This week we chat with debut author Cody Caetano, whose memoir Half-Bads in White Regalia is earning all kinds of well-deserved buzz for its superb storytelling and deeply original voice.
The Toronto Star says, “Caetano’s voice leaps off the page with a rhythmic, hip-hop style right from the first page…[It] gives this memoir energy and descriptive heft.”
Cody Caetano is a writer of Anishinaabe and Portuguese descent and an off-reserve member of Pinaymootang First Nation. He has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto, where he wrote this memoir under the mentorship of Lee Maracle.
Trevor Corkum:In the prologue, you write about the idea of “the buckle” and its impact. It’s a concept that comes up throughout the memoir. Can you talk about the buckle a little more?
Cody Caetano: The idea of the buckle came to me one night in the summer of 2018. The visual of an unsteady hand on a bar stool or counter and the visual of a buckling knee struck me. With time, I began to see the buckle as an entity that speaks to the unknowns that foment human error, and as a way to parody the dehumanization that gets inflicted upon those who make mistakes or repeat them.
TC:You write with such love, respect, and clarity about your parents, siblings, and other family members. How have they responded to the memoir?
CC: My family has always supported and uplifted me and my writing. With this book, they understood the limits of my storytelling, especially because they experienced a different version of those years and life than I did and have different perspectives on it than I do. I am respectful of those many differences and am especially lucky because they got involved shortly after I began writing and offered me endless resources, counsel, encouragement, and a soundboard throughout the development. They are looking forward to the next one.
TC:One of the things I love most about the book is how fresh and personal the language feels. Your writing voice is so incredibly distinctive, full of its own rhythm and expressions. In terms of the writing process, how long did it take to really nail the voice?
CC: The personality of the story took a long time to nurture and support, but it is also true that it is intrinsic to the story, at least to me.
To me, writing is a celebration of life.
TC:You worked for a time with celebrated writer Lee Maracle. What was that like for you, personally and as a writer?
Lee met me at a key juncture in my life. I’ll never forget working with her, and how much she lifted me and my work up. The impact of her generosity and knowledge resonates every day.
TC:Half-Bads in White Regalia is getting a lot of well-deserved praise. How does it feel to have it out there in the world?
CC: It truly feels like HBIWR came out at the right time. I could have waited another decade or longer, and a few opportunities to release it earlier came my way. But I’m happy it came out in May and as this version. When a person sets out on an difficult but possible journey, they will need to field doubts about the prospect of taking it from friends, relatives, co-workers, partygoers, community, dedicated naysayers, and most importantly themselves. Anybody who reads and responds to this book affirms the nine-year journey I took to write it, and I’m grateful for that.
Excerpt from Half-Bads in White Regalia
Ask any half-bad to tell you the story about how their bad half came to be and they’ll probably begin with the buckle.
The buckle is a rumble that hijacks the interior faculties to make one think and act without compunction. The buckle attacks the locus of focus and apes the half-bad’s best intentions, only to play them like a chump chimp. And if left unchecked, the buckle will keep going until the frequencies connecting them to community fizzle out into the ether of rumour and myth.
The buckle’s kink is myopic stimulus, pitching id toward what one elder warned me against: that “big do, little think” business. And what little I’ve learned in my meagre years of living is that a half-bad story is always concerned with a big do and the amount of blue the half-bad feels for doing it.
Baddies are different: infamous pros who go the distance. Baddies work in tandem with the buckle, will just mutter fuck it to themselves real quick and not lose any hair over
Baddies relish in the wanton swelling of the genitals, nervous systems, fists, and lips, no matter if it costs them a best friend or credit score, or if it breaches what sleeps between arm-pit and sternum. In the stories baddies tell, the buckle is instinct, and they can’t help it. It’s the buckle and that was yesterday. Just get over it already.
There are many stories about the buckle royally messing something up, a good chunk of which are so gnarly that most people just send the baddie on their way. Toss the bastards on baddie island. Free ticket on the one-way. As they should. Cuz those stories leave many feeling as though there’s no way but the one-way, no getting over it, and we come to them hoping they’ll teach us the differences between baddies and the rest of us.
But they also leave some half-bads curious and terrified about the rapid onset of their own buckling, wondering if there’s some-thing to be done before the big do comes to usher them from half-bad to baddie. Or maybe it’s better to just think of the buckle as a warning attached to every half-bad story, even if the half-bad never warns as such
Excerpted from Half-Bads in White Regalia by Cody Caetano, copyright 2022. Reproduced with permission from Hamish Hamilton Canada.