BLOOM: How would you describe the book?
Craig Davidson: Do you want my elevator pitch? Failed writer takes a job that he expected to simply fill the day and make a few dollars and ends up having a galvanizing, world-changing experience where some young people alter the way he looks at life.
BLOOM: Did you learn anything about disability that you weren’t expecting?
Craig Davidson: I think I came into it almost a total neophyte, so I learned so many things. I didn’t have anyone in my immediate or extended family that had cognitive or physical disabilities, so my experiences were kind of removed and remote.
It was a learning experience from the moment the first boy stepped on my bus. I think what I really came away with is that they’re just kids, which might seem a little facile. There were differences and they didn’t fade away, but they became much less factors of who I thought they were. Their conditions didn’t define them. It was much more their personality and all the other aspects of them.
BLOOM: Can you describe your relationship with the students?
Craig Davidson: I’d had bus drivers when I was growing up and they were kind of faceless entities. They weren’t mean, but they just got me to school and got me home. I thought that was kind of what I was going to be, but these kids were so talkative and so interesting and so willing to share themselves with each other and ultimately with me. It went from being a job to being friendships with each of those five kids and a more specific, off-the-bus friendship with Jake.
BLOOM: Jake’s is a powerful story. He’s a boy with cerebral palsy who was injured when a drunk driver hit him and his mother, killing his mom. The reader comes to care about Jake and the others because you describe them so vividly. Are you still in touch with Jake?
Craig Davidson: Yes. He still lives in Calgary and the last time I was out there we went out for dinner. He’s in university now, in English, still writing his books at his own pace. He’s 22 now, so in a different stage of life than when I drove him at age 16. He’s still Jake and he’s still lovely to sit down with. He’s a good friend and after a couple of years apart we’re soon back to our silly, ‘in’ jokes and thick as thieves.
BLOOM: What about the other students?
Craig Davidson: I’ve kept in touch, or am Facebook friends, with some of the others as well. I try to keep track of them, but not in a creepy way. I’m interested in their lives and whether they’re happy.
BLOOM: What was challenging about writing the book?
Craig Davidson: The most challenging part was recognizing that you’re dealing with real people. Until this book I was a novelist. You carry some love for the characters you create, but you recognize that while they might have aspects of people you know, they’re not those people. So here are five kids whose lives you want to detail as tenderly and delicately and fairly and compassionately as possible, and to juggle that with your own sense of what the experience meant to you. When you’re dealing with real people and real emotions it’s something you have to be very delicate at navigating.
BLOOM: You capture all of the students’ quirks, their personalities and even the dialogue. How did you do that? Did you keep a journal?
Craig Davidson: I tend to write stuff down on scraps of paper. Because Oliver and Jake and Gavin and Nadja and Vincent were saying such profound, hilarious things, I knew I had to take those down. They’re wonderful little gems that I wouldn’t have been able to summon up on my own. And I wanted it to be as close to what they actually said as possible.
BLOOM: It’s amazing that you were smart enough to do that early on.
Craig Davidson: I would have lost the exact phrasing if I hadn’t. I knew the way someone like Oliver looks at the world is gold, and I needed to save it.
BLOOM: The book is written in a very honest, candid way in terms of your own experiences.
Craig Davidson: Any writer wants a book to do many things. You want it to be touching hopefully, and funny, but in service of all of those things the main thing it has to be is honest, as you said. Honest with my own feelings, my own ignorance in many cases, and my own sense of unfairness.
BLOOM: You mean the injustice that these kids were born with disabilities and others aren’t?
Craig Davidson: Yes. I struggled for the longest time with whether I was being a downer, but the reader can tell if there’s some dishonesty going on there. I wanted to share my experience and all sorts of things that were fun, funny, heartbreaking and illuminating.
BLOOM: Do you think you’ll write about disability again?
Craig Davidson: I already have. Any writer would tell you that his or her experiences tend to feed into new work. My next book after this will be a short story collection. One story is about a bus driver who’s driving a girl with a disability.
BLOOM: Was there any hesitancy on the part of the publisher to producing a book about children with disabilities?
Craig Davidson: I wasn’t in on any of those conversations, so I hope they didn’t occur. The book hasn’t even come out yet and I’ve already had people approaching me to say that their sister, their brother, their wife’s cousin—someone in their family—has a special need. You realize that anything can happen in our development, and disability could happen to any one of us.