Craig Moodie:
pulled by the sea

An interview by Tom Knapp, 1994

The sea, says Craig Moodie, is a magnet.

Those who make their living on the sea usually can't wait to get back to shore, the Lancaster, Pa., native said. But once on dry land, they are anxious to set sail again. Moodie has tried to capture that feeling in his first book, a collection of 13 short stories titled A Sailor's Valentine.

The ocean, he said, has an "elemental feel" that draws people into it and never lets them go. "It's both beautiful and terrible out there," he said. "It just moves up inside you. And you want to see more, see what's out there."

Although born in Lancaster, Moodie was only 13 years old when his family moved to Cape Cod. It was there he was bitten by the bug that remains with him to this day. After college, he worked as a copywriter for a New York City advertising agency. But the call of the sea was strong, he said, so he headed back up to the Cape to become a deckhand on a commercial fishing boat. "It was something that really captivated me," he said. "It's in my blood." He worked on a fishing boat for two years, he said, then later returned for another six-month stint.

Although his experiences are a springboard into his writing, Moodie said his stories are not autobiographical tales. "I wanted to write about the sea and really capture the experiences I had had," he said. "But I wanted to embroider it, make stories out of those experiences, make them into fiction."

Moodie said he hopes fishermen will feel a kinship to the characters in his stories. But he said the tales should appeal even to people who have never left dry land. "So much of this to me is wrapped up in the idea of adventure," he said. "There aren't too many places today where you can go and really be faced with the wind and the weather like you are on a boat. You're also there for a practical purpose. You're there to catch fish. In a way, it's like a quest."

The attraction, he said, is at least partly in the sheer difficulty of doing the job. "It was very hard," he said. "You didn't get any sleep. It was cold. Then you'd have days that were absolutely gorgeous, which would counteract having spent a week in fog. It was a constant sense of renewal."

He spent his time as a deckhand in part to see if he could do it, he admitted. "Eventually, it got the better of me. I stopped doing it. ... But I still think about it a lot; I remember specific days, how the sea looked, the sky. ... It was exhilarating."

The collection of stories, he said, should evoke a "sweet kind of melancholy" in readers. "I think it speaks to a lot of different people, whether they're in Colorado or Cape Cod," he said. "It puts you into a different state, where you can hear your heartbeat and listen to the world." Moodie said he still goes boating and fishing when he can, but doesn't get out nearly as often as he'd like. Now 38, he lives with his wife and two children in Franklin, Mass., which is about 90 minutes from his beloved Cape. He works in marketing communications, but said he'd like to make writing a full-time vocation.

Although his short stories have been published in magazines, A Sailor's Valentine is his first hardback book. Other writings are in the works, including a novel-length story now being read by his publisher, St. Martin's Press. He also has done some work on children's stories, but he said his main efforts are directed into mainstream fiction set in the Cape Cod region. "This last novel I really didn't intend to be set in the Cape, but while I was working it sort of turned around and ended up there," he said. "It seems to have some hold on me."

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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