Prairie journalist, documentary filmmaker, and business owner releases short story collection
Craig Silliphant holds firmly that “prairie writing doesn’t have to be stuffy stories about grain elevators” – and his debut collection of stories featuring movie stars, an ambivalent God, and a ghost roommate you just can’t get rid of delivers!
Silliphant describes himself as “a lot of things, but mainly those things all fall under the category of writer.” He recently “spent about 10 years writing for Planet S and Prairie Dog, mostly writing music and film criticism.” Currently, his day job is creative director at Rawlco Radio in Saskatoon. He also has a freelance career in business on top of that – his company Thoughtlab Media actually published Nothing You Do Matters, amongst their other forms of media production. Before Nothing You Do Matters, the company also published Exile Off Main St.: Random Dispatches from the Saskatoon Music Scene, an anthology of essays, memoirs, and other randomness by Silliphant and other musicians in Saskatoon. Choosing to self-publish his works gave him more control over the finished project: “I know what I want it to be,” he says. “I don’t want a bunch of people getting their hands in there and changing it.”
Silliphant’s love for books started early, growing up in a reading household. “I was always surrounded by books as a child,” he says. “I started reading Stephen King when I was eight or nine years old – probably just because my dad had it laying around.” He has been writing for as long as he can remember – he even wrote and exchanged stories with his friends during high school and into university.
“I always loved writing fiction,” Silliphant says. “And I thought to myself… when I was young, wouldn’t it be amazing if one day I could get paid to write? Like that could be an actual job? And of course, like, to me, that meant you’re Stephen King with an audience of millions and making millions [from] writing novels. What didn’t really occur to me is a few years later I kind of realized one day I always wanted to get paid to be a writer and… I am now? Of course, that wasn’t writing novels and stuff. It was writing everything from advertising to journalism to magazine articles… But you know, it was a full-time job; it paid for my existence, and eventually it would go towards supporting my family.”
Reaching this level of stability enabled Silliphant to go back into writing fiction. Now that he’s “not chasing freelance gigs around anymore to make rent,” he says, he’s able to “step back” and return to his “first love.” He wasn’t sure that what he was writing would be any good, despite the years he had packed into learning the art of storytelling. After deciding to just commit, he started working on a novel in his free time. From there, he had to ask himself some questions, like: “Can I sit down and write fiction that would be any good? Do I even like these stories? Do other people like them?” So, he sent his work to some trusted friends who “wouldn’t just blow smoke up [his] ass” and the results were “largely positive.”
His fiction writing endeavour wasn’t a pandemic-specific project, but Silliphant does say that the pandemic helped give him focus. He says he was “very fortunate” in that he and his wife both had good jobs to support them through it, but mostly, he credits his stamina to his children. “When I was probably in my twenties or thirties,” he says, “even when I was married like, my wife was taking her PhD and we didn’t have kids, so we could go to a show on a Tuesday night and watch a friend’s band and roll in [at] two in the morning and it wasn’t really a big deal. But once you start having kids, it gets harder to do that stuff.” But this is a good thing! He says that one “start[s] to think ‘oh, they’re going to suck up all my time’ but what it really means is that you’re home more. I’m not going out to do a bunch of things; I have more time to write.”
Moreover, demystifying the process and the romantic notion that “they only work when the muse strikes them” is crucial to actually getting things done. Silliphant says: “I’ve learned that if you want to get a creative project done, whether that’s a book, a film, a piece of art, whatever you’re working on, it can’t be this ‘airy fairy’ sort of thing, where you’re just waiting to catch ideas and sit at Starbucks tweeting while looking out the window… No, its like, you have to sit down and write.” The story collection evolved out of two years of commitment.
The title story of the collection is told from the perspective of God. I thought this was quite a bold choice, so I asked Silliphant what the process of developing the story was like. “I read a lot of sci-fi and genre fiction and stuff like that,” he says. “And I like the idea of a more realistic piece of science fiction – I don’t know if you’d really call that story science fiction or not – and I just had this idea that’s probably been bouncing around my head since I was young. The premise of the story is why does God not interfere in the world events, you know, what’s happening in the Ukraine right now or a child that has cancer… why doesn’t God intervene in that?”
“I’m not a religious person in any way, you know,” he continues. “I have certain spiritual beliefs and a lot of them revolve around that idea of optimistic nihilism where the title of the book comes from, ‘Nothing You Do Matters.’” In Silliphant’s story, God’s view of the earth is something akin to “ants in your backyard or a school project you did when you’re a kid. You’re not going to carry around that papier-mâché volcano you made around your whole life, and put it on your mantle and like, be an adult with kids and wife, or a husband or whatever, and still be carrying this thing around.” The story represents that idea of relinquishing control over a primary creation.
Silliphant really likes the idea of taking an overdone or cliched story and turning it at a slightly different angle to make it fun again. He tells me that “one of the stories is about a group of twenty-somethings that live together, and they have a ghost that haunts their house. It’s not a normal ghost story in the sense that you know, you have the scene where everybody sees the ghost… They’ve had this ghost before; they got rid of him once, and now you’re picking up the story when the ghost comes back.” Humorous irony is deeply embedded in his collection.
Nothing You Do Matters is available for purchase at Saskatoon retailers like Turning the Tideand McNally Robinson, or on Sillipant’s website: craigsilliphant.com.