Heavy Stuff

Author Chris Cander, a former bodybuilder, weighs in on the discipline of writing.

Daniel Ortiz
13_CityBookChrisCander_DOrtizPhoto_111618

Some jobs seem to dovetail nicely with the craft of writing. Say, teacher or journalist. But what about bodybuilder? Not on the shortlist?


“I was a competitive bodybuilder before I wrote novels,” says Houston-based author Chris Cander over coffee at Cavo. She’s dressed unpretentiously, in athleisure. “I started writing about bodybuilding and fitness. Because of my androgynous name, I even did a lot of work for men’s fitness magazines.” It was a grind — she churned out several articles each month — but taught her how to prioritize. “Eventually I realized I had a limited amount of time to work with, so I decided to focus it on books.”

Her third novel, The Weight of a Piano, will be released on Jan. 22. In it, two women are tasked with the burden of carrying a piano through their lives. It’s an unusually cumbersome upright Blüthner; searching Google images yields something that resembles less an instrument than a cabinet. 

So what do pianos mean to Cander? “Very little,” she admits. “I am not musically inclined. I refuse to sing ‘Happy Birthday.’” But, she says, “I’m married to a musician and have always dated musicians. I’m very drawn to the interaction between artist and instrument.”

Pianos, she continues, are ubiquitous: Everyone seems to have one, yet many don’t know what to do with them. “I have a funny relationship with personal objects, passed down,” she muses, citing things like a trove of family photos, or a quilt. “They have ... sentimental meaning, but with every new acquisition, I think, ‘What am I going to do with this?’”

Several events surrounding the book’s release involve music; on Jan. 22, she’s working with Brazos Bookstore and local playwright Elizabeth Keel to stage scenes from the book at Downtown’s Christ Church Cathedral. Musicians will also perform an original piece, envisioned as a coda to the book. “I wanted to give people an insight into what it was like to write the book, how I experienced the characters, how music is integrated into the narrative. In my head, it’s a multimedia experience.”

The mom of two started writing years ago, when her children were young. “I didn’t have a nanny, I didn’t have any help,” she says. “I get jazzed by discipline. There’s no way to rush the writing. But if you put in the time, that’s a fail-proof way to succeed. If you just do a little bit at a time, you will ultimately get there.” 

“Like bodybuilding,” one might say. 

“They’re equal to me,” she says, “in terms of the discipline. I am governed by discipline, strategizing my time, knowing there’s no quick fix to anything. You can’t sculpt a competitive physique overnight. Nor can you sculpt a book overnight.”

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