Archives For hybrid genres

I was initially invited to participate in this Writing Process Blog Tour by the fabulous Rebecca Meacham, whose fiction I admired even before the publication of her debut and award-winning story collection, Let’s Do. She was ahead of me by a few years in my Ph.D. program and I always admired and looked up to her – despite the fact that I think she’s a foot shorter than I am. Check out her post from last week.

Then, when I was just about to send a message to My Go-To Guy – the dangerously charming and talented Joseph Bates, author of the story collection Tomorrowland – inviting him to participate, I received a text from him, and he was inviting me. Like at the exact same time! Since he was up first, we decided he could tag me, and I’d tag other writers. Check out his post here, and see below for the three awesome writers who agreed to do it next week.

So anyway. Here are the questions and here are my answers.

1) What are you working on?

My personal life, mostly. It’s been a year in which I’ve felt more like a character in a novel than creator of characters. And things are never easy for characters in novels. So many internal and external conflicts! So many unexpected plot twists and cliffhangers! Obstacles! Antagonists! Only now do I feel that things are settling down enough that I can be the kind of character I prefer: Mrs. Dalloway wandering the streets of London, pausing as Big Ben rings another hour (irrevocable) and pondering the messages of aeroplanes.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I am not very generically stable. Fortunately I’ve found a publisher – Rose Metal Press – whose mission is to mix-and-match genres. I sent them the manuscript for Liliane’s Balcony, calling it a “novella-in-flash.” I’d never heard of such a thing, but they were like, yeah, sure, we love novellas-in-flash. This fall they’re publishing a collection of five novellas-in-flash.

Rose Metal Press is also going to publish my next book, The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová, which I am calling a collage biography. It’s all found texts from books and letters and internet sites. It’s also got images – photos, collages. It may or may not also include postcards that I’ve been writing to Božena. Stuff about my aforementioned personal life.

dont feel free

3) Why do you write what you do?

I go to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house on a chance trip to Ohiopyle, PA, I take a tour, I am overcome by the place, by its natural and architectural beauty, I think OMG I have to write a story set here, I listen to the tour guide who tells of the Kaufmann family who purchased the house, I remember being a kid in Pittsburgh and going to the Kaufmann department store, I think, “Same folks?” I go home and read up on the house and the Kaufmanns and I learn that the wife Liliane was beautiful and smart and tri-lingual and an art collector that her life ended in an overdose of pills in her bedroom at Fallingwater. I start writing.

Or. I go to Prague on a chance trip, I buy a book of Czech fairy tales for my daughter, I notice that there’s a picture of a woman (a woman!) on my Czech money and that her name matches the name on the fairy tale book, I do some research to learn more about her, I find conflicting info, poor translations, and outdated material, I find that someone has translated some of her letters and they are nothing like what I expected based on the research, and I take all my notes and quotes and arrange them until they tell some combination of her life and the impossibility of telling it.

4) How does your writing process work?

My favorite part is the research. I don’t think we talk enough about the importance of research, or the fun of it. You get to work on your writing project without actually writing, and research gets you excited and loaded with ideas so that you can’t help but write.

For Liliane’s Balcony, I volunteered as an Ask-Me Guide at Fallingwater, traveling to Ohiopyle, PA once a month and volunteering all weekend, talking to visitors and employees. I traveled to Cincinnati where I uncovered an archive of letters from Edgar Kaufmann to Liliane. I took photos of each letter, transcribed them at home, and incorporated excerpts into my book. I toured Wright’s other houses in Chicago. All of this informed and inspired my writing.

For my Božena Němcová project, I took a month-long Czech language class in Prague, visited her home town of České Skalice, and toured the extensive museum dedicated to her in the town. (I also got totally lost in this unpopulated village of non-English speakers.) I went to a used bookstore in Prague and bought old copies of her books to make collages. Most recently, I bought a 1968 Czech typewriter on eBay. All part of the writing process.

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A sketch I made of Bozena’s glasses, pen, notebook, and rosary displayed at her museum in Ceska Skalice.

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Here are the three writers who I have tagged for next week. And when I say ‘tag,’ I picture myself holding a magic wand that sparkles as I touch it to their shoulders.

Donna Miscolta is the author of the novel When the de la Cruz Family Danced. Her fiction has appeared in literary journals, and her story collection Natalie Wood’s Fake Puerto Rican Accent was selected by Peter Ho Davies as a finalist for the 2010 Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction. She has received over a dozen grants and fellowships and has been awarded artist residencies at Anderson Center for the Interdisciplinary Arts, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Hedgebrook, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. See her website and blog at www.donnamiscolta.com. [I also interviewed Donna for my How to Become a Writer series!]

David Dodd Lee is the author of eight full-length books of poems and a chapbook, including Downsides of Fish Culture (New Issues Press, 1997), Arrow Pointing North (Four Way Books, 2002), Abrupt Rural (New Issues Press, 2004), The Nervous Filaments (Four Way Books, 2010) Orphan, Indiana (University of Akron Press, 2010), Sky Booths in the Breath Somewhere, the Ashbery Erasure Poems (BlaxeVox, 2010), and The Coldest Winter On Earth (Marick Press, 2012). His newest book, Animalities, is forthcoming from Four Way Books in October, 2014. [He also makes gorgeous collages! Visit: http://seventeenfingeredpoetrybird.blogspot.com/]

Margaret Patton Chapman is the author of the novella-in-flash, Bell and Bargain, forthcoming in My Very End of the Universe: Five Novellas-in-Flash and a Study of the Form (Rose Metal Press 2014). http://margaretpattonchapman.com/

I’ve always loved the feeling that reading gives—like the author is letting you in on some mystery, big or small: the mystery of a huge world event or the mystery of a private individual consciousness.

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Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press and a founding member of Poems While You Wait. She is the author, most recently of the novel in poems Robinson Alone (Gold Wake, 2012) and her debut novel O, Democracy!has just been released by Fifth Star Press. She lives in Chicago. Her latest chapbook with Elisa Gabbert is The Kind of Beauty that has Nowhere to Go (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). Follow her @KathleenMRooney.

Web site: http://kathleenrooney.com/

ODemocracyCoverRead more by and about Kathleen

Novel: O Democracy!

Novel in Poems: Robinson Alone

Essay at Poetry Foundation: Based on a True Story. Or not.

Project: Poems While You Wait

5 Poems with Elissa Gabbert: Five Poems

How Kathleen Rooney 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 Kathleen for saying yes!

1. Why did you want to become a writer?

Mysteries. Not like mystery novels, but the mysteries of the world—supernatural, mysteries-of-the-unexplained type mysteries, the mysteries of why people act the way they do, religious mysteries, mysteries of history, especially those that involve once-popular things that have long since been forgotten. From the time I learned how to read up until the present day, I’ve always loved the feeling that reading gives—like the author is letting you in on some mystery, big or small: the mystery of a huge world event or the mystery of a private individual consciousness. Also from the time I learned how to read I wanted to do that, too—to have that sense of discovery you get when you are trying to write about something, either through research or through the act of trying to sort your ideas out on the page.

I’ve always wanted to be a detective, like a private investigator a la Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe and since that seems not to be in the offing, being a writer seems like the next best thing. Private detectives and investigators have always intrigued me, at least as they’re depicted on shows like or The Rockford Files or Murder She Wrote or Magnum P.I. Columbo, I guess, is the exception, in that he is an official—a police detective and not a private one—but he’s so unrealistically so—I mean, he’s basically an angel—that he makes the list too.The Wikipedia page for Sam Spade says that he is notable for his “detached demeanor, keen eye for detail, and unflinching determination to achieve his own justice.” All three of those seem like writerly traits—the degree of removed observation necessary to understand how people act, the intention of getting the details right, and the impulse to shape a story into the form or outcome you desire.

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2.  How did you go about becoming a writer?

This is not an original answer, but: I read. A lot. Everything. I still do. All genres from poetry to fiction to cereal boxes to nonfiction to comics to newspapers to magazines both high-minded and trashy. Formally, I studied creative writing from high school through grad school, and that formal education was certainly important in terms of becoming a writer, but I’m not sure it was more important than just trying to “be one of the people on whom nothing is lost” like Henry James recommended.

RUStache

3.  Who helped you along the way, and how?

This, too, is probably not such an original answer, but I had brilliant English teachers when I was in high school: Beth van Es my freshman year, Irv Lester (RIP) my sophomore year, Jane Rice my junior year, and Linda Augustyn my senior year. They were supportive and encouraging to me at an early age—all four of them took my aspirations and my earnest dorkiness seriously and at face value and went out of their ways to help me become a better reader and writer. Essentially, they treated me like an adult and a whole human, not like someone to condescend to. The same can be said of my undergraduate teachers, especially Margaret Soltan (whose excellent blog you can find here http://www.margaretsoltan.com/) and Tara Wallace. And of my graduate teachers John Skoyles and Bill Knott (RIP), the latter of whom taught me how to be a contrarian when necessary and how to be a teacher—he was so sincere in his love of poetry and so incapable of bullshit and so determined to try to help everyone be a better reader and writer and thinker. He died earlier this year, and that was a huge loss, I think, to everyone who knew and read him.

4.  Can you tell me about a writer or artist whose biography inspires you?

The poet and writer Weldon Kees’ biography—from his Midwestern roots and early promise to his likely very sad and mysterious demise (Did he run away to Mexico? Or did he jump off the Golden Gate Bridge?) inspired me so much I wrote a book about him, Robinson Alone. In his introduction to Kees’ Collected Poems, Donald Justice writes that Kees is “one of the bitterest poets in history,” and that “the bitterness may be traced to a profound hatred for a botched civilization, Whitman’s America come to a dead end on the shores of the Pacific.” I like his bitterness, because it is also smart and sad and sharp and funny. Kees was an optimist, and his capacity for deep disappointment came from his equal capacity for deep hope. I admire that.

5.  What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer?

Indirectly, from Fred Leebron, “Writing is a game of attrition; don’t attrit.”

 

I received this email today. Yay! My book Liliane’s Balcony is now available in e-book and regular-book form. All the details are in the message below, including my crazy tour schedule that I have to juggle with my teaching schedule. (Are you in Iowa, Chicago, Baltimore, DC, or Pittsburgh? Can we meet for a drink?)

I love that Rose Metal Press chose to donate 5% of sales in the first two weeks to the preservation of Fallingwater.
Dear Friends, Subscribers, and Supporters of Rose Metal Press:
LAUNCH DAY FOR LILIANE’S BALCONY BY KELCEY PARKER
It’s here! Our fall release, Liliane’s Balcony: A Novella of Fallingwater by Kelcey Parker, is now available for order! Information and all details about the book can be found here. Preorders are on their way! We are so pleased to bring you this innovative novella-in-flash that, among other things, highlights the beauty and complexity of Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Fallingwater and the family who built it.
In honor of the Fallingwater setting, between October 1 and October 15, we are donating 5% of all sales through our website to the preservation of Fallingwater. Order here to contribute to this unique American treasure.
Liliane’s Balcony is already garnering positive reviews and attention. Look for upcoming reviews in Booklist and Publisher’s Weekly as well as coverage in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Rumpus. You can read a new excerpt of the book up on Talking Writing today!
Liliane’s Balcony is also available in e-book format for Kindle and Nook. Bookstore and library orders for print copies can be made through Small Press Distribution.
Caitlin Horrocks writes of the novella: “Liliane’s Balcony is as layered and audacious as the house at the center of the novella. Parker dances effortlessly between present and past, fact and fiction, nature and interior, lovers and out-of-lovers. The story that emerges is moving and precariously beautiful: a book that in lesser hands might have come toppling down. In Parker’s, it’s a triumph.” 
Liliane’s Balcony also features Fran Forman’s artwork on the cover and Heather Butterfield’s cover and book design.
Rose Metal Press Subscribers at the $100 level or more will be receiving their copies of Liliane’s Balcony the week of the launch. There’s still time to SUBSCRIBE to Rose Metal Press for 2013 and support our mission and the work we do while also receiving your copies of our books first. If you subscribe now, you’ll get a copy of our first two 2013 books, as well as Liliane’s Balcony.
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KELCEY PARKER ON TOUR WITH LILIANE’S BALCONY THIS FALL
Kelcey will be reading from Liliane’s Balcony at events around the Midwest and East Coast this fall. Be sure to come out to events near you to hear Kelcey read and get your copy of the book signed! Events are listed on our News page and also below:
Tuesday, October 15
Kelcey Parker reading from Liliane’s Balcony at Prairie Lights at 7:00 pm
Free and open to the publicPrairie Lights
15 South Dubuque St.
Iowa City, Iowa
Wednesday, October 16
Kelcey Parker reading from Liliane’s Balcony for the Local Author Night Series at 7:00 pm
Free and open to the publicThe Book Cellar
4736 North Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, Illinois
Friday, October 18
Kelcey Parker reading from Liliane’s Balcony at the Black Squirrel at 7:00 pm. Event co-hosted by Rose Metal Press and Barrelhouse Books. With Dan Brady, Lee Klein, and Caryn Lazzuri
Free and open to the publicThe Black Squirrel
2427 18th St. NW
Washington, D.C.
Saturday, October 19
Kelcey Parker reading from Liliane’s Balcony in the 510 Reading Series at 5:00 pm
Free and open to the public510 Reading Series
Minás Gallery
815 W. 36th St.
Baltimore, Maryland
Thursday, November 21
Kelcey Parker reading from Liliane’s Balcony in The New Yinzer Reading Series at 7:00 pm
Free and open to the publicThe New Yinzer Reading Series
Modern Formations
4019 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Saturday, November 23
Kelcey Parker reading from Liliane’s Balcony at East End Book Exchange at 7:00 pm
Free and open to the publicEast End Book Exchange
4754 Liberty Ave.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

This week’s WordPress photo challenge is saturated. And here’s an image that is saturated in color AND dripping with water: the cover of my new book!

Liliane’s Balcony comes out on Oct. 7 and is now available for pre-order. I would be really grateful if you ordered it. Free shipping, man. Direct from the publisher. They’ll have it in your hands in a little over a week.

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Publisher’s Description:

Liliane’s Balcony is a multi-voiced novella-in-flash set at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Built for Pittsburgh merchants E.J. and Liliane Kaufmann in 1935, the house is as much a character as it is a setting. One September night in 1952, Liliane Kaufmann—tired of her husband’s infidelities—overdoses on pain pills in her bedroom. From there, Liliane’s Balcony alternates Mrs. Kaufmann’s mostly true story with the fictional narratives of four modern-day tourists who arrive at the historic home in the midst of their own personal crises, all of which culminate on Mrs. Kaufmann’s over-sized, cantilevered balcony. With its ghosts, motorcycles, portraits, Vikings, failed relationships, and many layered voices, Kelcey Parker’s Liliane’s Balcony is as dizzying and intricately beautiful as the architectural wonder in which it is set.

How Jac Jemc Became a Writer

November 11, 2012 — 3 Comments

I love to read, and so I want to write things that I would like to read. It’s the only thing more rewarding than reading for me.

Jac Jemc lives in Chicago where she makes monsters and writes fiction and poetry. Her first novel, My Only Wife, was published by Dzanc Books in April 2012 and a chapbook of stories, This Stranger She’d Invited In, sold out at Greying Ghost Press in March 2011 .  Jac’s writing has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, finished 2nd place in the Marginalia College Contest and placed as a finalist for the Rose Metal Press Chapbook Contest and Sentence Firewheel Chapbook Contest.  Her story “Women in Wells” was featured in the 2010 Best of the Web. Jac received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has completed residencies at Ragdale and the Vermont Studio Center. She is poetry editor at decomP and member of the editorial team at Tarpaulin Sky. She has served as a guest editor of Little White Poetry Journal  and and Hobart Web, and worked as a reader at Our Stories and The Means. In 2012 she was the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Professional Development Grant.

Visit her web site: http://jacjemc.com

Read more by and about Jac:

Novel: My Only Wife

Novel excerpt: My Wife, the Weight at Melusine

Story: The Grifted at Collagist

Story: Prowlers at Necessary Fiction

How Jac Jemc 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 Jac for saying yes!

1.  Why did you want to become a writer?

When I was in the third grade, I told my teacher my dream was to write a 100-page book. Then I forgot about that for a while, and tried some other things: music and acting, but I continued being a big reader. When I was in college I started writing again more seriously, and I realized how important it was to me, and that I could accomplish what I wanted to express in a way I hadn’t been able to achieve before. The more I read, the more ways of telling a story there seemed to be, and that made writing more and more attractive to me. I was finishing out a degree in theater, but I discovered that I really preferred working alone.  I think I might not be a terrific collaborator because I tend to want to follow through my own idea from beginning to end, and theater had a few too many variables for me. I think the short answer though, is that I love to read, and so I want to write things that I would like to read. It’s the only thing more rewarding than reading for me.

2.  How did you go about becoming a writer?

So all of the things I just said go into the actual steps to ‘becoming a writer.’ But I started a double major in English Creative Writing and worked with some terrifically supportive professors in undergrad. I made a couple independent studies in novel writing and playwriting (which I realized was not for me) that seemed super important to my development. The novel writing independent study was with a poetry teacher, so I was already on the road to hybrids. When I started looking at grad schools, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago seemed ideal because they’re one of the only schools that doesn’t make you choose a concentration. You can take a poetry class and it might be full of painters who want to talk language and you can take a fiction class that’s full of poets, and the world just opens up. Luckily (haha) it was the only school that I was accepted to, so I wasn’t given the chance to mess up that decision. At SAIC, students have the option to meet weekly with advisors, which I found to be the most valuable part of that program.  I started by setting goals for how many hours a week I want to write. I try to stick to a schedule – if not a regular time every day to write, a certain number of hours a week. Of course, life intervenes and messes with the schedule often, but setting that expectation and working for it is what makes me feel like I can call myself a writer. As soon as I stop making that time a priority is when I’m in jeopardy of “writer” not being a word that applies to me.

3.  Who helped you along the way, and how?

Those advisors in grad school were huge helps. They taught me how to ask the right questions, and the right question is usually, “Is this what I want it to be? How do I make it what I want it to be?”  Advisors that were invaluable to me were Beth Nugent, Janet Desaulniers, Carol Anshaw, Ellen Rothenberg, Bin Ramke. I could go on; the whole community was just life-changing. My peers are my biggest motivator now. I’m surrounded by people that write AMAZING work that is exactly what I want to read. I see how hard they work and how true they are to themselves, and I makes me want to work harder.

by Edward Gorey

4.  Can you tell me about a writer or artist whose biography inspires you?

Edward Gorey comes to mind. What an entirely singular vision. He made what he wanted to make even though there was no category for it, and he lived his life in a way that seemed just wholly true to himself, too.  And he LOVED to work! That is so exciting to me.

Eileen Myles, too. Her novel, Inferno is about her life, and she is such an inspiration. She was so fearlessly herself. Patti Smith, too. Lynda Barry. Andy Warhol. All of these people have a way of weaving their work so seamlessly into their lives. That sounds like the perfect world to me, to erase that divide between my creative life and the work it takes to live and keep going.

Book trailer for Eileen Myles, Inferno:

5.  What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer?

I’d say: Read. Write exactly what you want to write, even if it seems like a piece of crap while writing it. Learn how to listen to criticism in a way that allows the writing to become better, but learn how to recognize the suggestions you do and don’t want to follow through with. See lots of art and watch movies and be with people and live your whole life. It’s easy to feel like you need to accomplish everything immediately, but you need to live, too.  There is time. So much time. You can be Woody Allen and put out a movie every year, whether it’s good or bad, or you can be Terrence Malick, making a film a decade: whatever works for you. Read and write.

Writing is like breathing.  We all breathe and think we know how to, but only a few of us pay attention to it.  I teach yoga as one of my many jobs and much of the practice of yoga is about breathing.

Joanne Avallon is a freelance writer living in Rockport, Massachusetts. She was awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize from Wellesley College and received an M.F.A. from Emerson College. Her work has appeared in Sundog, The Norton Anthology of Microfiction, Smokelong Quarterly, FictionNow, BlinkInk, and other online literary sites. She has read her poetry on National Public Radio. Joanne also teaches American Literature at North Shore Community College and consults for the Clean Air Task Force. She is married, with two children and a 70-pound dog.

Read more by and about Joanne:

Flash Fiction: “All This” & Interview

Flash Fiction: Beauty, Bridge Mix, The Game of Life

Flash Fiction: Mice Cube

Flash Fiction: Kapha

Interview: Smokelong Quarterly

How Joanne Avallon 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 Joanne for saying yes!

1.  Why did you want to become a writer?

I don’t know that I had a choice; as soon as I could write, it seemed to me that I should write.  I was a sensitive child and sometimes, for reasons I didn’t understand, I felt my heart was about to burst.  I wrote to find out why.  Poetry fit that purpose because I could ponder one idea – a few lines of verse – for a long time.  When I hit my teenage years, or they hit me, I discovered that I had a knack for telling stories.  When I was sixteen, I remember telling a story to my father – a voluble and busy man – and I had him stuck to his chair until I decided to end the story.  Now that is power.

2.  How did you go about becoming a writer?

I majored in literature in college with a focus on creative writing.  I thought then, and I still think now, that it makes no sense to be a student of literature and not write.  There were so many English majors in my class who had never actually tried to write what they studied so assiduously.  When I graduated, my parents told me that I would starve as a writer and that they would only pay for a graduate degree that would get me a job.  So, I followed the steps of Carlos Fuentes and went to law school and became a lawyer.  I practiced law long enough to earn the tuition for my MFA in Literature, Writing and Publishing at Emerson College.  In the middle of all of this, I got married and had two children.  I was pregnant or post partum for most of time I was studying for my MFA.  I defended my thesis when I was seven months pregnant with my son and endured endless puns and double entendres about that fecund period of my life.  I am glad I got my law degree.  It helped to me be a better writer and has come in handy when I needed to earn some money.  I did find it hard to write with small children and decided those years would be my “stockpile” years where I would develop my writing without worrying too much about publishing.  I am just beginning to get back into the publishing world now.

3.  Who helped you along the way, and how?

Frank Bidart, my poetry professor at Wellesley, was tirelessly encouraging and went over my senior thesis, a book of poems, word by word.  That thesis won me the Academy of American Poets prize.  At Emerson, Pam Painter opened my eyes to the world of flash fiction, which I consider the perfect storm between poetry and prose.  In her class, I wrote “All This,” which is in MicroFiction:  The Norton Anthology of Short Short Fiction.

4.  Can you tell me about a writer or artist whose biography inspires you?

My favorite piece of short fiction is Eudora Welty’s “The Wide Net.”  I had the pleasure of listening to her read it while I was at law school.  When she was done, the reading organizer presented her with a chocolate pecan pie and she said, “A pie is the best payment I ever got for this story.”

I love that story because it is a retort to all the male writers of her generation writing male adventure/journey stories.  That story is about a husband’s journey to find and understand his young wife.

Eudora lived in her hometown or nearby for a good long time.  I grew up in Beverly, Massachusetts and just recently moved to Rockport.  Many of my good friends I knew as children.  There is wisdom to be gotten in letting yourself grow old where you once were young.  I appreciate Eudora’s eye on small town life and on the way time passes.  She also has a wonderful hand with character, drawing them deftly with a few well-written sentences.

5.  What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer? 

Dear Friend,

You have no doubt already faced the blank stares of friends in response to your announcement that you are a writer.  Writing is like breathing.  We all breathe and think we know how to, but only a few of us pay attention to it.  I teach yoga as one of my many jobs and much of the practice of yoga is about breathing.  When you focus on your breathing – the simple inhale and exhale – you begin to notice how it makes you feel and how controlling your breath can help control your emotions.  And then you start wondering about breathing itself and about what it means to be alive.

Such a simple thing leads to huge insights.  Writing is simple, too.  Almost everyone in our culture is literate but few stop to focus on writing as a craft, to understand the power of it or the importance of it.  If writing does nothing else for you than force you to lead an examined life, then it’s a fair trade: work for insight.  Be brave and continue.

The other response you will get when you tell people you are a writer is the dreaded question, “are you published?”  This is a rude and inappropriate question asked by someone who doesn’t understand your art.  Always answer “yes.”  If they ask you where, say “The New Yorker” and then ask them what they do for a living.  No doubt they will talk happily about their careers, forget your name and walk away thinking they just had a wonderful conversation with a talented writer.  Do nothing to disabuse them of this notion.

Life is long.  Sometimes writing will come easily; other times it will not.  Be patient with yourself, keep working and remember, the journey is the reward.

Namaste,

Joanne

These days I take rejection as validation: I’m in the game, I’m doing what writers do, and good for me for trying. Rejection of a piece should never be taken as rejection of the whole writer.

Eric Bosse’s story collection, Magnificent Mistakes, was published by Ravenna Press in the fall of 2011. His stories have appeared in The Sun, Zoetrope, Mississippi Review, Exquisite Corpse, Night Train, The Collagist, Wigleaf, and several other journals and anthologies. He teaches at the University of Oklahoma and lives in Norman with his wife and kids.

Web site: http://everythingisbeautifulandnothinghurts.blogspot.com/

Read more by and about Eric:

Book: Magnificent Mistakes

Story: “Trinkets”

Story: “Mallard” in Wigleaf

How Eric Bosse 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 until I run out of writers to interview, or until they stop saying yes. Each writer answers the same 5 questions. Thanks to Eric for saying yes!

1. Why did you want to become a writer? 

When I figured out that being my high school freshman football team’s fourth-string quarterback put my odds of playing in the NFL at basically nil, I had to do something else. Actually, I’m not sure I ever wanted to become a writer, because writing was something I always did. People hesitate to say “I’m a writer” because it sounds arrogant or pretentious, I gather; but, if you write, then by definition you are a writer. And I made stories and poems as soon as I could write sentences. Even before I knew how to hold a pencil, I moved through the real world and the worlds of my imagination simultaneously and more or less constantly. I don’t know that I ever had imaginary friends, but I imagined countless adventures and conflicts with people I knew and with characters from books and TV shows. As a child, I was my own mobile 3-D cinema experience. Later, when I dropped out of high school football, I detoured into acting, took theater classes, auditioned for plays, and began an independent course of study in cinema. But by college, I found acting classes less engaging than English and philosophy. I kept acting but ultimately switched to the English major not because I intended to leave theater but because school was a pastime and lit classes amounted to an interesting hobby. I wrote a lot of terrible poetry in those years, which I mistook for great. But no one ever published it. After college, I fell into journalism to pay the bills. Over time, I grew less satisfied by acting in plays. Even when I acted professionally, acting began to feel like the equivalent of playing guitar in a covers band. I eventually figured out that I was a bad poet, but I didn’t have the stamina for novels. And I didn’t have the technical skill to make movies. I was a writer without a genre, I suppose.

A video reading of “Seagulls”

2. How did you go about becoming a writer? 

In the eighties and nineties I churned out mountains of bad poetry and volumes of intense personal journal entries. Then, around 1998 or 1999, I joined Zoetrope, Francis Ford Coppola’s glorious online writing workshop. There, I fell in with a lively, committed group of flash fiction writers. We spurred each other on, and I discovered I had a knack for compression and vivid imagery. I sent out a few flash fictions, got published, and gradually expanded my work into short stories. I considered flash fiction the “basic unit” of my stories, and you can see that at work in my book. Even the longest pieces are broken into fragments that have their own shape and momentum. Hopefully they work cohesively, as well.

For any aspiring writers who may read this, one obscure masterpiece that uses flash fictions within a larger narrative is Oz Shelach’s “novel in fragments,” Picnic Grounds. I learned a lot from that book. And from Ernest Hemingway and Yasunari Kawabata, too.

But maybe that’s not what you’re after. In my more-or-less daily practice, I got up early, before my wife, and tapped out story after story. I read a lot of magazines and online journals. I started following writers I admired. I went deep with a few (the usual suspects: Hemingway, Vonnegut, Tobias Wolff, George Saunders, Stuart Dybek) then gained an appreciation for the more densely packed stories of Alice Munro and the rich and varied worlds within books by Andrea Barrett and Jim Shepard. I can’t say precisely how these writers influenced me, but whenever I found myself in a jam while working on a story I’d ask what one of them would do in a similar situation. I still do that. It’s a crutch, but it helps. Also, if I just don’t feel in the right frame of mind to write, I start by reading poetry. Good poetry. That almost always works to get me going. I rarely experience writer’s block; but I go through phases when I’m terribly undisciplined. I have to somehow trick myself into writing. Once I start, I don’t stop until I’m out of time.

As for getting published, I sent out my best work as many as thirty, forty, even fifty times—starting with the top tier magazines and working my way down through print and online journals. I did that until each piece got published or I became disenchanted with it. Or both. I try to gauge whether a story fits well with a given publication, but that’s guesswork. I don’t devote a lot of time to fiction market study. I learned from running my own online journal that a rejection really should not come as a blow to the ego. As an editor, I turned down countless excellent stories because they didn’t quite align with my aesthetic for the journal. These days I take rejection as validation: I’m in the game, I’m doing what writers do, and good for me for trying. Rejection of a piece should never be taken as rejection of the whole writer. That’s the best advice I can give to a beginner—well, that and don’t pay for grad school. There are enough fully funded slots in MFA programs that if you don’t get one this year you should keep trying until you do.

3. Who helped you along the way, and how? 

I mentioned Zoetrope: the writers there helped immensely. Closely studying published writers I admired helped. I had one close reading relationship with a peer in grad school, but that faded when I moved away. I have yet to find a true, long-term mentor—an expert reader who believes in me, actively reads my stories, and tells me honestly what works and what doesn’t. I was certain Kevin Canty would become that for me when I went off to grad school, but he went on sabbatical for my first year and we never quite clicked when he came back. Kevin’s a good guy. I admire his work. And he may be the published author out there with whom I—well, my stories—have the most in common. But whatever makes for a good mentor -and-writer relationship, I have not found that. It feels like a myth to me now, one that I may never live. But who knows? I may not be easy to get along with. I’ve got that fatal combination of shyness and confidence that people often misread as arrogance. I’m probably the most neurotic, self-critical person I know; yet I come across as…well, that’s purely speculation. Whatever I am—quiet loner or asshole, or both—I’m kind of out here on my own, as a writer. Which is fine. Kathryn Rantala at Ravenna Press has proven very supportive these past few years, and the book has begun to reach a few readers. That’s all the validation I need.

My acting experience feeds into my writing career in a productive way. It’s been twelve years since I last did a play; but, now that I’m doing a lot of public readings (about 30 in the past year), I can use those theatrical skills to pull off a more dramatic and hopefully engaging reading than your average writer. We writers are often, by nature, quiet, shy, reclusive. And I am. But when I go on stage or walk up to a mic, I know how to perform. So, in that sense, I’ve drawn upon the contributions of a host of mentors and teachers who helped me. My high school forensics coach, Gaye Brasher, has probably done as much for my writing career as anyone else. And the great, under-appreciated theatrical director Murray Ross in Colorado Springs cleared the way for me to find myself over and over again in the plays he directed. It’s strange to make the connection now, as I write this, between acting and writing. I understand characters and character development and even dialog thanks to the theater. Oh, and I had a good friend, Paul Vaughn, who collaborated with me on a few super-low-budget movie projects (see below). He was great. He kept me honest. And I did my best work when I wrote with Paul firmly in mind as my reader. Unfortunately cancer took his life a few years ago. Fuck you, cancer.

MOCK: The Ultimate Mockumentary

4. Can you tell me about a writer or artist whose biography inspires you? 

Well, I can’t get over what Jean-Dominique Bauby did in his memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Bauby suffered from locked-in syndrome when he wrote the book, meaning he couldn’t move his body at all. His mode of communication with the world was an eyelid. Someone would read the alphabet, in the order the letters most frequently appear in the French language, and Bauby would blink when he heard the letter he wanted next.

But it’s not the first-glance inspirational value of his triumph that I take to heart. In fact, I suspect taking inspiration from that struggle is one of the crude luxuries of able-bodied privilege. What inspires me still, after five readings, is Bauby’s evocation of the sensual and emotional details of a life and world from which he was almost entirely removed. I don’t know how factually accurate his memoir is, but the fullness with which he imagines and records his story devastates me. In a good way. So I hold that in mind sometimes when I write, as a kind of ideal to strive toward.

5. What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer?

I should write that letter. Now that I’ve become a parent and launched an actual grownup career (I’m a professor—well, a “lecturer”—and for the most part I teach essay writing rather than creative writing), my time and energy for writing have dwindled. Writing these answers has tripled my output for the week. (Did I just type “output”? I’m getting sloppy in my old age.) But in my letter to an imaginary aspiring writer, I would assure that writer that she is in fact a writer, and that her self-doubt is simply a byproduct of the task of writing. (Did I just type “byproduct”?) In a letter to just such a writer, Charles Baxter identifies feelings of inadequacy as “the black-lung disease of writing.” Self doubt is a professional hazard: you will write, and the world will remain indifferent. You will fail. You will learn something new, try something new, and you will fail again. You will feel like an imposter. And this will happen to you again and again and again. And along the way, if you can remember to be kind to yourself and others, you’ll hopefully lead a life worth living. Maybe you should not gamble your entire financial future on the chance that you’ll spit out a bestseller sooner or later. But if you want to write and you care enough to do the work of discovering your blind spots and improving your vision, then don’t give up. And don’t expect success. Redefine success so writing will be its own victory. Each draft is a triumph, even the one where you botch the whole thing. Every rejection is a badge of honor. And every publication is a major milestone along the road. The road to what? Keep going. Find out.