For the second instalment in our writing process investigation, author Lynn Crosbie, never stopping short of candour, kindly answered some questions over email. Crosbie’s tender and sensitive essay “Francis Albert Crosbie, 2000–2017” will appear in Brick 101.
Brick: In your introduction to “Francis Albert Crosbie, 2000–2017” you note that you wrote the essay in a state of grief. Do you write about events as you immediately experience them? Does time and distance play a role in the work?
Lynn Crosbie: I generally do not write about things as I experience them, unless I wish to reduplicate my condition. I wrote Paul’s Case, for example, as the Bernardo trial was underway, throughout the summer of 1995, hoping, in part, to exhibit my shock and horror.
Or if the writing is urgent. It is important to write a eulogy in a timely fashion; that this kind of writing—writing that is compelled by grief and formality—be raw and cooked. But so much gets forgotten in haste—Frank met and barked at Rob Ford! He was the first living creature to walk under the Dufferin Overpass, scooping the mayor, cops, and horses! And much more—I recommend the vigilant editing of fast writing, so to speak.
One is otherwise best advised to put some distance between experience and writing: how else to compose best the true lies (I always think of that babe in The Crow drawling, “I like the pretty lies”) that constitute all creative non-fiction?
Brick: I was touched by your framing of “Francis Albert Crosbie 2000–2017” as a kind of substitute for a newspaper obituary. There is a public service that obituaries do: they memorialize the deceased and provide information about the funeral. I wonder if your piece is providing a service. Or, put frankly but perhaps a little differently, do you write as a way of processing—of understanding or healing?
Crosbie: Writing is not therapy, which is entirely extemporized and not self-motivated.
I can’t say if my piece provides a service to anyone but me, but I hope that anyone who has ever loved someone as much as I love Francis may feel empathy or a correlative emotion.
I healed in writing this only in that I was able to get some of Francis’s story—a picaresque one, loaded with joy and tragedies—out there after having been declined the opportunity to have it appear in a newspaper with the real obituaries.
Brick: You are a novelist as well as a poet. What draws you to work in one form versus the other? What are the benefits and limitations of each?
Crosbie: I very rarely write poetry anymore. My last book, however, had me returning to this form for the first time in almost ten years. It is a collection of linked poems that form a sustained narrative: I would never write a (single) poem for no reason. This is 2017’s The Corpses of the Future, an elegy for my father, who is very ill. Because of the terrible shock of his illness—which began with a fall and moved very quickly into emergency brain surgery that left him blind and in the throes of dementia—poetry, which fragments so well and which has an inner logic that is so suitable to articulating pain, was the best medium. Additionally, I view my father’s disease’s expression as a kind of poetry; that is, a symbolic language requiring different skills to negotiate.
I like writing fiction better because it is so roomy.
Poetry is limited by its practitioners. Whatever the dominant model is chokeholds everyone else.
Brick: Do you have a writing routine?
Crosbie: When I had two emergency back surgeries several years ago, I started writing in bed like a hippie. Then Francis became less and less mobile so there I remained: drawings of him snoozing/being adorable appear in the proofs of my last two books. As to the work, I write when I have something to say, or a project I am hot for, and in that case, I write constantly, researching as I go, dropping into K-holes, and feeling like I’m in love.