CURTIS SMITH will be speaking at the noontime writers and readers series on June 26.
His stories and essays have appeared in over seventy-five literary journals. His work has been cited by The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, and The Best American Spiritual Writing. He is the author of the novels An Unadorned Life, Sound and Noise, and Truth or Something Like It.
His story collections include In the Jukebox Light, The Species Crown, and Bad Monkey. His essay collection Witness was released in late 2011. This past spring, Press 53 published his most recent story collection, Beasts and Men. In 2015, his next novel, Lovepain, will be released.
His experience allows him a fresh perspective each time he picks up a pen, and because of his variety, an outlet in whatever medium he chooses. We asked him more about his writing process and the importance of exploring genres.
Describe your writing process: How many hours a day do you write? Do you schedule yourself, or do you write only when you feel inspired?
I write every morning and every night. About 40 minutes to an hour each. Sometimes I sneak in some bouts in between. But I get up early and stay up late to carve out some time at my desk.
I write, inspired or not. Inspiration often comes after trudging through some hard bouts of uncertainty—and it often comes only after pushing my pen across the paper and seeing what develops.
Your work has appeared in over seventy-five different literary journals. What is your publishing secret—variety, persistence? For every acceptance, how many rejections do you typically expect?
Variety for sure. Also loyalty—I’ll return to a publisher who’s liked my work in the past. Persistence, though, is probably number one.
I have some stories that have been rejected a dozen or more times before finding a home. If I really believe in a piece, I’ll keep going with it. But if I get that many rejections, I’ll usually revisit the piece. Hopefully a clear eye will help me see what’s not working.
“Lovepain,” your up-and-coming novel, plans for release in 2015. What is the inspiration behind this story?
The main inspiration came from being a father. The story centers on a man whose life is pretty much falling apart, yet he does all he can to remain a good father. Most of my novels can be viewed through a similar lens—the struggle to be good in a world where the act of being good is its only reward. The novel also has a number of subplots—escaped zoo animals, basketball, addiction, Christmas pageants, and more. A little something for everyone.
You speak in bookstores, coffee shops, and at universities. Have you ever spoke at one of these meet-ups and learned just as much as your audience? What do you get out of these discussions?
I like the give and take of dealing with an audience. I enjoy that more than a straight-up reading—and a lot more than a book signing gig. I think I can learn just as much from an audience as they can from me—each person in the audience brings in new experiences and points of view. When I get a good question, it forces me to rethink things, to articulate what I had simply felt. I think this kind of reflection and revisiting can’t help but be a positive thing.
The whole writing dynamic makes for a pretty solitary lifestyle—so it’s good to go out and meet others working through the same things.
I often learn a lot just by preparing for a lecture. The other year I did a two-day presentation at the Philadelphia Writers Conference. To prepare, I revisited a lot of stories that were important to me earlier in my journey. It was a cool experience—I got to go back to what had once moved me—only now I did it with a keener eye—and I was able to understand and give voice to what I couldn’t before.
You have published essays, story collections, novels, and flash fiction collections. Do you have a favorite medium of writing? Is there a genre you have yet to explore, but want to?
I like them all. I usually have a couple projects going on at a time—I’m usually juggling a novel, some stories, and a handful of essays. I’ll pull out whatever project is calling to me and work on it until it gets old. By that time, I’ll be able to return to another project with a fresh perspective.
I think the story, the essay, and the novel all offer unique rewards—and challenges. So when I set aside a project, I benefit by not only giving myself a break from a particular set of characters, but also from a whole way of thinking and planning.
I enjoy reading poetry, but I don’t know if I could write it. I’d like to, but as of right now, I don’t see that happening. But one never knows.
Curtis Smith will be teaching “Our Lives in Stories” at the weeklong Rosemont Writers Retreat on June 24-28. Meet Curtis on Wednesday, June 19, 2013, at the free noontime Writers and Readers Series, which will feature in-depth conversations about craft led by Rosemont MFA program director, Carla Spataro.
Philadelphia Stories Evening Reading Series at the Rosemont Writer’s Retreat
7:30 PM Gracemere Great Room, 1306 Wendover Rd. Rosemont PA 19010
The Evening Reading Series will feature writers on Wednesday. The program will run for approximately an hour and will have opportunities for audience Q & A. For additional information please contact Carla Spataro.
Marc Schuster is the author of The Grievers, The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl, Don DeLillo, Jean Baudrillard, and the Consumer Conundrum, and, with Tom Powers, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy: The Discerning Fan’s Guide to Doctor Who. His work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals ranging from Weird Tales to Reader’s Digest. He teaches writing and literature courses at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. Marc is also the editor of Small Press Reviews and a contributing editor for Shelf Unbound. His random thoughts and musings are available on his blog, Abominations.
Kelly McQuain‘s poems have been featured on National Public Radio and in such journals as The Pinch, Painted Bride Quarterly, Apiary, Mixtape, Mead, Paper Nautilus, and Assaracus. His work has been nominated for Best New American Poets, Best of the Net, and a Pushcart Prize. His short stories have been anthologized over a dozen times. He teaches creative writing at Community College of Philadelphia and writes columns on city life for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Learn more at http://www.KellyMcQuain.wordpress.com. You can read one of his poems at: http://wearekin.org/author/kmcquain/torn
Autumn Konopka has an MFA in poetry from Antioch University. She is a writing teacher, amateur baker, and stay at home mom. Her poems have appeared in Literary Mama, Philadelphia Stories, the Mad Poets Review, the Schuylkill Valley Journal, Crab Orchard Review, and others. She lives in Glenside with her husband, two wee crazy kiddos, and one ornery cat.
Ethel Rackin is the author of the poetry collection The Forever Notes, published by Parlor Press in 2012. Her poems have appeared in journals such as The American Poetry Review, Colorado Review, Court Green, Evergreen Review, Poetry East, Verse Daily, and Volt. She earned her MFA from Bard College and her PhD in English literature from Princeton University. She has taught at Penn State Brandywine, Haverford College, and Bucks County Community College, where she is currently an assistant professor.
Make sure to check back here tomorrow for Thursday’s Showcase and an in depth interview with Elise Juska.