Cassie Stocks wrote her the first few drafts of her first book, Dance, Gladys, Dance, while enrolled in the MacEwan Bachelor of Applied Communications in Professional Writing degree program. Winner of the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour Writing, the novel follows the lives of several characters, tying together a common theme – a desire to follow their dreams with a lot of struggle along the way. The characters are richly drawn and the plot is full of both humour and heartache.
We spoke with Stocks about how she relates to the main character and the process of writing the novel.
Avenue: Frieda, the main character, struggles as an artist and even gives up creating art at one point. Do you relate to her struggle and is any of that a reflection of your own experience?
Stocks: I absolutely relate to Frieda’s struggles with being an artist. It can be a long lonely road with few markers of success. There were times during my years of writing when I’ve said, “I’d give this up if only I could figure out how.” In Dance, Gladys, Dance, I wanted to look at the process of an artist trying to give up on their artistry – as Frieda puts it “abstract depictment in exchange for appropriate deportment.” It’s the question of when, if ever, should a person give up on a dream?
Avenue: The book starts off in a very unique way. Frieda comes across a very quirky classified ad for a phonograph. Did anything in particular inspire that beginning?
Stocks: The 1900s story of Gladys and her dancing came from an actual classified ad I saw in the Edmonton Bargain finder probably 20 years ago. It was for a Hi-Fi stereo and the last line was, “Gladys doesn’t dance anymore, she needs the room to bake.” It struck a chord with me and I never forgot Gladys who gave up dancing for baking. I keep hoping someone will contact me and say they wrote the ad but so far no one has. I used the ad in the novel (changing the Hi-Fi to a phonograph) to introduce Gladys and her story to Frieda.
Avenue: Reading your bio, your background is really fascinating (eg. You were a rich man’s gardener, an aircraft cleaner, caretaker of a hydroponic pot factory – can you give some of the highlights of these, a timeline of when they happened, and whether any of these experiences, or the people you met, inspired Dance, Gladys, Dance?
Stocks: Most of the events in my bio took place a long time ago (in a galaxy far away) during my youth. One of the highlights of cleaning aircraft was driving a van with a flashing light on top on the runways at night – that was fun. I think doing a wide range of things and meeting extremely diverse groups of people has absolutely informed most of my writing. It has taught me, at the very least, that people are just people, from the richest to the poorest, from the wildest to the most staid, and they all have stories, foibles and strengths.
Avenue: Did you have a solid idea for the ending when you started, or did it develop as you went?
Stocks: I had no idea what the ending of Dance, Gladys, Dance would be. When I started it, I had no idea who the other characters would be or how their lives would intertwine. It was very much a process of discovery with myself sometimes staring at the computer screen as a new character appeared and asking, “Who are you? Where on earth do you fit in?”
Avenue: Plans for a second book?
Stocks: I am hard at work on my second novel, so far titled The Amazing Adventures of Mattress Boy. It’s a tragicomedy, perhaps a little darker than Dance, Gladys, Dance but in the same vein with my accompanying particular and perhaps peculiar take on the world.
Read our review of Dance, Gladys, Dance.