It's been a minute, hasn't it? The world may seem off the rails, but at least we'll always have books... Today, I'm thrilled to bring you a Writer Bites interview with Karin Cecile Davidson whose debut novel, Sybelia Drive, hits shelves this coming Tuesday (10/6)!
Have you ever fallen in love with a book?
Many times. Perhaps typically, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web was one of the first, and Richard Adams’s Watership Down, back when it first came out in 1972. I still have my first editions with their soft worn pages. My copy of Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine is a tattered paperback from ages ago that replaced the one I first bought at Prairie Lights in Iowa City in 1987, a few years after the book was published. That first copy began to lose pages and almost all of “The World’s Greatest Fisherman” disappeared, so there was no choice. I’ll always have a copy of this book. It’s been so influential and inspiring. Italo Calvino’s Difficult Loves completely captured me in the same way that John Berger’s Into Their Labors Trilogy did, their questions about society and relationships remarkably supported by inventive narrative structures. And always, always Eudora Welty’s stories—any and all of them.
Just recently I listened to Gabrielle Hamilton reading her memoir Blood, Bones & Butter. Published nearly a decade ago, and now with Hamilton’s NYC restaurant Prune closed due to Covid, it was strange and bittersweet to hear this beautifully written story read by the author herself. I felt like I was taken away, completely enraptured by her way of telling the details of her childhood, reporting in vivid terms the stress of running a wildly popular 30-seat restaurant, and describing her dishes in the clearest, most delicious prose.
How do you choose the names for your characters?
It’s funny. They simply arrive. Lord knows how LuLu and Rainey entered my novel Sybelia Drive. And LuLu’s brother Saul? Honestly, I just don’t worry about it and then they come along and steal the show. I think part of the process must be intuitive, a subconscious calling up of all the names I’ve ever known. For example, LuLu’s father’s initials, CRB, which first appear on a silver lighter he keeps in his top pocket, are the same as my grandmother’s. Completely unintentional, and yet. Charles Royal Blackwood, III and Cecile Robinson Bradley share those initials.
What is your least favorite part of the writing process? Your favorite?
The least favorite. Well, there’s a point in the final edits when I’ve got to compare manuscripts. I find that pairing amazing and dizzying all at once. The dizzying part has to do with the flood of words before me, even though the end of the entire process is near. Of course, once I finally get there, the reward is rich.
And the favorite. I love the drafting of a story when it’s going well, when one word is thrown down after another, and suddenly the page is covered with possibility. Characters become clear, along with their desires, their landscapes, and the story opens up and out.
What is your favorite form of procrastination from writing?
Research. From searching out exactly the right sort of wildflower for a scene to delving into a book of military terms or studying maps that are decades old. Certain chapters of my novel required an enormous amount of research. Eventually I had to tell myself, that’s enough. The writing doesn’t get done unless I’m at least a bit disciplined, or really good at tricking myself.
Do you write to music?
Absolutely. When drafting Sybelia Drive, I listened to music of the 1960s and 70s that became part of the character’s worlds and essentially part of the narrative. For the collection of Gulf Coast stories I’m working on currently, I’ve listened to Leontyne Price singing arias from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Florida blues singers Ida Goodson and her sister Billie Pierce, as well as songs from Some Girls by The Rolling Stones. Placing lyrics into the writing is something I’ve learned to steer away from, however. Too much copyright nonsense there. That said, there’s something inside the music that allows a way into a piece. Art making way for more art is something I seriously believe in and appreciate.