Author Interview – Jeff Stookey

What compelled you to tell the story/stories in your most recent book?

“Compelled” is an interesting word. Its roots mean “to drive together.” For me the word “urge” feels more accurate in describing how I began.

I have long loved word origins. It has always struck me that the English word “poet” derives from a Greek work for “maker.” Merriam-Webster adds that it is akin to a Sanskrit word for “he gathers, heaps up.” Again, “to drive together.” And the English word “art” derives from Latin “art-” and “ars” and is related to “armen” meaning arms, weapons, tools; akin to Latin ars (art, skill, craft, power), Greek harmos joint, arariskein to fit. Hence our word “articulate” or join together. Art joins things together.

As a child, I became captivated by anything to do with art. My grandmother had a lot of art books with images of old paintings that fascinated me, and I liked drawing pictures. Later in school when I learned to read and we were assigned to write stories for class, I was intrigued by making up narratives and by the way you could make characters talk on the page by putting quotation marks around their words. Movies and television, of course, entranced me and aroused my interest in, not so much storytelling, as creating feelings and moods. I loved the scary, the creepy, the mysterious, and The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Thriller were favorite shows. Later I grew interested in works that evoked tears, pathos, sympathy, longing, compassion.

I became obsessed with movies and filmmaking for many years, and I did make a few short films. But the process of making films was too cumbersome. Then in the 1980s I read The Color Purple, which I loved, but the movie was a tremendous disappointment. This turned me in the direction of books and writing. It seemed to me that one could do much more and go much deeper in a book than in a movie.

When I turned 50 in 1998, I still wanted to do some kind of creative work (the urge), and I had it in my head that I had survived long enough to have something to say in writing about this life and this world we live in. I sat down to write about my father and about my friend, Steven “Jesse” Bernstein, a Seattle writer who committed suicide in 1991.

But this image came into my mind: two men necking in a 1920s automobile in a rural setting. The image haunted me and I began examining it and wondering who these two fellows were, what their background was, how did they meet, what was their relationship, what happened to them? The more I delved into these questions, and the more I wrote, the more curious I became. As the story unfolded I was driven on by the opportunity to use this story to portray the pain of growing up gay and the struggle to come to terms with that reality in a sexually repressive society dominated by heterosexuality. As I learned more and more about gay history, the history of Portland and Oregon, the history of the Ku Klux Klan, the eugenics movement, etc., I felt compelled to share this history with readers. This led to the three novels that make up my Medicine for the Blues trilogy. And with the rise of Donald Trump, I felt that it was important to publish and get this story out to the public with hopes of encouraging compassion and understanding for those who are different.

What obstacles did you encounter while writing the book?

I saw that I had to better understand history, in particular, what it was like to be gay in the 1920s. This was a major obstacle. First I ran across John Loughery’s book The Other Side of Silence, men’s lives and gay identities: a twentieth-century history. Eventually, I encountered the writings of Jonathan Ned Katz, and others: George Chauncey, Peter Boag, George Painter, and many more. The deeper I dug, the more I found and the more that came out in publication after I started writing. This created another obstacle, which was trying to keep up with all the literature on gay history and theory that was becoming available.

How has writing your most recent book changed or added value to your life?

All this reading in LGBT history opened up a whole new world for me. It was not just Socrates, the Greeks, Michelangelo, Walt Whitman, and Oscar Wilde, who were examples of what it meant to be gay, but there were many men, known and unknown, who over the years had experimented with, experienced, and thought about making gay lives for themselves and others like them. There were legions of people validating and supporting my identity as a gay man.

Did you self-publish or did you go the traditional route? What was that process like?

I am a self-published author. I pitched my book to several agents at the Willamette Writers Conference. A number of them expressed interest but told me that my book was too long to be published as one book. Yet none of them followed up after I sent them samples of my work.

I decided that I had put too much work into this project to let it languish in a drawer, only to be found after I died—like the memoirs of my main character, Carl Holman. I asked around about editors and a friend told me about Jill Kelly, PhD. I contacted her and after some preliminary interactions, we began working on my manuscript. Jill had self-published some nonfiction and a few novels of her own, and she guided me through the process of dealing with Amazon’s Createspace and Kindle Direct Publishing. She knew the ropes.

Are you friends with other writers? If so, how do they influence your writing?

I am an introvert and like to stay home most of the time, so I can’t say I know a lot of writers. I have some old, old friends that I see from time to time, who have kept writing over the years. I was in a writing group several years ago and I’ve reconnected with one of those folks recently. Since I published, I’ve met a few other local writers at various readings and other literary events, and those encounters have grown into developing friendships. Plus, I have been involved with a new writing group over the past six months and those writers, besides becoming friends, have been teaching me a great deal, not only by the example of their writing, but by pointing out some of my bad writing habits.

Do you maintain a regular writing practice? If so, what does it look like?

When I was first writing Medicine for the Blues trilogy, I was still employed and I would get up at 3 or 4 in the morning and write for an hour before I went to work. Now that I am retired, I write when I don’t have other obligations, so my writing is not so regimented. I do like the weeks and days when I don’t have other things to attend to and I can plan to spend the whole day writing. Lately, I’ve been working on revisions to Book 3 of the trilogy and I find that revisions require a lot of concentration over a period of time, because there are so many things to juggle. I sometimes spend 8 to 10 hours a day writing. Other days I can’t find any time to write.

I’ve been going to a Monday morning writing group at the Q Center where we get prompts and write whatever comes to mind over 10 to 15 minutes, then we share what we’ve come up with. It’s not only great fun but a powerful stimulant to the imagination and a laboratory for experimentation. From this experience, I’ve got lots of new material that I hope to develop in the future.

The other aspect of my writing practice is my formal writing group which meets every two weeks. That gives us all a deadline and an impetus to get something ready for the others to read before we meet. Then we gather and share our thoughts on what the others have written.

While I am writing, I like to do a lot of research, and that always stimulates my imagination for filling in scenes and scenarios and gives me ideas about how to accurately describe historical times and details. I use the dictionary and thesaurus a lot to find just the right word or the right shade of meaning. In every paragraph, I probably look up 2 to 3 words, or more.

How many other books or stories do you have in progress right now?

I have a couple of ideas that are on the back burner of my mind right now, not things I have actually written down. Besides those, there is the material from the Q Center writing group. I look forward to mining that treasure trove for further development, once the third book of the trilogy is finished. I guess I prefer to tackle one project at a time.

Do you view writing as a spiritual practice?

Yes, to some extent. Writing is a voyage of discovery. The imagination is a conduit for the universe to work through us, and the intuitions and coincidences that happen in the process of writing can be quite awe-inspiring. But there is a Buddhist scripture which refers to “the dharma of thusness” by saying, “Just to portray it in literary form is to stain it with defilement.” Much of the spiritual world is beyond words. On the other hand, Gertrude Stein once said that the only things worth doing are impossible things. Spirituality is an unfolding. Maybe writing can help it along. Compassion is certainly a spiritual practice, and putting ourselves in the shoes of others, characters different from ourselves, helps us develop understanding and sympathetic feelings.

What would your life look like if you didn’t write?

I have always felt an uneasy relationship with writing. Although I wrote when I was younger, I had lots of self-doubts restarting at 50. I felt intimidated, I wondered what gave me the right to think I was a writer. Then once I was immersed in this trilogy, I came to understand what George Orwell meant when he wrote, “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” (The antidote for this viewpoint is Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic.) And now that my book is in print, I am plagued by the whole endeavor of publishing and marketing.

My life would be a lot simpler if I didn’t write. But then I would still feel that urge to create something, and digital words or marks on paper, are a lot more manageable physically than drawings and paintings—another creative outlet I sometimes contemplate pursuing.

I look forward to spending more time gardening, once I complete this trilogy. Then I hope to have more breathing room to entertain thoughts of plunging into another big project.

Why do you write?

See Question #1.


Growing up in a small town in rural Washington State, Jeff Stookey enjoyed writing stories. He studied literature, history, and cinema at Occidental College, and then got a BFA in Theater from Fort Wright College. In his 40s he retrained in the medical field and worked for many years with pathologists, trauma surgeons, and emergency room reports.

Jeff lives in Portland, Oregon, with his longtime partner, Ken, and their unruly garden. Acquaintance is his first novel. Contact Jeff at medicinefortheblues.com.

Author Interview – Curtis C. Chen

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

Deadlines are a thing now, and I appreciate the motivation and focus they provide. Also, my process has become much more collaborative–not just with publishing professionals like my agent and various editors, but also with fellow writers and even readers. (I don’t look at any reviews unless someone has pre-screened the content for me, but having a sense of how people are responding to my stories does inform my future work.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

A lot! I’ve been doing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) since the early 2000’s, and because the goal is to produce 50,000 words in 30 days, I’ve accumulated several partial or unpolished first drafts. Most of those will never see the light of day, but each one has helped me work through different challenges and become a better writer.

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice? Why or why not?

Absolutely. I subscribe to Elizabeth Gilbert’s philosophy (as detailed in her book Big Magic) that a creative endeavor should be rewarding in itself, ars-gratia-artis style. Any subsequent “success”–fortune, fame, or even just getting published–may be a result of doing the work, but those things should not be the goal of the creative act. If you’re not enjoying the journey, maybe seek a different path.

How many hours a day do you write?

It varies, but when I sit down to write I aim for a solid block of at least two or three hours. It always takes a little while for me to get into the flow of the work, and once I’m there I want to preserve it for a good length of time so I can dig deeper into the project.

What are your favorite literary journals?

In no particular order…

What is the most difficult part of your creative process?

Finding the time to schedule writing into the rest of my life. I don’t have a day job at the moment, but I do a lot of freelance and volunteer work. It can sometimes feel selfish to schedule uninterrupted writing time when people are waiting on me to complete other tasks. It’s all about being disciplined, and I’m still working on improving my time management.

Do you believe in writer’s block? Why or why not?

I don’t experience it myself, but I recognize that different people encounter different obstacles when trying to channel creative energies. Ultimately every writer has a different process, and it’s taken me many years to figure out what works for me. I would encourage trying out different tools, environments, and communities to find what really energizes you to create.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

I’ve written complete first drafts (~100,000 words) in less than two months, but the revision time after that varies a lot. I’m largely a discovery writer, which means I don’t plan or outline much before diving into that first draft, and I have to go back and clean things up later. My debut novel took ten years from first draft to publication; my second took ten months; and the third one in progress has been going for about a year and a half so far. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer? 

I am fortunate to live in an area with many awesome independent creators, and I’ve met and befriended a lot of writers in and around Portland, Oregon. I’ve also made connections through conventions, workshops, and online forums over the years. Please check the acknowledgments section in each of my novels to see some of those names. 😉

What are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to?

As a speculative fiction writer, I live and die by my Locus subscription ( https://locusmag.com/ ). There are many ways to get information online these days–including following your favorite authors on Twitter–but two in particular that I recommend are author Jason Sanford’s Patreon ( https://www.patreon.com/jasonsanford ), where he posts a weekly “Genre Gossip” column, and the free SFWA Blog ( http://www.sfwa.org/blogs/sfwa-blog/ ), which covers a wide range of writing, publishing, and community topics. (Full disclosure: I am the current Secretary of SFWA and a former contributor to the blog.)


Once a Silicon Valley software engineer, CURTIS C. CHEN (陳致宇) now writes fiction and runs puzzle games near Portland, Oregon. His debut novel WAYPOINT KANGAROO is a science fiction thriller about a superpowered spy facing his toughest mission yet: vacation. The sequel, KANGAROO TOO, sends our hero to the Moon.

Curtis’ stories have appeared in Playboy Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, and OREGON READS ALOUD. He is a graduate of Clarion West and Viable Paradise.

Visit him online: https://curtiscchen.com

Author Interview – Gina Mulligan

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

For the first novel I didn’t use an outline. I wrote a full draft before stepping back to consider the storyline. That’s when I realized how much longer and more difficult I’d made the editing process. For the second novel, I developed a detailed outline and then wrote my draft. Much easier!  

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?  

Four.

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice? Why or why not?

The act of being creative is innately human and often feels spiritual. There’s a transcendent element to the work when I finish writing a section, review it, and it feel like it was written by someone else.

How many hours a day do you write?

I write about 5 hours, 3-4 days a week. I don’t write daily because I also run a charity.

What are your favorite literary journals?

The Atlantic
The Kenyon Review
I don’t read a lot of journals because I spend more time reading books – both fiction and non-fiction.

What is the most difficult part of your creative process?

I really struggle with the first draft. Story development is a challenge for me. Plus, I love to edit. Once I have a draft done, I’m ready to dive in.

Do you believe in writer’s block? Why or why not?

No, but some days are harder than others. I don’t see this as writer’s block as much as times when I’m distracted or can’t concentrate as I’d like. It’s frustrating when I just don’t know why I can’t put a sentence together. Days where the words just flow are much more fun.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

About two years.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer? 

I love the writing community in Sacramento and have many writer friends and supportive acquaintances. In particular, I work with three talented women in a critique group. We review each other’s drafts, give feedback, commiserate about writing, and generally share our lives. Writing is very solitary and so having support is extremely important.

What are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to?

I think every writer should get Publisher’s Lunch, a daily emailed newsletter that is great for following the industry. I also like Poets & Writers, Writers Digest, and Jane Freeman’s blog.


Gina L. Mulligan began her writing career over twenty years ago as a freelance journalist for national magazines. Her short stories have appeared in Star 82 Review and Storyacious, were performed at Stories on Stage Sacramento, and were included in the anthologies Tudor Close: A Collection of Mystery Stories and Not Your Mother’s Book…on Dogs. She’s won awards from the Abilene Writers Guild, San Francisco LitQuake, and the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition.

After her own diagnosis, Gina founded Girls Love Mail, a charity that collects handwritten letters of encouragement for women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. She was honored for her charitable work on the nationally syndicated talk show The Steve Harvey Show.

Publications – Novels       
Remember the Ladies – May 2016
From Across the Room – September 2016

Publications – Short Stories & Anthologies        
The Slingback – Performed Stories on Stage
Stop Thief! – Not Your Mother’s Book on Dogs Anthology
Webb of Lies – Tudor Close: A Collection of Mystery Stories
The Gadabout – Storyacious.com
Sub Night – 82 Star Review

To learn more about Gina, please visit her website.

Author Interview – Patty Blue Hayes

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

When I wrote my first book I wasn’t aware of these magical beings known as developmental editors. I thought I’d find an editor to correct grammar and make note of things I might have repeated, were too confusing or could be worded differently. Each time I sat down to edit I always started at page one. So pages one through fifty were extremely over-edited and the last ten pages were pretty neglected. It wasn’t until I found my editor, Chelsea, that I realized what a gift her work was to my book. My first book was a published journal. And was a very personal story. I had no idea if my experience had a traditional story arc or theme or even what was necessary to keep in the manuscript or delete. Working with my editor taught me that it’s essential to work with a developmental editor before I begin my editing and polishing process.

For my upcoming book I have rough journal entries and will craft the book after my collaboration with an editor. I also learned not to make every word dramatic and perfect. A published journal should read realistically, more conversational in nature and not overly precise or extravagant.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Currently I’m working on the journal-book from three international volunteer trips I completed in 2017. I have one spiritual/healing book outlined and have post-its covering my office door. A cook book is only meagerly in the works on paper but very clear in my mind thematically and a 10,000 word eBook on preparing for travel to Thailand is more than half finished.

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice? Why or why not?

Absolutely, yes. Writing is not an option for me. I believe I’ve finally come to realize it is what I am meant to do. If I don’t write, I become moody, anxious and stressed. I was eleven years-old when I stated I wanted to write a book. And specifically, I wanted to write one that would help adults. But at eleven, that seemed a bit unrealistic. I started writing in a journal in high school and went on to write in college but never saw it as something I could really do as an avocation.

After my mother died I wrote my first screenplay. I wrote another screenplay, because that’s what you do the minute you finish the first one. I got very discouraged after my agent disappeared. It had taken me a long time to even get an agent. So I stopped writing but always had the longing. It wasn’t until the day I was flying back home alone after my husband told me he didn’t want to be married to me anymore that a definitive thought came to me, pick up a pen, this is your first book. And that book is helping adults.

For me, writing is as essential as breathing. And I believe it is what I’m here to do. Not paint, not cook, not play an instrument. By writing, I’m honoring the most authentic part of myself and allowing my soul to express itself.

How many hours a day do you write?

I don’t write daily. In the process of the current book, I wrote journal entries almost daily but I wasn’t putting myself on a schedule to write every day. As I approach the re-writing and editing process I may spend four to six hours at a time engaged in the work, but that won’t likely be daily. I’ve also found it essential for me to take breaks from writing. My writing process is organic. Maybe I could produce more if I scheduled time every day, but I don’t think the writing would flow.

What are your favorite literary journals?

I don’t actually read any literary journals.

What is the most difficult part of your creative process?

I’d say the most challenging part on this current book will be to decide what to omit. And that’s why working with an editor I trust will be so valuable.When you write something so personal, it can be a challenge to distance ourselves from the experience. I used to have a hard time editing, but now I settle in my writing chair with tea, light some incense, and I offer up a little prayer for guidance and then I trust in that process. I may go back and edit like that several times, and each time I’m trusting the process and asking the ego to step aside.

Do you believe in writer’s block? Why or why not?

I believe people experience writer’s block. If I wrote fiction I know I’d have writer’s block. That genre seems so foreign to me. I wouldn’t know where to begin! I haven’t experienced writer’s block but that may be due to my loose schedule and not putting pressure on myself to produce.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

This varies greatly. My first book sat for a few years before I could even start re-writing and editing due to the emotionally triggering content. I was still going through the healing process and sometimes reading my words was too overwhelming and not good for my mental health. That book began in 2010 and was published in 2015. My current journal book started in 2017 and I’d like to publish by 2019.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

I’m in a local writer’s group here on the Central Coast in California. Because writing is a solitary process, I enjoy meeting up with them. I learn a lot from our meetings and it’s encouraging to hear people’s good news about getting published, completing a project, winning an award or getting a book deal. I have a confession. Because I write in the journal/memoir genre, I can’t read other authors in the genre too close to when I’m going to be writing and editing. I need to keep myself clear from developing comparison-itits. I mostly read self-help, spiritual and personal development books.

What are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to?

That’s a great question! I can’t wait to read other writer’s answers. I’m currently in a cycle where I’m not watching or reading any content on marketing, blogging or anything to do with the business of writing. In the past I’ve overdone it on watching videos and webinars, most of which are sales tools designed to have you purchase a more expensive product or service. It was getting to be more of a cause of stress than a benefit.


Works by Patty Blue Hayes

My Heart is Broken, Now What?

Patty Blue Hayes is grateful to have survived her near death divorce, an event that launched her into the darkest depths of depression. Patty’s award-winning book, Wine, Sex and Suicide – My Near Death Divorce, shares her story of loss, vulnerability, and eventual reawakening to her own value and worth. She moved from pain to finding purpose. Through her story she helps people not feel alone in their own painful life experiences.

Patty founded Soul Garden Healing®, to help women get through their journey of heartbreak with her signature audio program, You Can Heal Your Heartbreak™.The program is based on her book, My Heart is Broken. Now What?, offering 12 helpful practices in an easy guidebook.

She is working on another life experience book, chronicling time in Thailand at an elephant sanctuary, the Dominican Republic, where she worked at a boys and girls club, and her return to the small Romanian village of Baile Tusnad to complete her English teaching practicum to children in a group home. Follow her journey on her blog.

Learn more about Patty at her website: www.pattybluehayes.com

 

Author Interview – Ava Collopy

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

It began to change my process when I was editing the book. At the time I didn’t have the money to hire a professional editor so I asked some acquaintances from writing workshops if they wouldn’t mind reading even the first chapter just so I get some feedback on it.

People were quite generous with their time, which I very much appreciated. It was through this process that I of course had to start thinking more about the process of communication, of how you convey a whole entire world that’s in your mind into someone else’s mind so that when they read your words they are picturing a whole world too. It may be somewhat different from how you imagine it but it still gives them a complete—not just picture, but experience.

When people came back to me and felt something for my protagonist, Sean Flanagan, and wanted to read to the end to see what happened to him, it was very gratifying.

By the time I was publishing 8 Days a Week I felt very thankful for the help I’d gotten.

The process of publishing made the audience much more real to me and me try to keep checking myself every so often when I write to make sure I’m still writing in a way that will be invite an audience in and not confuse anyone too much.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

For years I had many pieces of this and that; poetry, a few old songs from my teens, old characters I came up with before I had the skills to write for them, a few opinionated essays, mostly related to classism and sexism: the two main things that defined and ravaged my life for many years. I assume this is typical for all writers. We’re pack rats surrounded by scraps of our ideas from over the years.

In more recent years I worked very hard editing, revising, and rewriting everything I had, and ultimately throwing out what I had that wasn’t good enough. So at the moment I don’t have any extras lying around. I have just an idea for two other books, but I think they’re far off into the future. I have to take time for my master’s degree and my career at the moment.

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice? Why or why not?

I think writing can be spiritual depending on the writer or the type of writing. Sometimes writing is more an act of storytelling, or an analytical exercise in truth-telling and making good arguments, and doing point-counterpoint. I’ve always seen poetry as more right-brain and emotional, and even more spiritual, and prose as far more left-brain. Sometimes when you’re writing you can feel like you’ve tapped into an incredible energy that may even go beyond yourself… but that could just be the endorphins, dopamine, or whatever else the act of creating art stimulates in artists. (Or both.)

How many hours a day do you write?

At the moment I can’t write much with work. But there have been times I was writing all day, every day. I literally wrote the first draft of 8 Days a Week in under two weeks, writing almost non-stop all day, every day, by hand. I’d have to put ice packs on my hand, wrist, arm, and shoulder at night to get the swelling to go down. But after a decent waiting period the dam broke and the story just flowed. The editing process took months, of course, but the first draft just kept coming.

What are your favorite literary journals?

I don’t have consistent favorites. I like to move around a lot so I get a very good mix of different genres, styles, and writers. When I want a new mix I go onto Poets & Writers online and look through their market listings, filtered by whatever criteria I’m in the mood for at the time. Then I find often obscure publications, usually online so I can easily access them.

What is the most difficult part of your creative process?

I suppose simply that when I’m really deep into one of my books I can’t really do anything else. I remember when I was getting ready to write Live Boldly, Fear Nothing I was going to an Irish dance class for a two or three weeks and I had to stop because I couldn’t concentrate. My head was just in Darian’s world, or thinking about Jenna’s storyline in it and what I wanted to say about (and say to) young women in her position, from her kind of background.

Art is a great gift and so is creating it, but it can also be incredibly draining and there are times when life just has to be put on hold for a while and that can be very hard. A few years ago I had a housemate who thought it was insane that I once went a few years without so much as going on one date. She couldn’t fathom it. I just said, I was busy learning how to write, edit, and publish books. I had no time for a personal life. It was worth it, but that was still an incredible sacrifice.

Do you believe in writer’s block? Why or why not?

I’m aware of it. I think it probably happens to all artists, it’s just more obvious with writers. For example, just think about all the singer-songwriters and bands who’ve had maybe two or three really good albums and then just had pretty bland albums. They can still play instruments and sing but that real, true spark of inspiration is gone. Once in a while they may still make a real gem but for the most part, their work isn’t very good anymore. If you do other forms of art you can still go through the motions but that’s a lot harder with writing.

I think the answer to this problem is to think about sources of inspiration. For the aforementioned musicians the answer is probably to leave their new mansions and go back out into the world. There they’ll find inspiration. The same is true for writers. If you’re blocked then go travel somewhere new, or go volunteer at a soup kitchen. Do something that will inspire you. Sitting at your desk (or wherever) staring at the problem won’t help.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

I couldn’t really say, especially since with 8 Days a Week in particular the editing process was so long, and although I didn’t make any changes to the plot or the characters, how I presented the last two chapters—especially the very last one—changed a great deal through the editing process.

I think the important thing is to write until it seems finished and let the work itself guide you rather than trying to make a schedule for it. Real art doesn’t work on a schedule.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

One of my best author friends has been Jennifer Fulford, although we grew apart after I moved to Ireland (she’s still in the U.S.) When I met her she’d written a new book about one of the three musketeers and a collection of poetry. I met her at a Unitarian Universalist church and we got along immediately and shortly thereafter were sharing some of our work at a poetry and writing group at the church.

I went to a free workshop she did about how to use Weebly and other sites to make your own website. She not only showed us how to use the sites but how to have fun with them and make the act of building a website not strictly mechanical but an act of creativity in itself.

Shortly thereafter I tried making websites and blogs as a new form of self-expression. This was also very helpful for promoting my work since my novels were too important to me to risk having to change the endings, the stories, or otherwise compromise the works like I knew I might have to if I got a traditional publisher. She said she found it inspiring how I would just go for it like that. Meanwhile, she got published—her musketeers book through a traditional publisher and her short collection of poetry through self-publishing. She said I helped inspire her to have the confidence to publish her own poetry book. I felt very heartened by that. One of my favorite things in life is to help bring out the best in others.

She was quite supportive of me in my writing endeavors and as a friend even though she’s happily a mom and I’m happily childless. In my experience, many women writers basically shun you if you’re a woman who’s happily childless. I had a lot of my work rejected by female editors until I learned to keep my mouth shut about being a happily independent woman when submitting to most female editors. I genuinely don’t understand this kind of behavior; I think it’s best when we all support each other. I assume this means those women are secretly very unhappy with the choices they’ve made in life.

Other writers I’ve known through workshops were helpful in the usual ways writers at workshops are, namely with critical feedback but also encouragement.

However, one writer I thought was my friend did the exact opposite but still had a very positive effect on me.

This was during the editing of 8 Days a Week. Like I said before, I was glad when anyone was nice enough to make the time to look at my little project. So imagine how good I felt when this woman friend insisted that we meet in a café so she could talk to me at length about my book project! Me of all people—someone from a working class background who back then didn’t have a college degree, unlike all the other women in the workshops.

When I got there she was very nice at first, then very quickly started picking the entire project apart. At first I just took it in stride and thought, this is just good practice for in the future when anyone asks me about my projects.

I’d already had years of experience submitting my work for publication to various places so—as any writer knows—that means experience getting your work rejected 99% or more of the time, and sometimes by editors who feel the need to go out of their way to tell you they think your work is garbage and that you’re guilty of an actual crime by making them waste their precious time reading your drivel. So I was quite able to be thick-skinned about critical feedback and to consider any good points.

But I quickly found that when I went to explain my artistic choice she wasn’t listening to me. In fact she was going out of her way to insult, belittle, and pick apart every last thing about my book. And she’d only read the first chapter. For example, one of her complaints was that it was slow. I said that was an artistic choice to show what Sean’s life was like, and to build to a shocking climax much later in the book. Of course she insisted no one would read my terrible, slow, boring book idea long enough to find that out. She also complained that the book was about a working class person and his life and said, why would anyone want to read about that?

Her seeming plan to obliterate my confidence had the opposite effect and made me want to succeed even more. And it just brought home to me how much women need to encourage each other more.

Shortly after that it seemed to me like all the women I’d known from that writers’ group stopped wanting to have anything to do with me. It only occurred to me much later that they may have resented me because I didn’t come from any money or education but still pursued writing. I can look at this logically and see the mechanism of it now but I still don’t really understand it. This is because I always believe that everyone should generally support and encourage each other. I think maybe they just wanted their workshops and to be left alone. There’s nothing wrong with that. But for me it wasn’t just a hobby; it was actually the only thing giving me hope that I could ever get out of poverty.

What are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to?

I think Poets & Writers is a great resource. They have a great deal of advice about the literary industry as well as varied markets to read and/or submit your work to.

But to be perfectly honest, my opinion of most writers’ magazines is that they’re for people playing at writing. If you want to write I think you should go out and experience life so you have something to write about. I’ve read many stories, essays, and poems in various publications that were linguistically well-composed and grammatically accurate but actually weren’t about anything. I remember one story that was very long, very well-thought of my the publication’s editor, and was ultimately just about a couple ordering soup at one restaurant and another one several years later. In the first instance it was too salty and in the second they thought they had the same waiter, even though it was a different restaurant. When I finished it I just wanted the last 25 to 30 minutes of my life back. More than asking yourself if you can write something and write it well, and more than editors than asking if they can publish it, I think people in the literary community should look at if a work is actually saying anything.

This is why when I read anything, I tend to look for online zines that are well off the mainstream. That way I can find things that will give me a new experience which no other writer (or editor) has given me before.

In my extended family there is one set of twins who love everything to do with writing and storytelling. They subscribe to all of the local literary magazines, watch soap operas all day every day (to study long-term stories), and read books voraciously. Sadly they almost never leave the house. Last Christmas I gave them two books. Angela’s Ashes (an obvious choice for a couple of Irish aspiring writers) and Never Broken, the singer Jewel’s last book. Jewel isn’t an expert writer but if it’s one thing you’ll learn from reading her book it’s that more than anything, if you want to write, you need to just go out into the world and experience life.

I don’t care if her grammar was perfect or not. What I experienced was a vast range of completely unique stories, so bizarre but so true to life she couldn’t have possibly made them up. It genuinely was stranger than fiction.

If you want to create something truly unique than you need to just go live. But then maybe read a little Poets & Writers or some of the articles in Writer’s Market about the industry so you can try to develop a thick skin before you submit any of your work. Artists can sometimes take rejection too personally and have you learn to just move on instead.

 


Works by Ava Collopy

A View from the Bottom: Short Stories
8 Days a Week: the Story of a Working Man, a novel
The Price of Peace: the Rise of Truthology and the Alliance, a novelette
Live Boldly, Fear Nothing: a Vigilante and a Painter, a novel

Ava Collopy is published in White Liquor Steemit, Beautiful Losers, White Liquor, and others. She’s from Portland, Oregon and lives in Dublin, Ireland.

Learn more about Ava please visit her website.