Q&A with Craig Nova | Brook Trout and the Writing Life

You already know and love him for his novels: The Informer, The Good Son, Cruisers, and many more. Now you can learn more about the man behind the fiction in Brook Trout and the Writing Life, Craig Nova’s revised and expanded memoirs and ” a brief and brilliant autobiography in which the worlds of the fisherman and the novelist commingle.”  So without further ado, I’ll turn it over to Craig, who gave us one of the most insightful Q&A sessions ever posted on the Blair Essentials. I only wish I had more time to ask him some follow-up questions to his reply!

Many, many thanks to Mr. Nova for taking the time out of his schedule to answer our questions, and to Eno Publishers for helping us contact him.

Enjoy! And if you like what you see, check out the details for Craig’s upcoming booksignings in North Carolina–including one that’s TONIGHT–below the Q&A.


1. Why did you write Brook Trout and the Writing Life?

 The truth, I think, is that every book, or at least every book by writers who are in it for more than money, is written because it has to be, although this “has to be written” takes on various forms. You feel an itch, or an impulse, and you don’t know where it is going, but it feels better to be putting words on paper.

I think, too, that a critical item in writing a book is not what the writer does to it, but what the book does to the writer. It is a way of discovering what you really think, really believe, just as it is a way of applying your sense of beauty, drama, humor (particularly humor), and ethics to things you have seen or care about.

So, I guess, if I had to sum it up, which is difficult, I’d say I wrote this book to make sense out of the best part of my life. Or to put the best part of my life in some kind of order, and to do so, I hope, with some humility and gratitude, which are quite genuine. If you have been blessed with the chance to write many books and to make a living at it, this is something to be profoundly grateful for. Although, as my wife says, this opportunity comes at a price.

2. How is the 2011 version of Brook Trout and the Writing Life different from the original publication?

It is an entirely different book. The thing I discovered in doing this new version is that by adding things, you come across something like film editing, or montage, in that when you add something, it molds or changes what comes after. And, of course, it is longer, more complete, and allowed me to include those things that I left out.

So, I would say the critical difference is that while appearing to be similar, it is entirely different. The original book was a collection of memories, but the new one is more, well, an investigation into how to live, or how I learned to live. Hard lessons here and there, but I thought this aspect, the learning aspect (how to live in the moment, how to give thanks, etc) wasn’t really obvious in the first version or didn’t exist at all.

Another item that goes into this is that always, or at least in my case, after a book is published, I think Oh, expletive deleted, why didn’t I put it X?

3. Why did you choose fishing as the thread to bind your memoirs?

Fishing is naturally, on the way to and away from a stream, a contemplative endeavor, and it is this contemplation, so associated with fishing, that seemed to require being associated with its origins. And then another element comes into play here, which is that streams have the oddest quality, in that after you have fished one, even a few times, you can remember every stone, riffle, run, and pool.

It is sort of like a mnemonic device, something like the one used by ancient orators, Greeks or Romans, who gave five-hour speeches. They did so, working without notes, by imagining a house, or the rooms in a house, and then putting into each room a subject. Trout streams are my house, in this regard. And streams are beautiful, and being in touch with beauty helps with writing. It is why some writers listen to classical music before, or during their writing.

4. What do you like to do when you’re not writing (or fishing)?

I keep a sculling boat, made by Graeme King, at University Lake in Chapel Hill, and I row four or five times a week. Sculling is one of those most difficult things I have done, because it is mental as much as physical, although it can be very physical (last night I rowed when it was a hundred degrees), but it is so mental because the boat only weighs 35 pounds, and you propel it by using a sliding seat, that is you push with your legs, but since you weigh much more than the boat, if you throw your weight around, you will stop it, dead in the water.

Craig Nova's sculling boat

I like to cook. In those long winters in Vermont, where we lived without television, we cooked through the winter. I remember spending a winter trying to perfect a chocolate soufflé. I went right through the Larousse.

The best recipe, actually, is in the James Beard cookbook.

Of course, I like to read, and since I have done some work for the movies, I am interested in what is being made. In fact, I am the executive producer for a movie that a young guy in LA is trying to make out of a book of mine.

5. What inspired you to write?

A total mystery. All I know is that I wanted to be a trauma surgeon and then one day I picked up a book by Albert Camus. I was a dead duck, at least as far as medical school. It’s like falling in love. What is it about those eyes, that voice, that laugh, that point of view? Easy to feel but hard to explain.

6. Which books are on your nightstand right now?

My reading is so various as to be almost, err, incoherent. Andre Dubus’s Townie, a great book, right in there with Stop Time, by Frank Conroy, is there, along with The Peloponnesian War, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, some Alice Munro stories, a T.C. Boyle novel, and a pile of galleys for blurbs.

What Craig Nova is reading

7. Ever read a book that changed your life? What was it?

As above, Albert Camus. I think it was The Plague. But more than anything it was the voice, at once wise, knowledgeable, understanding.

8. What’s your favorite line from a book?

 From On Hunting, by Ortega Y Gasset, “Reality has its own structure.” And from Moby Dick: “O, Time, Patience and Cash.”

 9. Who are your top five favorite authors of all time?

A very difficult questions, since these writers change, but right now I would say:

Albert Camus
Alice Munro (the new Chekov)
Ivan Turgenev
Ford Maddox Ford (The Good Soldier, Parade’s End)
And a cast of thousands


Meet Craig Nova and get a book signed at the following events:

Thursday, June 2, at 7 p.m.
Flyleaf Books
752 MLK Jr Blvd
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

Saturday, June 11, at 11 a.m.
McIntyre’s Books
2000 Fearrington Village Center
Pittsboro, NC 27312
(919) 542-3030


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