Elaine McCluskey is a fiction writer who has authored three collections of short stories and two novels. Her most recent book, The Most Heartless Town in Canada, was published by Anvil in 2016. In the following post, she shares the story of her beginnings as a fiction writer, her advice for aspiring writers, and an update on her most recent projects.
How long have you been writing? What drew you to writing in general, and fiction in particular?
I always wanted to be a fiction writer but I didn’t know how to go about it. Where do you even start? So I went into journalism where I acquired discipline and some useful skills. I became economical in my writing and I learned to look for the telling details.
When I went on maternity leave with my daughter, I decided to write a novel based loosely on my father’s life in boxing, a sport of outliers and outlaws, and I did. It won the WFNS’ Bill Percy award, and that gave me the confidence to dive headfirst into fiction, which I love. In fiction, you can do anything you want to people: plant them in the woods, have them eaten by a bear. I find that both subversive and liberating.
In addition to being a writer, you’re also an editor for Nimbus Publishing. Do you see a connection between these two practices?
I edit non-fiction, and I am constantly learning something new about our history, our geography, and our people. Nimbus writers know a lot of stuff. They make me think about where I am and why it is the way it is.
Some stories also inspire me. This season, I am editing a book entitled The Blind Mechanic, the story of a man who lost both eyes in the Halifax Explosion as a child and taught himself to become a professional auto mechanic. The book is written by his daughter. If it was not true, you would not believe it.
What do you love about living in Nova Scotia?
The fact that I can hop in a car in Dartmouth and be on a beach in Lockeport before lunch. I can walk down a hill and watch kayak races on Lake Banook. You can go pretty much anywhere you like in Nova Scotia and people will let you be. Plus, people here have good manners compared to some places. Nobody is in your face, asking you how much you make or, “Is that your real hair?”
What’s the biggest misconception about being a writer?
That it is easy work.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Just write. And write from the deepest place you can write from—go down that extra layer until you find something that actually scares you: a feeling or a truth. Write about places and human dilemmas that matter to you. If something matters to you—it could be your grandparents’ village on the Eastern Shore, it could be lost friendships—you have the ability to make it real, to make it unique. And do not get discouraged if your work is not accepted right away. It happens to all of us. And, for God’s sake, do not get uber emotional and phone the editor who declined your work to berate her and furiously demand an explanation—I’d like a meeting to discuss this!!—because nothing good will ever come from that.
What’s great about writing in your part of Nova Scotia?
Nobody knows what I am doing. Or if they do, they pretend that they don’t.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Vanity Fair. Livestreams of amateur sporting events in Szeged, Hungary, at 4 a.m.. Walking at night in a park in winter with my husband, Andrew, while wearing headlamps.
What do you do when you have writer’s block?
I always have more than one story on the go, so if I get stuck on one, I shift to another. I tend to alternate between novels and short-story collections, and I keep files of notes I can dip into.
What are you working on right now?
It is short-story time, and I have almost completed a collection. Some of the stories have appeared in journals such as The Antigonish Review and The Nashwaak Review; a couple have made lists. I am quietly pumped about it. I get to go some weird places.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
Journalism worked for me. I was good at getting strangers to tell me stuff: “I hear that you are marrying [serial killer] Allan Legere. Congratulations!!! When is the big day?”
At this stage, I also wouldn’t mind being one of those guys on the homemade gas-powered bicycles. They all look the same in their black hoodies, and they all seem to have contempt for societal norms, which is admirable.