Q&A with Author and Literary Journal Editor Scott Garson

 
Scott GarsonScott Garson is the author of IS THAT YOU, JOHN WAYNE?—a collection of stories—and AMERICAN GYMNOPEDIES, a book of microfictions. His fiction has won awards from Playboy, The Mary Roberts Rinehart Foundation and Dzanc Books, and he has work in or coming from
Kenyon Review, American Short Fiction, Hobart, Conjunctions, New York Tyrant and others. He edits the Pushcart-Prize-winning journal of very short fiction, Wigleaf.

What was your first real publication and how did it come about?

If I tell you that, how can I keep it buried?

Kidding.

My first publication was back in the ’90s—in the ‘Before’ era, as I see it now. Before the internet. Before indie mags had more than local reach. Then, as now, we were all sending our stuff to the Paris Review and receiving form slips in return. If we wanted a more realistic chance, we had to get creative. I looked through the addresses in the back of the Best American Short Stories and saw an Illinois journal (now defunct) called Black Dirt. They accepted and published a story of mine called “Aloha.” It was okay. My Mom liked it, I think.

You’ve just published your second book, Is That You, John Wayne?, another amazing collection of short stories. What makes you gravitate to short fiction? Do you ever plan to write longer-—say, a novel?
John Wayne book

Well, I do! There are a couple of novel manuscripts in my past… Does that sound depressing? Novels are like short stories, I think: it takes a while to learn how to do it. But while apprentice short stories are easily enough forgotten, novels take longer. There’s such an investment. It’s like you’re not allowed to let them go.

I’ve let those manuscripts go. Goodbye to you, unpublished novels. Good luck!

As to the attraction of short fiction, that’s easy: I loved reading before I discovered short fiction, but I probably wouldn’t ever have thought to become a writer if it weren’t for reading short fiction. That’s to say, fiction seduced me via the short story. It’s where I first saw how sense, sentence and story could come together as a kind of magic. I wanted to do that, to make that kind of thing.

How long has Wigleaf existed? 

We just had our sixth birthday. Birthday #5 was fun because my wife, Becky, made Wigleaf a birthday cake. A real birthday cake for a virtual magazine. My kids approved because the magazine, unlike them, could not bring a mouth to the party.

Again, this is a journal dedicated to short-short fiction. Why and how did you create it and what were you trying to do differently from other literary journals?

I suppose I was getting a little dejected as a writer when I got the idea for Wigleaf. That might be too strong a word, but my excitement was for sure not at a high. This was in 2007, I guess. I was publishing stories fairly regularly, which should have been spiriting, but there wasn’t a lot of response, and if I got a contributor’s copy and didn’t particulary enjoy some of the other fiction, I was liable to feel that the whole process was kind of useless.

Around this time I sent out a short-short for the first time, a 500-word story called “Lucky.” It was accepted by a journal that published only work of that length, Jennifer and Adam Pieroni’s late great Quick Fiction. Maybe you know where this is going. Reading that contributor’s copy of Quick Fiction was a great and amazing experience. All the writers were doing such careful, interesting work. With each piece, it seemed like the whole sense of what a story could be was invented all over again.

Not long after that I taught myself basic html. Online lit mags and short-short fiction were both sort of new, as I saw it. I thought they were a good fit for each other. (Some other early online mags had paved the way here: SmokeLong Quarterly, elimae, Hobart, Juked, and FRiGG, to name a few.)

What are you working on now?

Only a handful of people know this, so I guess it qualifies as a secret. Ready? I’m writing a novel for young readers which I’ll probably try to publish under a pseudonym. My two kids—ages 8 and 11—are responsible. They’ve challenged me to write something “not boring,” and my 8-year old has all sorts of advice for me as to how to do that (for example, “People like books that have chapters with titles.”). As a writing project, it’s certainly a switch-up. I’m enjoying it.

Any new publications forthcoming?

I have a draft of a short novel that I feel good about. Just now I can’t stand the idea of publishing it. A writer who’s got a book out is a writer whose mindlife is somewhat compromised…..  Maybe in another couple years.

Do you write every day?

In some seasons, yes. When I’m teaching, no. This semester, I write on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and weekends.

Maybe when my kids are grown I’ll be able to write every day again. (Not that I’m looking forward to that… This is a good time!)

Advice for aspiring writers?

#1.  Read a lot.

There’s the duh advice.

#2.  Understand that for most readers, the pleasure of fiction is the pleasure of interiority. This is not saying too much, in the sense that there are so many different ways to take readers inside a life. But it’s a good thing to remember, all the same. Better that the mind of your fiction move from the inside out rather than vice versa.

Go ahead, distract me

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Distraction is the enemy of the writing process, and it’s a wily enemy.

Because we do a lot of our writing at home, we are subject to a particular virulent strain known as Domestic Distraction (DD.) When we sit down to write (often hiding from our children and other family members) we can pretty much predict the ambush.

Actually, Cathy just sent me this email describing a recent writing session at her home:

“Well, right now I’m trying to work, and I have four kids running in and asking for popcorn and drinks. And one of them is 14! And the phone keeps ringing. And the dog is barking. I had a dentist appointment this morning, and now the renovators are coming in half an hour and I have to get the whole kitchen cleaned before they get here. How much writing do you think I’ve actually done today? Slightly less than tweet-length.”

Sounds about right. Sometimes it really is best to get out of the house to write. Go to a coffee shop. Try the library. Anywhere that the people won’t mean anything to you, and the surroundings will mean even less.

But if you can’t slip away, you might as well laugh. Here, in no certain order, are some of the recent issues that have had the temerity to disturb us at our writing desks.

  • The house is too cold. It’s winter. It’s New England, but seriously my fingers hurt.
  • The dog wants out. Now he wants in. Now he wants back out.
  • The neighbors’ kids are really into screaming. In their backyard. At full volume.
  • My 5-year-old has been too quiet for too long.
  • My 5-year-old has been unbearably noisy for too long.
  • Ah, the always inspiring: “Mommy, can you come wipe my bum?”
  • I need coffee.
  • I’ve had too much coffee.
  • Man, a turkey sandwich sounds good right now.
  • I’ll just check Facebook for a second

Care to share your own DD?

—  Karen

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Write Despite Book Giveaway Winner

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The comments are all in, and Author Hardy Jones has chosen the winner who will receive a free, signed copy of his novel, Every Bitter Thing.

From Hardy:

All of the responses to the “Perseverance and the Writing Life” were strong, which made my selecting only one for the book giveaway difficult. In the end, I choose T.D. The comment was well written, thoughtful, and clearly expressed T.D.’s desire to persevere. For all who left comments, best of luck with your writing and your submitting!

Congratulations, T.D.
Now come out from behind those initials and claim your prize.
Hardy is popping your book in the mail today.

And thanks to everyone who participated.

Cats and Characters

I’m reading two books on writing right now, both of which were recommended to me by other writers, and both of which are technically geared toward…movies? Well, acting and scripts anyway.

They are:

Getting into CharacterGetting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors, by Brandilyn Collins

and


Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need
by Blake Snyder

The first one was suggested by one of the comments here on Write Despite (thank you, anonymous tipster), and it actually gave me a real breakthrough. Of course I realized all along, while working on my novel, that I need to know my character’s motivation. As Vonnegut said: “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” In my book, my character didn’t seem to want much. She wants to be happy. And kind of to be left alone. And sometimes water. Hey, just like me.

But that’s of course not enough to draw a reader in or sustain them through 300 pages. Getting into Character’s chapter on “Coloring Passsions” broke down the process into manageable bites—a character’s conscious motivation, subconscious motivation, etc. so I was able to see that what my character really wants is to figure out why she is the way she is. What happened in her life that brought her to this point? Luckily, she’s returning home to her family and now, knowing this is her motivation, I should be able to open up whole areas of discovery as she digs and prods and questions her past. Best of all, she should no longer passive. Stronger characters make stronger books.

Save the catSave the Cat!, is written by a true Hollywood insider, and this guy has lots of energy. He loves exclamation points! (See title.) And chapters like “Give Me the Same Thing, Only Different!” and “Let’s Beat it Out!” and he’s heavy into pitches and loglines. Know what a logline is? It’s one sentence—ONE—that sums up a whole movie. See if you can guess these famous ones:

“Adventuring archaeologist races about the globe to prevent Nazis from turning the greatest archeological relic of all time into a weapon of world conquest.”

Too easy, right? How about this one?

“When she falls in love with a sweet, but WASPy guy, Toula struggles to get her family to accept her fiancée, while she comes to terms with her own heritage.”

And this?

“A businessman falls in love with a hooker he hires to be his date for the weekend.”

Snyder says if you have no logline, you have no script. Or in my case, no book. After some tinkering, I did come up with a logline for my novel and I think it suits it. And forcing myself to do so made me zoom in on the two or three BIG ideas of the book, which in turn made me think about whether those 300 pages that come after it can, or should, live up to it. Pretty good for one sentence.

If you’re looking for some guidance, I recommend both. If you have your own faves, tell us! What writing books do you turn to? Which ones have been duds?

–Cathy

A Matter of Perspective

So we’ve all got different tastes in fiction, but I want to share a new novel that I’ve just finished, The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout. So many aspects of this story are moving, but I was particularly impressed with how skillfully and effectively Strout handles multiple perspectives through a third-person narrator. Take a look, if you’re struggling with the same.

— Karen

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Scary Spaces

Happy Halloween, everyone! I was wondering what would be the scariest picture I could post today—maybe a spider or a blood-covered vampire or Miley Cyrus’ tongue (okay, I can’t help posting that one):

miley cyrus

Yee-ikes. I’ve seen this thing more times lately than I’ve seen my own tongue, and yet it never fails to make me gag.

Anyway, here’s the actual scariest picture I could find:

Messy Office

Yep. That’s my office. That’s where I write, think, research, edit, blog, dream. And I think it’s why I’m having such trouble organizing my thoughts lately.

You think????

Can you say Professional Organizer? Life Coach? Get your shit together?

Just looking at this photo makes me want to weep. You too? Hey, try actually sitting here and working in this garbage heap. What kinds of spaces do real writers work in, I wondered. Hmm. Here’s a sampling.

Stephen King’s office:

Stephen King Office

E.B. White’s office:

EB White's Office

(I guess when you have that view you don’t need much else?)

Virginia Woolf’s office:

Virginia Woolf's Office

None of these, though, exactly evoke the kind of space I have in mind. I’ve decided I need only about four things: a desk, a window, a chair, and some walls where I can tack up ideas and inspirational posters, like that cat hanging on a tree branch (Hang in There, Baby—Friday’s Coming!). No, not that one.

Here’s more what I have in mind:

Writing Desk Photo

Sweet, right? I feel this would be very do-able.

Tomorrow is November 1, which means we have only two months left of the Write Despite challenge. I am vowing to not only keep writing for the next two months, but to have an AFTER picture of my office by then too.

Where do you work? Describe, or post a pic for us! I’d love to know, and to get some ideas.

Write well, everyone!

—Cathy

Author Letitia Moffitt: “We want success in this thing we do” (And it just don’t come easy)

Letitia Moffitt knows a thing or two about endurance—the physical and the mental kind. Her first novel Sidewalk Dancing is scheduled for publication by Atticus Books in early November. After you read Letitia’s piece below, you’ll want to order a copy. Browse the other great Atticus titles while you’re at it. Small presses are publishing some of today’s best literary fiction, the stuff the big houses are afraid to take a chance on, for fear of angering their corporate overlords.

Right now, read on. Laugh, nod, and get over yourself. We ALL feel this way, at least sometimes. Community can be healing. So join ours and please welcome Letitia to Write Despite.

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I write novels and run marathons, and it’s not hard to see the similarities in these endeavors. Both take persistence, both can be agonizing, both will drive you to drink. Gatorade martini anyone? At this point I’m supposed to give you a bit of earnest, heart-felt, inspirational advice: to keep trying, to keep going, never to give up on your dreams or lose sight of your goal because you’ll get there, you’ll succeed, and it will all be worth it, all the frustration, all the setbacks, all the failure.

But I’m not going to tell you that. That’s what Facebook is for. Sooner or later somebody you’ve friended is going to post some motivational aphorism with a pretty picture in the background. A sunrise, perhaps, or some flowy water. Here’s the thing, though: writing and running are the things you do because you don’t need motivation. Success or failure is beside the point. You’re going to keep running until your toenails fall off and your forehead is crusted with salt. You’re going to keep writing until your brain is mush and your liver rots. You do it because, well, you got to do something right? It might as well be this. This is what we do, regardless of the outcome.

But who am I kidding. We still dream. We dream of a big book contract, of qualifying for Boston. We can’t really say success doesn’t matter, because that’s crap. Yes, there are some people who just run around their neighborhoods and never enter a race, writers who just create stories for the fun of it and never bother to check out the litmag scene to see where those stories might go. We don’t want to be like that. We think—we certainly hope—we must aspire to greater things.

I like to think I’ve had moderate success with each of these endeavors. On the running side, nine marathons, two ultramarathons, and any number of halfs, 10Ks, 5Ks, and miscellaneous distances. As for writing, a couple dozen short stories and essays in literary magazines and a novel, appearing next month, from a terrific indie publisher. None of this came easy. I was not a runner in high school—I wasn’t much of any anything in high school, come to think of it—so all this marathonning has only occurred in the most recent years of my life. In those years I’ve managed to injure myself in about sixteen different ways while training for races, and that includes some places you have to scratch your head and wonder how did that happen. When you say running, you usually mean, like, on your legs. How do forearms and teeth fit into that? Trust me, they do. I have the scars and the dental work to prove it.

As for writing, well, if you’re reading this, you’re probably a writer, and I don’t need to tell you about how success in writing doesn’t come easy. Remember the days when rejection came in the form of little slips of paper and not little slips of email, and everyone used to make jokes about wallpapering their room with them? I kind of miss those days.

A running friend of mine told her mother the first time she planned to run a marathon. Her mother’s response: “Why are you doing that? You’re not going to win.” Ouch, Mom. When I was a kid and told my own mother I wanted to be a writer, she said, “Technical writing is very good.” No, Ma, a writer. “They always need people to do technical writing.” Decades, publications, a PhD in English and a book contract later, she still asks me if I’m doing any technical writing. I don’t even think she knows what that means; I suppose she thinks of “technical” as “lucrative” or “practical.” Or maybe just “not a waste of time unless you produce a bestseller that gets turned into a miniseries.”

Oh, I know: the fault lies not in our mothers but in ourselves. We want success in this thing we do, because nobody ever doesn’t want to succeed, and during those times when the effort may kill you, when the setbacks and failures threaten to break you, you have to believe you’re doing it for a reason. It’s too hard otherwise.

Besides, we see those people who really do run just for fun, the bucket-listers, beaming about how they finished their one-and-only marathon in just under 2 days, and we have to fight the urge to get away from them as quickly as possible so other people won’t see you with this loser and think you’re one too. We hear about friends who have “published” a “novel,” and we’re afraid to ask how much they paid the “publisher” to “print” it. Surely we’re the genuine article, not poseurs like those people. Aren’t we?

We run, we write. Sometimes we go into it with our eyes fixed on the prize. The Pulitzer, the National Book, maybe someday the Nobel. Sometimes we go into it absolutely dead certain we will never publish so much as a haiku ever again but we do it anyway, just to keep sane. Sometimes we just go into it. As with running, we just go. We keep on going.

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Author Angela Belcher Epps: Telling Your Truth

Author Angela Belcher Epps explores what happens when a mother walks out on her children in her compelling novella, Salt in the Sugar Bowl. (Main Street Rag, $10) Epps, an English teacher at an alternative high school, explores the complexities of life— including love, family relationships, loss and abandonment in her work. See her website and her blog to learn more about her writing adventures http://www.thewritingclinic.com/

Please welcome Angela to Write Despite.

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1) What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

I took workshops with Zelda Lockhart who said I have to be willing to work as hard for my writing job as I do for my supervised job. This was a milestone in my writing life because a part of me was always waiting for some break to happen to give me more time. So I started to push myself harder to have a complete writing career while juggling the job and life I had.

2) Please tell me your favorite three authors.

J. California Cooper, Amy Bloom, and (at this moment) Junot Diaz. But Raymond Carver always comes to mind whenever I’m asked.

3) Briefly describe your journey to publication.

I have written since I was in third grade and wrote for school papers and such. Then I majored in creative writing in undergrad, but I cared nothing about publishing. I only wanted to write. I finally started submitting stories to small literary journals when I attended NYU’s graduate creative writing program and became a more disciplined writer. E. L. Doctorow was my thesis advisor, and he told me he laughed out loud when he read one of my stories, so I gained confidence and submitted to NYU’s literary journal. That was my first real publication. Since then, I generally take a long time writing and revising until a piece feels complete. Salt in the Sugar Bowl, my new novella, features many fictional characters that I have been in relationship with for a long while. An editor heard me read an excerpt about one of these characters at an open mic and invited me to submit my novella; they accepted it. Also from time to time I am inspired to write a nonfiction article, and it usually comes from a deep place that is rather emotional. I usually have successes with such pieces.

4)  Advice for those on the road to publication?

Don’t be self-conscious. That was always my personal demon because it caused me to rethink and censor myself. Write for yourself, and forget about the people who could be looking over your shoulders and chastising you for telling your truth. Get lost in your own voice, and forget about being safe. Your readers aren’t your family, so grow all the way up and be yourself. Then be diligent about rereading and revising your work. Be ruthless in self-editing. Be honest.

5) Do you write every day?

I don’t work on my projects every day, but writing grounds me, so I journal or write something every day—even if it’s a log of what I did, an elaborate “To Do” list, or goals I plan to meet. Tonight I was talking to my husband in a restaurant, and I’d had a glass of wine and was feeling pretty self-righteous and gloating about my sense of integrity. I said that public figures that fall from grace should have to “figure it out or get the fuck out.” I fell in love with the line as it slid through my lips, and I wrote it down when he went to the toilet. Trust me; some character will be expressing that sentiment very soon. Writing is always going on in my head.

6) What are you writing now?

I’m writing a sequel to my Salt in the Sugar Bowl novella because whenever someone has read it, they ALWAYS say, “I need to know what happened to …….” And that is extremely motivating. It is tentatively called Out for a Ride. I don’t know exactly where it’s going, and sometimes that’s a good thing.

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