If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make?
Having just written a book that centers around the lives of men in a cabinet shop, I’m fascinated with the changing depictions of masculinity in literary fiction. Not the aggrandizement or lionization of masculine stereotypes, but rather, the illumination of masculine depictions as a reflection of our society — as we move toward acceptance and understanding. With that, I’d have dinner with Hemingway. I’d make carne asada with a spicy chimichurri and we’d drink a good bottle of bourbon.
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?
Writing is about making choices; and when you stare at a blank page that first sentence is the hardest—even if you have an idea of what your story is about. The first sentence is so important. To combat this, I sometimes write not knowing where I’m going, perhaps not even knowing exactly what the real story is. It’s a leap of faith.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character?
This goes way back to my late teens or early twenties, but one of my favorite characters is Ned Beaumont from Dashiell Hammett’s book, The Glass Key. He’s a wonderfully flawed character that lives by a rigid moral code of his own making.
What books are on your nightstand?
Rock Springs, by Richard Ford, Jesus’ Son, by Denis Johnson, Knockemstiff, by Donald Ray Pollock, and Tinkers by Paul Harding. (I often revisit some of my favorite short stories).
Favorite punctuation mark? Why?
The period is powerful. Anytime you can make someone stop and think, you’ve accomplished something. (When it comes to punctuation, I’m a huge Cormac McCarthy fan.)
What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did?
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgements?
Having pecked my first stories as a teen on an Underwood typewriter, I’d have to thank my Macbook Pro.
If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write?
Tell the story of a world you know. It’s your voice that will make it uniquely yours.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Once I’m writing, I’m energized and time doesn’t exist. I’m a binge writer.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
When I first started writing, I’d struggled to write about a world I really didn’t understand in a voice that wasn’t my own. Don’t get caught in the trap of writing fan fiction or trying to mimic a writer whose style you love. Work on finding your own voice.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Questioning my ability to produce something new and fresh. It stops me.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
No! There is always something great to read or re-read. The hardest part is making the time to do it.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
I can only speak for myself. When I’m writing a novel or a short story, it’s like falling in love. I am passionate about the story and the characters and the language and I think about it all constantly. Even when I’m not staring at my computer screen working, I’m solving problems in my head. If I’m not in love with the “idea” of what I’m struggling to achieve, I flounder. I don’t believe it is the same for every writer.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I am friends with other authors, and what helps is their understanding of what every writer goes through to birth a story. What also helps is to know what they are reading.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Each of my books stands on its own. I am driven by a creative restlessness that forces me to seek new challenges and to develop new stories and unique characters.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
The short answer is this: what truly changed my process was going through the Low Residency MFA Program at the University of Tampa and having some amazingly talented writers shepherd my work. Here’s the longer story. In 2015, I self-published a middle-grade fiction novel, and through some mind-boggling good fortune, sold the screen rights to a producer. (I was also hired to adapt the book to a screenplay, which I did. Writers also need to eat.) That same year, I enrolled at the University of Tampa with the idea that I would write a similar novel. But, as I started to write short stories, Brock Clarke (author of An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England and many other books), read one of my stories and said, this is where you need to be. It was a story about cabinetmakers in Ybor City, set in the gritty, blue-collar world in which I was raised. That was the start of Comets. (Thanks Brock!)
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Paying tuition for my MFA in Creative Writing
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
Here are a few writers and their books. All great reads! Jennifer Egan, A Visit From the Goon Squad, Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King, Don Delillo, White Noise, Paul Beatty, The Sellout.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
I had two older brothers and a younger sister; we were all between three and four years apart. My eldest brother was studious and never got in trouble. He was “the smart one.” My other brother was “the athlete.” He was captain of the wrestling team, captain of the swim team, played football and so on. My younger sister was “the girl.” She had her own bedroom and got lots of attention. I was the skinny, smartass, creative kid, and didn’t know where I fit in. When I was about eight years old, we drove down to Key West from Tampa. On the long drive back, I had a pad and started writing about our trip. When I finished, it was five pages long and it all rhymed badly. When I read it aloud, the family laughed, hysterically. They thought it was brilliant. I’d found my place, and that was powerful.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I don’t know if it is unappreciated, but Wasp Box by Jason Ockert is a fantastic novel.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
My characters are amalgamations of numerous people, along with their various tics and peccadillos. They’re never exactly that person who initially inspired the character. With that, I owe them all anonymity.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
One novel and more than a few short stories.
What does literary success look like to you?
On the “success” scale, getting a book published through Unsolicited Press is certainly one measure of literary success. It means that someone besides my wife, sister and mother think the book has merit
What’s the best way to market your books?
I’m going to have to get out from behind my computer and put myself out there.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Like any other character, I try to find their flaws and write them in a truthful way.
What did you edit out of this book?”
Comets is a collection of short fiction – a dozen stories. I pulled two stories out and replaced them with two new stories with different characters and with different themes.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
Recently, I started teaching English at a community college. It keeps me close to the language and the literature that I love. I guess I could go back to building cabinet
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