Echolocation's Michael Prior sits down for a few drinks with Kevin Hardcastle, author of the recently released short story collection Debris (Biblioasis, 2015), which The Globe and Mail describes as "raw and stinging...but tinged with empathy."
Echolocation: In an interview between you and your editor, John Metcalf, published in The New Quarterly, you touch upon the role of autobiography and place in your writing, noting that your childhood in Midland, Ontario has a lot to do with the subjects you write about now, even the way you write about them.
Kevin: I think it’s all pretty true to life, and honest. People are used to reading a lot of things that they think are authentic, and they’re not: they’re what somebody researched. Or they can be a thing somebody knows too closely and can’t objectively write about. You can know it too closely—and Metcalf asks about that in the interview. About knowing the poor and criminals and so on. One of the good things was that I’ve known enough hard things personally that I know how much worse they can get. I might have lived the first step in a lot of these things, the first rung on the ladder, but I didn’t go all the way up.
I think this collection hits some new territory, at least compared to what’s popular to write about in Canada right now. It’s old school. People don’t always seem to write many stories this way anymore; they sit in a room and think of a plot, or a device, or a gimmick—they’re more concerned about plot than they are about craft, or about sentences.
E: Like most readers, I’m wary about writing that I feel has, as Keats says, “palpable designs” on me, writing that wants to bring me somewhere definite: emotionally, morally. I never felt that with these stories.
K: This has come up in a couple of interviews I’ve had. Usually in relation to the common or expected tropes in rural-set fiction. There’s often the trope where the characters pontificate on their shitty lot and desperately want to get out. And here, in this collection, you don’t ever have that. The characters just live there and lump it.
The way I felt writing Debris was the way my friends and I felt growing up in Midland. When you’re in it, you don’t sit there all day thinking about what’s going to be next, because you don’t know, especially when you’re younger. We knew there was a world out there, we knew there was more, and that was a unifying factor: we all knew we were getting out. But when you’re there, you can’t have your head in the clouds: you have problems in front of you that you deal with day by day. And that’s what those characters do, because that’s what real people do—they don’t sit there and feel shame about it.
I think the best rural American writers don’t judge their characters, and they don’t condescend to them either. It’s the difference between Deliverance and Winter’s Bone, right? Though it is a great book, Deliverance is toothless hillbilly scum, which is nonsense, and Winter’s Bone has characters that are dangerous and scary but they’re not stupid, or caricatures. They’ll kill you and the cops won’t get them—they’re clever people, they’ve survived for hundreds of years in this place. You underestimate those people at your peril. ...continue reading