Christopher DiRaddo The Family Way

Montreal author Christopher DiRaddo launches The Family Way this week

DiRaddo’s second novel chronicles the complexity of non-dad status after a gay man donates sperm to lesbian friends.

With his second novel, Christopher DiRaddo invites the reader in to his world, a place that will feel very familiar to many Montrealers. The author writes about human nature in such a clear and concise manner, you’re left with the uncanny feeling that you know the characters in his book.

Paul is turning 40 and has been approached by his close lesbian buddies to donate sperm so they can have a kid. He agrees, and then must deal with the concerns of family and friends as they warn that his non-dad status in the family equation could prove emotionally problematic. The Family Way is a genuine page-turner, one of those books you really don’t want to put down once you’ve dug in. DiRaddo shows us Paul as a vulnerable but resilient gay man in the intersection of several turning points in his life.

The Family Way is also a distinctly and refreshingly Montreal book, set in places we know and have been to in various neighbourhoods, including the Village.

As well as his writing (DiRaddo’s first book, The Geography of Pluto, will see its second edition also released this year), DiRaddo is a seasoned publicist who has worked for several cultural institutions (including Blue Metropolis and the Quebec Writers Federation) and hosts the Violet Hour reading series, which has highlighted the work of queer scribes.

DiRaddo spoke from his Montreal home.

Matthew Hays: You managed to get this book written during a pandemic. Most people are finding themselves to be not terribly productive during this mess we’re in. How did you manage that?

Christopher DiRaddo: Well, I didn’t write the whole thing during the pandemic. I did, however, finish it. The book took about seven years, working a full-time job all the while. But then last April, I lost my job. As angry as I was with my former employer, I suddenly had all this free time and a severance package. I have never been successful in landing a writing grant, but suddenly it was like I had one. I had all this time to write, a basic income and a project I needed to finish. Sure, I had days like most people where it was hard to get motivated, but I still felt an urgency to get this completed because I didn’t know if I’d ever get an opportunity like this again.

MH: That’s impressive, because many of us are experiencing a certain pandemic paralysis in terms of our own creative projects.

CD: And I get that. I feel even strange mentioning my productivity, because we shouldn’t be made to feel like we need to be productive during this time. Losing my job sent me through a whole slew of stages — disbelief, anger, bargaining, watching Sex and the City, acceptance. In the end, I learned how to just stay in the moment. The past no longer mattered; the future was uncertain. All I had was the present, so I learned how to enjoy that time and fill it up with whatever I wanted to do, whether it was go for a walk, bake cookies, watch Top Chef or write.

MH: I know enough about you to know that much of this book is autobiographical. Were there boundaries in terms of what you were willing to write about and not write about?

CD: I think many, if not most, stories come from a real place. A writer’s life inspires the tales they tell — I don’t see how it cannot. For me, the boundary lies with writing about the people in my life. When and if I do it, I need to get their permission. And if I have it, I also have to be delicate with questions like this. I’m never going to go into what really happened versus what almost happened versus what is fabricated. I think that takes the magic out of storytelling and betrays the trust that others have in me to get at the larger truth.

MH: How much of The Family Way did you have planned out before you were writing? Did you develop the story as you were writing the book?

CD: The baby-making stuff, I knew in advance since I’d been through it all and kept notes, but the stuff about Paul and his relationship with Michael — as well as with his father — came much later in the process. When I set out to write the book, I wanted to share the experience of being a sperm donor. But then as I progressed, I realized there was much more to the story than that. I realized I had an opportunity here to comment on what it means to be a family. It’s always great when that happens as a writer. It means you’re on the right path.

MH: The pandemic has led to a great deal of uncertainty in so much of the economy. But books seem to be humming along, especially our local Montreal publishers. You’ve got this new book coming out and The Geography of Pluto is coming out in a second edition. What’s your sense of where the books biz is now?

CD: I don’t know the figures, but anecdotally I hear that, all things considered, it was an okay year for some indie booksellers. Bookstores got creative with deliveries, and writers found ways to hold virtual launches and even “tour.” I know that many people found themselves reading less, but some read more. My Violet Hour Book Club went from meeting once every six weeks to once every three weeks. That group was a lifeline for me. We couldn’t do the things we wanted to do in real life, but we could imagine them in stories.

I think we’ll always need books. They’ve been predicting their death for decades, but new titles keep popping out. Last month, I moderated a discussion on this topic for Blue Metropolis (Finding Queer Readers). I spoke to Ashley Fortier (Metonomy Press), Nia King (We Want the Airwaves) and Lawrence Schimel (A Midsummer Night’s Press) about how they navigate challenges and work to bring the written word to new audiences. A big part of this, I’m coming to realize, is the building and nurturing of community. Success can be measured many ways, but if you can rally together a small but passionate group of people around your books, I think you can call that a victory. ■

Montreal author Christopher DiRaddo launches The Family Way next week

Drawn & Quarterly will host the virtual launch for The Family Way by Christopher DiRaddo (Esplanade Books, pb, $22.95) on Thursday, May 27, 7 p.m. For more about Christopher DiRaddo, please visit his website.

For more Montreal arts coverage, please visit the Arts & Life section.