Interview by BWG member Jerome W. McFadden
Bethlehem Writers Roundtable: On your blog you state “I believe the writer’s job is to provoke thought and elicit emotion, and I am in pursuit of that story, even that sentence, which moves the reader to consider his or her life differently…” This is a very big goal. Does it affect what you write and how you write it?
Paul Weidknecht: (Laughs) Simple, high-minded ideals. Seriously though, I think creative writing should make a point beyond just entertainment. I really don’t go into a story focused on trying to make the reader think in a lasting way; this is a hopeful byproduct of the story. I’m still working on that.
BWG: What prompted you to go through the hard work and tussle of self-publishing
PW: I had a group of fly-fishing and outdoor-related short stories, essays, and poems that had been previously published in various literary journals and magazines, and I guess I wanted to put them all together in one place. Though at times the process was confusing, overall, it was a labor of love. Fly-fishers also tend to be literary folks, big readers. But it contains work unrelated to fly-fishing, so I think people with a love of the outdoors would find it enjoyable too.
BWG: On your web site, you list 60 publishing credits and 18 awards and honors since 2008. Did you actually start writing in 2008 or is this just the “latest” list of your published work?
PW: In 1998, I got my first piece of work published, an article about fly-fishing. Prior to 2008 I freelanced for several commercial publications such as Outdoor Life and Fur-Fish-Game, also about fly-fishing. It was late in 2007 when I started to write in earnest; more short fiction, and not exclusively about fishing.
BWG: This is a prolific amount of work. Can you describe your working procedure, how you manage to generate this amount of writing?
PW: I’m going to give the wrong answer right now. (Laughs). I don’t write every day. I know I should, but I don’t. At Sewanee Writer’s Conference some years ago, I had the opportunity to have lunch with the late playwright Romulus Linney. A piece of advice he gave me was to do something for my career every day. I try to do that. Whether it is writing, researching, or submitting work, I try to get something done. Of course, in a perfect world, that work should be in the form of pure, undistracted writing.
Regarding my working procedure, when I get an idea that I really like, I’ll usually pound away on that until it’s done. From the seed of an idea to finished ready-for- editor copy, a 4,000 word short story takes me about three weeks. I know, that’s a turtle’s pace. Often I struggle with beginnings, but once that first paragraph is down, the output usually flows pretty well; the story will tell itself, and the ending always does.
BWG: About half of your published work is poetry, with the rest being a blend of short stories and creative non-fiction. Do you consider yourself primarily a poet or a short story writer? Or are these so intertwined in you that you write whatever is on your mind at the time you sit down to write?
PW: A short story writer. As far as poetry goes, I think of myself probably as someone who writes poetry, rather than an actual ‘poet’. My poetry is narrative, based mainly on events in my life. Stories are usually a small piece of life with a lot of made-up stuff. I enjoy writing flash fiction; that almost feels like a mix of the two forms.
BWG: Your publishing credits include some lofty literary magazines, including: Best New Writing 2015. The Comstock Review, Potomac Review, Philadelphia Stores, James Dickey Review, Shenandoah, and Los Angeles Review, among others. Do you have a favorite poem or story among these - Or one you are most proud of?
PW: Because rejection is such an ever-present reality in writing for publication, I think every piece that finds its way through a slush pile and into print has a bit of ‘favorite’ running through it. Each story has a favorite character, plot, or ending, so to would be tough to narrow down a favorite, but if I had to, I think the story, “As Dawn Brightens” worked well, telling a full tale with a limited number of words. Regarding poetry, I think “Plantation’s Corn” and “The Battles of Philadelphia” came out all right.
BWG: The same question for your awards and honors - Is there one you are most proud of? Why?
PW: I won the Peter Barry Short Story Competition in 2012. I think there were over 200 entries from almost 30 countries. I’m proud that all three of our BWG anthologies have been award-winning collections. I know awards and numbers shouldn’t matter, because the judging of art is wildly subjective, but I can’t help but feel there is some degree of self-validation in it. Validation is nice when you get a lot of rejection, and writers need all the help we can get.
BWG: You had an experience that most writers dream about: A scholarship to The Norman Mailer Writers Colony in 2010. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?
PW: It was an enriching one. Fine writers and fine, generous people. The workshops were held in Mailer’s waterfront home in Provincetown, MA. We saw his writing space upstairs, with a cot next to his desk for napping when he needed a break. Colum McCann led the workshops. I think attending a writers’ conference with manuscript workshopping is necessary for writers who want to take the craft seriously. You discover that writing is simple and complex, simultaneously. You leave with a greater awareness about your writing. In judo, the first thing they teach you is how to land without hurting yourself. You can’t call yourself a judoka if you can’t take a full-on throw and pop back up the mat. I think a manuscript workshop operates in a similar way.
BWG: It must have been quite a thrill to read your poem “Nya Sverige” (New Sweden) in front of King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden on the occasion of the 375th anniversary of the landing of the Swedes and Finns in American (1638). Did you feel a bit of pressure during the reading? And what is your connection to Sweden?
PW: Strangely, I wasn’t that nervous because I had rehearsed it so many times. There were maybe 600 people there with the King and Queen, the Governor of Delaware, Secret Service, and family, but I was calm. I remember giving a reading a year later in front of 30 people hoping they couldn’t tell I was shaking inside my suit. Connection to Sweden? An ancient ancestor from the old country and an aunt who was a recent governor of the American-Swedish Colonial Society. The poem had to be approved by three different people, and I had published some poetry prior to this event, so I didn’t feel so guilty about the inside connection.
BWG: What's next?PW: I have completed a collection of short fiction that agents and publishers alike can review
BWG: Do you have any intentions of moving from short fiction, or creative non-fiction, into a full length novel or a non-fiction book?
PW: I am working on a novel. This is a line I have been using for years, so I had better start working on it.