VOLUME I, ISSUE II
What is a current project you are working on?
Though I think of myself as a fiction writer first, I’ve found myself lately working on essays, some quite short, some satirical, more like editorials, engaging with what’s going on in the world. At the same time, I always have at least one story in the works. Most of my stories take place in New Jersey, usually near or on the Shore, and I am considering seeing if they might gel into a larger project–a novel or story cycle.
What is the piece of writing advice, good or even bad, that you have received that has impacted you the most?
My favorite writing book is Ann Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.” I pinned this over my desk: “E.L. Doctorow once said that ‘writing is like driving a car. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.” This advice (from both her and Doctorow) has gotten me through a lot of doubt and plotless moments.
What are some of the greatest influences upon your writing, whether other writers or outside influences?
Definitely the aforementioned book by Lamott. Some fiction writers who have influenced me are Anne Tyler, Barbara Kingsolver, Jill McCorkle, Lorrie Moore, Toni Morrison, and, going back farther, George Eliot. Other influences are the natural world, which usually features in some way in my stories, even if only distant heat lightning, and New Jersey, which is the setting for almost everything I write.
Can you talk about your inspiration for the idea behind Acme? Is this a common theme in your writing or is this piece experimental in that way?
The story began for me precisely where it begins for Veronica, sitting in a car, watching a man struggle to load his groceries. At that moment, Veronica sprung into my mind and I saw her in the store, sitting on a lawn chair in Frozen. Why she was there, and what her story was, came to me slowly, feeling my way through to figure out what was at stake for her. I guess a common theme for me is thinking about how people connect, and how they don’t, how they just miss and they don’t know why.
Do you have a favorite place to write, or are there any habits, rituals, inspirations, etc. that help you write best?
My favorite place to write is my screen porch. Whenever the weather allows, that’s my preference. Other than that, I wish I had better habits! Sometimes I feel like I have to sneak up on writing, or I’ll never get any done, especially during the school semesters when teaching and grading three or four classes of first-year composition threatens to sop up all available time. As far as inspiration, my stories tend to start with an image, a fragment of conversation, or some memory that’s stuck with me. I gather a few of them in a virtual cup, shake them a while, then scatter the pieces across my desk, looking for the story that connects them.
Can you recommend one book that you think everyone should read and tell us why?
Middlemarch. George Eliot’s language is beautiful (little known fact–Bono echoes a line from it in a U2 song), and her wisdom about how people treat each other, and how they hurt each other, completely resonates with today’s world. A recurring theme is how easy it is to slide imperceptibly into corruption and wield power in ways that protect oneself while hurting others. And then, the choice to recognize this and redeem oneself, or not. It’s actually very contemporary. I think about it a lot as I watch the news these days.