Q&A with Craig Moodie

Talk a little bit about yourself. Why did you become an author?

When I was young I spent a lot of time in small boats. Sometimes I took those small boats to explore islands. Nothing captivated me more than the motion of the boat crossing the water with the prospect of a scrap of land I'd never set foot on before lying ahead. Writing soon became a way to keep crossing the water and exploring new islands, continually finding mystery and beauty and strangeness, but without having to get wet.

In addition to my work as an author, I'm the creative director at a high tech company, where I write promotional materials and oversee a staff of designers, writers, video producers, and production people. My wife and I have a daughter and a son, who are both college students, and we also have a yellow Lab, Salty. I currently live in Franklin, Mass., but we aim to land back on Cape Cod, where I lived as a teenager and after college when I worked as a commercial fisherman. Being within sniffing distance of saltwater is nirvana.

Your books have strong Cape Cod connections, and the sea is prominently featured in all of your novels. Why?

My mom, our black Lab, and I moved to Cape Cod and specifically Harwich, Massachusetts when I was at the end of my sophomore year in high school. My grandmother ran a knitting store there, and we'd been visiting the Cape since I was born. One of my sisters still lives on the Cape, and I still have friends from my high school years scattered there.

Boats have always been a part of my life. My father was a Navy officer in the Pacific during the Second World War, and I absorbed his love of the sea and boats. My dad, mom, two older sisters, and I used to charter sailboats on the Chesapeake Bay, Long Island Sound, and the waters off Cape Cod, sometimes cruising for a week at a time to different anchorages. Some of my earliest memories are of dangling my feet over the rail of a sailboat as it heeled under the hand of the wind or lying in a bunk with the stars appearing in the open hatch above. My boyhood was filled with canoes and sailing dinghies and skiffs.

When I was a teenager, my friend Chris, who is still a commercial fisherman, and I used to take his dad's fishing boat out to Monomoy, a deserted island off the coast of Cape Cod, to go ashore and explore. We also helped his dad rebuild a Novi fishing boat, which we then used to fish for seabass and other fish in Nantucket Sound.

After college, I worked in New York City as an advertising copywriter, but the sea still had me under its spell, and I returned to the Cape to work as a deckhand on commercial fishing boats. I was (and continue to be) bewitched by the sea. I loved the sense of mystery and loneliness of leaving a harbor at midnight to steam beneath the fleets of stars for five hours and arrive in another world of endless sea and sky at daylight. Out there were whales, sharks, gannets, Wilson's petrels, fulmars, and other open ocean creatures. The long oceanic swells rolled like living hills. Sometimes the fog was so thick you could toss a shell overboard and it would disappear before it hit the gray-green water. Mostly we jigged for codfish (a jig is a hook or series of hooks on a handline) in forty or more fathoms of water (a fathom equals six feet), but in the spring and fall we fished for striped bass off Monomoy and Nantucket. We fished in the rips, stretches of water made turbulent by the action of the tide over the seafloor. Mostly we fished at night, ideally when a waning or waxing moon shed enough light to "kill the fire" in the water—soften the light from the phosphorescence that would flare up when we trolled our live eels with steel line through the rips. Fishing along the face of breaking waves far at sea under an oblong moon, tensed for the yank and run of a burly striped bass╔I relished every minute of it, even when we caught nothing.

The sea always calls me back to it, and to this day I sail whenever I can on our twelve-and-a-half foot catboat. When I've raised the sail and settle back in the cockpit, the tiller in my hand, the water gurgling past the rudder, and the hull slipping across the surface of the sea, gaining speed, I am heading where I want to go.

My fishing and sailing experiences have been the seeds of my stories, from The Sea Singer and Seaborn to Into the Trap. I've been lucky, I realize: Not only do I love going on the water, I love writing about it.

As an author, you started your career by writing fiction for adults. How did you begin writing for younger readers?

While I've written collections of short stories and novels for adults, I found in writing those books that the voices that spoke most genuinely to me were those of the younger people in the stories. Voice is everything in a book like Seaborn, and the voice that became Luke's rang true to me. The same holds true for The Sea Singer and Into the Trap: Finn and Eddie and Briggs all have definite voices that spring from my experience and imagination. I guess my inner teen lives on.

What compels you to write for young people?

I want to give my readers a white horse. A white horse, you ask? One night a long time ago I sat in the cabin of a sailboat our family had chartered. We lay at anchor in a cove on Cuttyhunk, the outermost of the Elizabeth Islands off Cape Cod. The rain lashed at the portholes. In the gusts the boat pranced on her anchor line. But below in the cabin my parents, two sisters, and I were snug in the amber glow of the oil lamp. We listened to my father tell a story about a white horse that magically galloped across the frozen sea between Nantucket and Monomoy Island to rescue a young woman searching for her shipwrecked fiancé. Where had this horse come from? What did it mean? Everyone should have a white horse to ponder, to carry him or her to other wonders.

What books did you enjoy reading when you were growing up? What books do you currently like to read?

Books about boats and the sea, of course, have always entranced me, and some of the authors I've enjoyed are Conrad, Twain, Stevenson, Melville, and Kipling.

A Boy Ten Feet Tall and The Roan Colt and a story called "The Scarlet Ibis," though unrelated to the sea, have stayed with me since I read them decades ago.

Then came Steinbeck (Cannery Row), Salinger, Kerouac, Kesey, Vonnegut, R.Crumb, Brautigan, and many more.

Nowadays I still read all the sea books I can get my hands on, but I don't limit myself to salty tales: Roald Dahl, Tove Jansson, Jim Harrison, Thoreau's journal, and Charles Simic are a few other writers and poets I return to again and again. I also reread Hemingway's short stories (two standouts are "Cat in the Rain" and "After the Storm") and Albert Camus's work, especially "Return to Tipasa" and "The Sea Close By."

I must also mention "The Sea and the Wind that Blows" by E.B. White. In it he writes, "I cannot not sail," a sentiment I share, and I find that by changing the last word, it applies to writing, too.

What is your advice to a young writer?

Here are six ideas to consider:

  1. Write to find the kind of writing that brings you back to it. When you find it, you'll have to keep writing because you're drawn to it. Then you're on your way.
  2. Write every day. Use whatever makes you happiest: pencil, chalk, goose quill pen. (And put a small notebook in your pocket so you can jot down ideas: They're as elusive as soap bubbles.)
  3. Give yourself up to your writing and allow it to carry you wherever it will.
  4. When you set out, don't worry about perfection and don't come up with reasons not to write but simply start writing and keep at it.
  5. After you've let the story carry you along and you think you've done, revise and keep revising. Revision is real writing. Stick with it. Watch your sentences glow with appreciation.
  6. Read as much as you can since reading feeds writing.
What's next for you?

My new novel is called Into the Trap. It's an adventure about a lobsterman's son and a runaway from a sailing camp who join forces to foil a ring of lobster thieves. I'm thrilled with the way the book is coming togetherĐwait till you see the coverĐand it will be coming out in the summer of 2011.

I also write very short stories that sometimes appear in publications like Quick Fiction, which is a small literary magazine. Oh, yes: I'm also writing pieces that appear at my blog www.wharfratwrites.com, and I hope you'll read them.

Parts of this interview were adapted from an article that originally appeared in the Cape Cod Chronicle, October 8, 2008.