Carys Cragg writes narrative nonfiction, teaches in child and youth care, and mothers a wonderful young boy. Her essays, opinions, and reviews have appeared in The Globe & Mail, The Tyee, Understorey, New York Post, and The Ormsby Review, amongst others. She holds a BA in Human & Social Development and MA in Child & Youth Care from the University of Victoria, is faculty in Douglas College’s Child, Family, and Community Studies programs, and recently volunteered with Roots of Empathy and the DTES Writers Collective. Her first book - a true crime literary memoir that follows alongside her journey to correspond with and meet the man who murdered her father 20 years after the crime - was a Globe & Mail Best 100 Book of 2017, and finalist for the 2018 Hubert Evans BC Book Prize and 2018 Governor General’s Literary Award. She speaks to postsecondary classrooms and social service agencies about her experience as a survivor of crime and of restorative justice. As she finished writing her first book, she feared: will she ever write another? Soon after, she began to write more essays and book reviews; children’s books for her son, nieces, and nephews; an academic textbook for her students; and is excited for what she will be inspired to create next. Carys lives with her young son along the river in Port Coquitlam.
How do you define creativity and apply it in your life and career? I believe creativity is the expression of oneself and how we contribute what we have to offer the world. Sure, creativity can be linked to aesthetics, design, fine arts, etc. but it's also about how we create relationships, families, solve problems, find joy, and envision our world and its future. I liken creativity to an energy, a compelling force inside all of us. What we decide to do with that force is up to us. Will we create something – anything – that contributes to the world in some way? Will you build a building, care for a family, tell a story, go on an adventure, solve a problem…? Will you stay idle, and do nothing with what you have to offer the world? Or worse, will you destroy? I believe creativity has an ethical component: that we should listen to that creative energy, listen to what you want to contribute, and then go out and do that. And then try to shape the world so that other people have the opportunity to do that too.
Where do you find your best creative inspiration or energy? Dreams. Problems. Frustrations. Conflict. Difficulty. Desire. Hope. I find my best creative energy comes from intense emotional moments. I believe they are trying to teach me something: to do something with that moment. Make it better. Solve a problem. Respond to an issue. Address the conflict. Express oneself. Tell a story. Have one's voice heard. How that energy takes shape & form is up to the context in which it appears. At my work, it may be a lesson plan or a project proposal that solves the frustration I'm experiencing. I wrote a children's book for my nieces, nephews, and son when I wanted them to know my deceased father – their grandpa – but I didn't know how to bring him up naturally in daily conversation. When I wrote Dead Reckoning, it was in part to respond to the question I received from many people: "How did that go?" I didn't know how to respond in 3 minutes. How do you tell the story of how corresponding with and meeting your father's murderer went? For me, a book was the solution. I used to be confused and afraid of these feelings. And now I do something with them.
What is one piece of creative advice or a tip you wish you'd known as a young person? "Never feel bad for asking: Why?" "Keep doing what you are drawn to!" and "You don't know this now, but eventually, you will direct and shape your entire personal and professional life around things you want to create. So keep going."
Who (living or dead) would you most enjoy hearing speak at CreativeMornings? I'd love to listen to someone who works creatively with kids. I just spoke at a book club gathering at Christianne's Lyceum of Literature and Art (Vancouver). They do amazing literature and art programs with kids of all ages. I'd love to hear how Christianne creates her programs, the stories of kids' engagement and brilliance, and how that contributes to our community.
What's your one guilty creative indulgence? I love purchasing design magazines. Domino & Livingetc are my favourite indulgences. I flag the pages, collect tear sheets, and browse them when I want to look at something beautiful or envision the fabrics, furniture, artwork, and colours I want to be surrounded by. In another life, I would have been an interior designer. When I was a kid, I used to draw floor plans, rearrange furniture, and ask why buildings were one storey in this part of the world and not in another. Reading a design magazine on the patio, in the shade, with my kid playing beside me is my version of heaven. I also have an obsession with stationery – pens, paper, notebooks, planners, cards – I spend too much money on these items and I have no plans to stop.
What practices, rituals, or habits contribute to your creative work? When I'm working on a creative writing project or want to be inspired to create something new, I read widely, write, and take myself on artist-dates (Julia Cameron's Artist's Way). I keep a creative-projects notebook and record the various ideas that come to mind. I take my pen and notebook everywhere.
When I'm working on a specific creative writing project, I need an externally-imposed deadline. I tend to binge-write as opposed to sticking to any specific schedule. It takes me a while to get into a specific writerly voice, so I like to have long stretches of time to stay in that voice. I tend to write my first drafts of essays in notebooks. When I transfer those notes to my computer, that's when I begin to shape, edit, build, and re-structure.
When I'm stuck during a project I free-write through the problem. I quite literally try to pose the problem as a question and then free-write a response to that problem. It can take pages and pages of writing to get to the solution but I always get to the solution or something better. When I procrastinate on a specific project, I tend to be pulled to work on another creative project. They all pull my attention in different directions. And I like it that way. I also have the privilege of only working on writing projects that I want to work on. For me, to write something well, I must write it. That is: I only work on projects that somewhere deep inside me desperately, joyously, and determinedly must be written. If there isn't that desire, I wait patiently until it appears. Once it appears, it doesn't go away and I must see it through to its finish.