You could call me a late bloomer.
I was forty-three before I had a poem accepted for publication,
sixty-two before one of my short stories made it out into the world.
David Meischen’s stories and poems have appeared in Gettysburg Review, Talking Writing, Prime Number, Bellingham Review, The Southern Review, Southern Poetry Review, Borderlands, Cider Press Review, and elsewhere. As a founder of Dos Gatos Press, he is co-editor of Wingbeats: Exercises and Practice in Poetry. Meischen has an MFA in fiction from Texas State, San Marcos. Winner of the Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest in Mainstream Fiction, 2011, and the Talking Writing Fiction Contest, 2012, he is currently serving as a juror for the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts.
Featured at Talking Writing: This interview is part of a partnership with Talking Writing magazine. The How to Become a Writer Series here at PhD in Creative Writing now includes interviews with Talking Writing’s featured fiction writers.
Read more by and about David:
Story: Agua Dulce, winner of the Talking Writing Fiction Contest
Story: Yellow Jackets at Talking Writing
Story: In the Garden at Superstition Review
Edited book: Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice in Poetry
Interview: Blood Jet Radio
How David Meischen Became a Writer
This is the next installment in the How to Become a Writer interview series, which will post here at Ph.D. in Creative Writing every other Sunday (or so) until I run out of writers to interview, or until they stop saying yes. Each writer answers the same 5 questions. Thanks to David for saying yes! And thanks to Talking Writing magazine for sharing their writers!
1. Why did you want to become a writer?
I’ve been in love with stories for as long as I can remember. Two of my grandparents were storytellers—Lillie Bruns Meischen and Edmund Frank Henry Morgenroth. As a child I loved listening to them; I loved weaving stories of my own. I wanted to be a writer because for me there is no magic more powerful than the magic of stories.
2. How did you go about becoming a writer?
You could call me a late bloomer. I was forty-three before I had a poem accepted for publication, sixty-two before one of my short stories made it out into the world. My apprentice ship in poetry occurred quite by accident when I decided that I was going to teach my ninth-grade students about poetry by having them write poems. Frequently, during a writing exercise, I sat down to write with my students. I learned with them. My apprenticeship in fiction was more intentional. Seven years ago, I enrolled in an MFA program. I put short stories front and center, reading as many of them as I could and channeling my energy into the writing. I love revision. With rare exception, my poems and stories go through draft after draft after draft before I send them out.
3. Who helped you along the way, and how?
I’m indebted to dozens of fine teachers I’ve known dating all the way back to the fall of 1955, when I entered first grade. More recently, I’ve been able to study with some remarkable teaching writers. For poetry, I’d have to name Laurie Kutchins, author of Slope of the Child Everlasting. Laurie helped me open up when I write poetry. Thanks to her encouragement, I have a poem in The Southern Review. For fiction, I’ve learned much from Debra Monroe, Tim O’Brien, and Daniel Mueller. They’re remarkable writers. If you’ve not read On the Outskirts of Normal or The Things They Carried or How Animals Mate, get yourself to a bookstore. Debra, Tim, and Daniel are much more than really fine writers, though. They are remarkable teachers. They know so much about the how of good writing—and even more about encouraging the best from their students.
As a practicing writer, I owe much to monthly meetings with two remarkable writing groups, one focused on poetry and the other on fiction. Fellow fiction writer Twister Marquiss has been generous with his time and insights. Finally, I have the incredible good fortune of sharing my life with a writer, the poet Scott Wiggerman, who inspires me by example and, when he reads my work, holds me to a high standard.
4. Can you tell me about a writer or artist whose biography inspires you?
More than thirty years ago, I wrote a Master’s thesis on the style of Ernest Hemingway’s early fiction. I read as much of the available biographical and critical material as I could get my hands on. What struck me then—what continues to inspire me about Hemingway—was the remarkable intersection between the events of the life and the stunning sentences a young man carved out of them. Hemingway’s brief but profoundly affecting experience in the First World War might have disappeared into a minor footnote somewhere about what was then called shell shock. Except for Paris. His early years in the French capitol, the people he knew there—Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and Scott Fitzgerald, to name only three—these might have fueled nothing more than drink and revelry. Except for the discipline a fledgling writer somehow brought to the page.
Hemingway in Milan 1918 // Image courtesy Wikimedia
Ernest Hemingway was a profoundly damaged man. Psychic trauma exacted its toll, as did fame and its siren song. Between them, they destroyed his talent. In the meantime, what he was able to accomplish with words! I am inspired every time I read the first short chapter of A Farewell to Arms. Every phrase, every word, every comma counts. At his best, Hemingway turned sentences into poetry. That’s what every practicing writer should aspire to.
5. What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer?
Carve out time and space. Sit down. Let the words come. Practice the art of tinkering. Find at least one other writer with whom you can share your work and your passion for writing. Revise. Then revise some more. And read, read, read.