Andrew Roe‘s fiction has appeared widely in both print (One Story, Tin House, The Sun, Glimmer Train, The Cincinnati Review) and online (Hobart, Freight Stories, wigleaf, SmokeLong Quarterly) journals. In addition, his reviews and non-fiction have appeared in The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Salon.com and elsewhere. He lives in Oceanside, California, and keeps a sporadic blog at andrewroe.blogspot.com.
Have you had a writing mentor/do you mentor?
I guess I’m non-traditional on this one-the answer to both questions is no. I didn’t go through an MFA program, so I never had the mentor-type relationship that can come (or so I hear) from being in such a program. Not that a writing mentor has to come from an MFA program, of course; but for whatever reason, I’ve never experienced one of those someone-takes-you-under-their-wing deals. And I don’t teach, which means there aren’t many opportunities for mentoring.
When I think of mentors, I think of the writers who have meant the most to me over the years: Joyce, Camus, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Carver, and also, more recently, Don DeLillo, Toni Morrison, George Saunders, Colson Whitehead, Charles D’Ambrosio. I also think of that Seinfeld episode where everyone wanted a mentor.
Tricks to unblocking creativity? Tips?
These days my writing time is pretty limited. So any time I do have, I typically charge ahead without much blockage. It’s rare that I do get stuck. But what’s always worked best for me is stopping a day’s work on a good note, knowing exactly where I’m going to start and what I’m going to do the next time. (This could be a Hemingway tip.) That really helps with the focus and sense of momentum (especially important when working on a longish piece of fiction) and reduces (somewhat) the hair-pulling and teeth-gnashing.
And if one story or project isn’t working, jump over to something else. Oh, and one more thing: listen to music. That always inspires me and gets me out of a writing funk. Lately it’s been Wilco and Megafaun that does the trick. But the Ramones can also work (for me, at least).
What makes characters real? What makes us care? Your stories are so real, and the reader develops nearly immediate empathy…
Thanks so much, Meg. That’s really nice and encouraging to hear. I’ve been told that my short stories are “quiet.” This means, I think, that my stories tend to be more character-driven. This is what I naturally gravitate toward as a writer; it’s not a conscious choice on my part (and I know that plot is my kryptonite).
What makes characters real? Wow. That’s a great question. It’s something of a mystery to me, but here goes: It probably has a lot to do with the writer spending time with a character. And I don’t just mean what ends up on the page. I’m also talking about spending time with a character in your head, of not being able to shake a character, to be haunted, to have him or her inhabit you for a prolonged period in some deep, fundamental way. The downside of this, though, is that I sometimes walk around in a fiction fog (something my wife can attest to).
What makes us care? The most obvious thing is also probably the truest: recognition of ourselves, our emotions, our thoughts, our feelings. My characters are typically flawed, struggling for meaning and connection, trying to do better but not always succeeding. And that’s something most people can relate to.
Please talk about editing. I once read on your blog that you had a piece rejected 40 times before an amazing acceptance (The Good Men Project). Can you talk about what that was like, if you made changes to the piece, kept editing – or was it just a matter of finding the right home for it?
I usually don’t torture myself by totaling up the number of rejections a story gets. But in this case, I was curious because I’d been submitting “Where You Live” (the story you mentioned that was finally published by The Good Men Project) for years. I knew the number would be high, but 40 rejections did surprise me.
As for editing, I tend to edit and revise as I go (I’m a turtle), so when I get a first draft “done,” it’s more like a sixth or seventh draft. Then I’ll go back and take another pass (or two or three). I’m a constant tinkerer, and it’s difficult for me to consider a story ever being finished, even if I’m lucky enough to get it published. With “Where You Live,” I’d send out the story and then, after a few rejections had rolled in, I’d look at it again, adding a comma, removing it, taking stuff out, adding stuff in, etc.
At one point, after I really started to doubt the story, I added a new, extended ending. My thought was that the main character, Michael, needed to be more sympathetic and achieve a stronger kind of redemption in the end. But you know what? Matt Salesses, the fiction editor at The Good Men Project, thought the last section wasn’t necessary and that the story would be more powerful by ending it earlier (i.e., using the original ending). And he was right. So my initial instinct had been correct, but I had let all the rejections affect my judgment, leading to a change in the story that wasn’t for the better. It was a great lesson, and I’m very thankful for Matt’s wise edits and advice.
What are you up to now? What is next for you?
I earlier mentioned “a longish piece of fiction.” And I’m currently working on a novel called Believers (an excerpt was published in The Sun in July). It’s fairly long, has multiple points of view and characters, and revolves around a series of supposedly miraculous events in Los Angeles. I like to call it a historical novel because it takes place in 1999.
I’m hoping to finish this latest draft early next year. After that, I’m going to take some time off from writing. That will probably last less than a week. Then I’ll start pecking away again. I have a few longer, in-progress short stories that I’d like to finish. Then I’ll be on to the next novel.
The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is the editor-at-large for BLIP Magazine, and her stories and poems have been published widely. Her first full collection of flash fiction, “Damn Sure Right” is now out from Press 53. She blogs athttp://megpokrass.com.