book fall into the hands of people who might actually enjoy it." His blog:

Michael Bryson interviewed Davidson by email in December 2005.


Rust and Bone is your first short story collection, but not your first book. To start, could you give us a quick overview of the writing you've had published and how it may or may not relate to each other.

I started out writing horror fiction under a pseudonym. My first novel, THE PRESERVE, came out with a small press in Orlando called Necro ("The Home of Hardcore Horror!") a few years ago. I actually always thought I’d be a horror writer; I love Stephen King, Clive Barker, Robert R, McCammon, Joe R Lansdale. I cut my teeth on those guys. But then I got a few stories accepted in some Canadian journals, got an agent, she ran into Penguin’s editor at a cocktail party or something, sent him the manuscript and—very quickly it seemed—I wasn’t writing horror anymore. The switch has been wonderful, but I still have some pretty gruesome horror ideas floating around in my skullcase. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to go back to that side of things. Or go on a cross-country killing spree to purge those thoughts. Only time will tell.

Any idea who's buying Rust and Bone? Is it finding the audience you'd expected? If Rust and Bone were part of a family of like-minded books, what would those books be?

My very cynical answer would be, Not very many people. It’s a short story collection, and the old adage is, short story collections don’t sell. Of course, before your book comes out you always think you’ll be the one to buck that trend (oh, the arrogance!), but it seems, at the moment, RUST AND BONE may be added to that towering stack of short story collections that didn’t do so well. It was recently released here in the US, with a snazzy new cover and a nice cover blurb from Chuck Palahniuk, and it seems to be selling briskly here—oh, and by "briskly," I mean, in a more accurate sense, "poorly." I’m not sure why collections don’t sell that well; I read three or four a year. Not as many as I do novels, but still.

As to the if-you-like-so-and-so, you might like RUST AND BONE question: well, I think fans of Bret Easton Ellis, Palahniuk, Thom Jones, Irvine Welsh, you’d dig my book. It’s not for the squeamish, as several reviewers have pointed out. I’d like to lie and say it’s just like some recent Canadian best-sellers ("It’s like A COMPLICATED KINDNESS, except with no Mennonites and plenty of dog fighting!"), in a self-degrading attempt to boost sales, but I’d rather the book fall into the hands of people who might actually enjoy it and won’t write me nasty letters.

The TDR review of Rust and Bone argued that "stories in Rust and Bone rotate without exception around what it means to have power, not what it means to be without it -- the possible exception is the collection's final story, 'An Apprentice's Guide to Modern Magic.'" Any comment about that? Is that something you were conscious of during the writing process? or maybe you don't even agree with that assessment?

Of all the questions I’m asked regarding the book, the toughest ones to answer are those in which the questioner has glimpsed something in the text, and have formed an opinion as to my intents or overall thematic designs. Usually those opinions are formed under the assumption that I am this intelligent, thoughtful, self-aware person who knows exactly what he’s doing with his writing, his intents, and the effect he wants to get out of readers.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Quite honestly, I just sort of write a story. I want to have interesting characters, I want the plot to go somewhere, and I want it to satisfy and entertain—or perhaps shock or disgust or provoke. But when it comes to overarching themes, the sort of things that very skilled writers are able to instill in their work...if it’s there in mine, it’s basically a happy accident.

I am reminded of this one Simpson’s episode where Mr. Burns is dancing with a younger lady. They come off the dance floor and the young lady goes, "You were really shaking it out there!" And Burns goes, "Oh yes, that was totally voluntary!" The joke, of course, is that Burns is an old fogey and he’s shaking because he’s decrepit and palsied, not because he really wanted to be shaking. So when I get those sorts of questions my first instinct is to make myself look intelligent and deeply introspective—"Oh yes, that was totally voluntary!"—but the sad simple truth is, most of the interesting or interlinked theories people read into my stories are there by accident. Unless I’m subconsciously a genius, in which case I meant all of it.

Are the Flames for real? Can they get back to the Stanley Cup Finals? Will your next book be called The Red Mile?

You know, I’ll come off like a total crank and a bastard saying this, but...I HATE THE FLAMES! No, I shouldn’t say that: I hate Flames fans. Or, maybe I shouldn’t even go that far.

To explain: my apartment during that playoff run was just off 17th Avenue. The Red Mile. I was about a block and a half from the Melrose Bar: the epicenter of the Red Mile. For months I couldn’t string together two good nights’ sleep. Every second night, win or lose, moronic Flames fans—by which I mean, people so ignorant and self-absorbed they failed to recognize that, while it may be fun for them to drive up and down 17th like space monkeys on autopilot, honking their horns, it’s not so cool for those of us trying to sleep—these jerks plagued me. My whole apartment complex became afflicted: by the second and third playoff series we’d pass each other in the hallways like shambling zombies, our skin pasty and our eyes hollow from lack of sleep. The apartment had thin walls, and you started to hear cheers when the Flames lost: the horn-honking morons generally packed it in an hour early on those nights.

I mean, how is that supporting your team—driving up and down the block, honking your horn? Who is that helping? Did they think Miki Kiprusov needed those honks—was he like Hulk Hogan, did he thrive off the honks of all the little Kipruvov-a-maniacs, drawing strength from their idiotic displays of horn honkery? "You pathetic jobless freaks in your mom’s Durangoes keep honking your horns and eating your vitamins," sez the Kip-ster, "that way I’ll keep stopping those pucks."


See, you’ve opened an old wound. I’m afraid I need to let it bleed.

I wanted to sneak into the Flames’ dressing room and spike their Gatorade with muscle relaxants so they went out onto the ice all noodle-legged and got their asses handed to them. I wanted to wait with a crowbar at the mouth of some dark alley for Jarome Iginla to come by and go all Jeff Gillooly on his kneecaps. It’s awful, but that’s how I was feeling at the time. It was sort of miserable. At the time I was working at a junior high school and every morning it was smiles and high fives, "How about those Flames? How ‘bout ‘em?" But my co-workers lived in the suburbs—they didn’t have to put up with some drunk mumbling "Go Flames Go" into a steaming pile of his own vomit outside their bedroom window at 3 o’clock in the morning. And friends from out of town would call and be all, "Wow, that’s quite a run the Flames are having," and I’d be screaming like a loon about how much I hated the Flames and they’d be, "What a grump." I get grumpy when I can’t count on a good night’s sleep for two straight months.

I’ll tell you, by the end of it I was acting a bit irrational. I remember driving down McLeod Trail one day when they were playing the Lighting, the final series—by this time I was actively rooting for the Lightning—and I pulled up at a stoplight behind this car. It was a beat-up old Cavalier. It was festooned in all sort of Flames crap, the flags and shit. On the rear window was written something like, "Honk for the Flames—I can’t, I Honked my Horn so Much on the Red Mile I Broke It!!!" And I guess that car came to symbolize, in that moment, all the morons honking their horns and peeling their tires and acting like savages—a true and perfect manifestation of the Idiotic Flames Fan—and I just sort of lost it...well, I was pretty defeated by that point, so I didn’t lose it that bad. I had this muffin bottom in the car, I’d already eaten the top, and I unrolled the window and chucked the muffin bottom at the car. I mean, it was ridiculous—it bounced off the back window, the driver didn’t even notice—but anyway, that’s how pissed and irrational I’d become.

PS: Some researcher at the U of C was given some obscene amount of grant money to investigate the deep socio-scientific reasons as to why women were doffing their tops on the Red Mile with such abandon. I could give my take on it for free: They were drunk and people asked them to.

Currently, you're attending the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Mordecai Richler used to say that creative writing couldn't be taught. Presumably you're finding some value in the workshop setting. Any insights into what works well in writing workshops and what can go horribly, horribly wrong?

I might tend to agree with ole Mordecai on that. Mostly what these programs do is put you in a situation where, for 2 years, you can focus on writing. You are surrounded by budding writers, taught by writers, part of a big bubbling writing stew. Best case scenario, you have the time and willingness to make big strides with your writing—although I’m sure there will be people who graduate having accomplished very little. But I’ve always suspected those are the people who are in love with the idea of being a writer, the mystique of it, more than the nitty-gritty, nuts and bolts of writing.

As to what can go wrong...well, you need a thick skin. But I think that’s pretty much a prerequisite for being a writer—the ability to absorb huge gobs of criticism, wether fair or not—so it’s trial by fire: if you can’t take the criticism of your classmates, you might want to find another area of interest. And you have to realize that if there’s 12 people, say, in your class, and nobody digs your work, it might not matter. Look at it mathematically: there are what, almost 30 million people in Canada? If your book sells 50,000 copies, it would be considered a major success. So how much of the population, as a percentage, is that? I was an arts major, so I have no idea. But I know it’s a very small percentage. So if your stuff gets hammered in class, don’t necessarily pack it in. It might just be the wrong 12 people. On the other hand, your work might suck and you may want to consider topiary gardening instead. The unfortunate thing is, you can never really tell.

The tour, other writers, what's next? Another book on the way? If you were an insect, what sort of insect would you be, and why?

The tour’s finito for now. The collection comes out in the UK in February, but Picador’s not having me over—which isn’t terribly surprising or upsetting. I imagine I’ll go there for the novel. the collection comes out in France next year as well, and I’ll be heading there for a literary festival organized by my French editor. He also publishes Joseph Boyden, so it should be exciting.

I just finished my novel, entitled either FIGHTING STOCK or BAPTISM OF FIRE, I don’t know which yet. As of this writing it’s off with the editors. It’s insanely violent and sexually graphic, no punches pulled, so we’ll have to see what the reaction is. I was contracted for it, so I think it would have to truly suck for them to, in showbiz terms, "ankle it"—ie: stick it in a deep dark vault and forget it’d ever been written. I hope that’s not the fate to befall it. I’ve started another novel about rogue interventionists, which will end up being my thesis here at Iowa.

Any insect, huh? Maybe I’d be an Africanized Honey Bee. The world’s most potent venom, if I recall correctly. Set me loose on the Red Mile.


Michael Bryson is the publisher and editor of The Danforth Review. His story "Six Million Million Miles" appeared in 05: Best Canadian Stories (Oberon).




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