Cliff Garstang interview with David Alan Binder

Post date: Apr 18, 2016 1:11:29 PM

Cliff Garstang interview with David Alan Binder

Partial Bio from his website: Garstang received an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. His award-winning collection of linked short stories, In an Uncharted Country, was published by Press 53 in 2009. Press 53 also published his second book, What the Zhang Boys Know, a novel in stories that won the 2013 Library of Virginia Literary Award for Fiction. Garstang’s work has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Blackbird, Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, Cream City Review, Tampa Review, Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere and has received Distinguished Mention in the Best American Series. He won the 2006 Confluence Fiction Prize and the 2007 GSU Review Fiction Prize, and has had a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and scholarships to both Sewanee and the Indiana University Writers’ Conference, as well as residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, the Ragdale Foundation, Hambidge Center for the Arts, and Rivendell Writers’ Colony.



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1. How do you pronounce your name (only answer if appropriate)?

Garstang rhymes with Mustang.

2. Where are you currently living?

I live near Staunton, Virginia, which is in the Shenandoah Valley.

3. What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?

There are a lot of great writers in the world, but only I can write MY stories.

4. What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?

I believe in the rules of grammar and punctuation and follow them almost slavishly—except when they can be manipulated to good effect.

5. Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?

There is some value in self-publishing and a few writers—very few—do quite well with it. But while the market for such books is limitless, in theory, in practice it is extremely hard to reach an audience with self-published books. (Most people will only buy them if they’ve been written by a friend or acquaintance.) Traditional publishers provide what most self-published authors overlook: legitimacy, professional editing and marketing, distribution, access to bookstores and reviewers, eligibility for industry awards (as opposed to the host of sketchy awards that have arisen in the self-publishing world), etc. So my advice continues to be to be patient, make your book the best it can be, and work toward getting a traditional publishing deal.

a. Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they?

Press 53 in Winston-Salem, NC has published my 2 books and anthologies.

6. Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

Although print isn’t dead, not by a long shot, eBooks are here to stay. If you can publish in both arenas, that’s clearly the way to go. And the publishing world is a spectrum, with even the traditional publishers adopting innovative means to reach an audience, so there are an increasing number of options for writers, which is a good thing. I’d prefer not to be published exclusively in the eBook format, because there are just too many readers who will always resist the technology.

7. Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?

No secret: Write the best book you can and be patient.

8. How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent? Any tips for new writers on getting one?

Most writers have long agent-hunting sagas, I think, and I’m no different. But the first step is to write a good book. I think too many writers—myself included—write a book and rush into the agent hunt without doing all they can to make sure the book is as good as it can be. The next step is to write a dynamite query letter, which is way harder than it sounds. Do your homework on what should go in the letter. Third, target potential agents appropriately. Sending a query to every agent in the phonebook is a bad idea. Check to see if the agent actually represents the kind of book you’ve written. On the other hand, don’t query just one agent and then give up when the agent declines (or doesn’t respond). There are a lot of agents out there; keep trying until you find the one that’s right for you.

9. Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?

Editing matters. Don’t give agents or editors an excuse to reject your work. Fix the grammar, punctuation, spelling, and usage. Read your work aloud—it not only helps you find mistakes, it also identifies boring passages, clumsy dialogue, and unintentional repetition, all of which will discourage readers.

10. What was one of the most surprising things you learned your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?

I have a tendency to say things twice (in different ways), apparently under the impression that the second version will reinforce the first. But readers aren’t dumb; they get it the first time.

11. How many books have you written?

I’ve written five books, although only two are published. The first one I wrote, which was also my MFA thesis, was something of a “practice” novel and wasn’t publishable, although I have been thinking of going back to it and seeing what I can salvage from the wreckage. Since my last story collection was published I have written two novels, for which my agent is currently seeking a publisher.

12. Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)?

A recommendation given to me by one of my teachers was to avoid dialogue that asks and answers questions. That can be dull for the reader, but if a question is answered with another question, or if the second speaker anticipates the first speaker and jumps ahead—leapfrogging the dialogue forward—that can be an exciting way to vary the pace in a scene and show the relationship between the dialogue partners.

13. Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?

I’m a big fan of characters who lie to other characters (not to the reader!) or who lie. This not only creates tension on the page, but also, when used judiciously, provides a nice surprise in the story.

14. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?

Books stand out in different ways, but the common element is freshness. Some use a distinctive voice—some of the most memorable books in literature have a unique narrative voice. Some use characters unlike any characters we’ve seen before. In my work, one way I try to stand out is through setting. I write about familiar settings freshly imagined, or about unfamiliar settings.

15. What are some ways in which you promote your work?

Social media has its limits, but I use it, mostly to let people know about events that I’m participating in or awards I’ve won. In a similar vein, I send occasional email blasts if I have a new book coming out to help spread the word. I give readings as often as I can—that’s a great way to reach an audience—and I teach or give talks at conferences and book fairs. Also, my website includes a blog where I give writing tips and keep a reading journal, so people can see what I’ve been reading.

16. What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?

I would start earlier. For decades I used the excuse that I was too busy to write—my career was too demanding, I was traveling too much, etc.—but the truth was that I didn’t have the discipline. Like so many other things, all it takes is commitment.

[Added question: 17. What prepared you to become a writer?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer, but of course I didn’t know how to go about it. But it struck me that the books that affected me most deeply were, essentially, philosophical. So in college I majored in philosophy and then got an MA in English in order to read literature more closely. Then I got a little side-tracked, first by serving in the Peace Corps and then by going to law school, which led to a career in international law, both in the US and abroad. I didn’t do much writing in those years, but I had great experiences that were wonderful accidental preparation for being a writer. And then, when I decided to get serious about writing, I got an MFA. Now, you don’t have to get an MFA to be a writer, but for me it was a big help.]

18.What would you like carved onto your tombstone? Or what saying or mantra do you live by?

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