There was a time in my life when I read purely for pleasure. Before then, I read pretty much for pain, or more accurately, I read and it caused me pain. Like reading Thoreau’s Walden and Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage for English class – now there was torture. But thankfully, there was Stephen King and Stephen R. Donaldson and Stephen Coonts and even some authors not named Stephen, and I was in bliss. These were my lazy high school years. I remember reading Misery in a single day, from nine in the morning until nine at night, and I had no other desire than to feel every word on the page. It was pure hedonism.
A week ago, I was contacted by Contemporary Authors. They told me I’ll be included in the next edition of the reference and asked me if I wanted to answer some questions for the sidebar part of the entry.
I have fond memories of these reference volumes. I used CA a number of times when I wrote term papers for my English classes, both in high school and college, so to be actually listed in one is quite an honor. True, I’ll be one of 112,000 writers listed there, but hey, I’m thrilled to have joined the fray!
And now, the questions they asked and the answers I provided.
What first got you interested in writing?
Two words, one name: Stephen King. Back when I was a sophomore in high school, I was introduced by a friend to The Dead Zone, the first book I read purely for pleasure, and after reading King’s first short story collection, Night Shift, I attempted to write my first short story. I’m fairly certain it featured some supernatural storyline, and I’m absolutely certain it was terrible. But we all have to start out somewhere.
Who or what particularly influences your work?
I met Stewart O’Nan at Cornell back in 1992, when he taught my first creative writing workshop. His editorial eye is unparalleled, and his body of work inspires me to write truthfully, to stick close to my characters. Stewart also introduced me to Richard Yates, another writer whose literary currency was brutal, beautiful honesty.
Describe your writing process.
I write an hour before work. On the days I’m not at work, I write from nine to noon. But of course, life gets in the way, and sometimes the hour becomes half an hour, but I still try to sit in front of the laptop every day.
What is the most surprising thing you have learned as a writer?
There always seems to be a part – it may be as small as a sentence or as large as an entire chapter of a novel – that seems so good, so perfect, that I won’t want to change it, even if it isn’t quite working. But then I finally do rewrite it, and it actually turns out better than what I had before. There’s nothing so flawlessly written that it cannot be improved.
What kind of effect do you hope your books will have?
When fiction really works, it has the power to make you forget about everything else going on in your life. For those hours you spend reading, you’re living the life of the people in that book, a completely immersive experience, and perhaps an enlightening one, too. That’s what I want for my readers.