Leslie Pietrzyk interview with David Alan Binder

posted Feb 4, 2016, 6:37 AM by David Alan Binder   [ updated May 16, 2016, 6:35 AM ]

Leslie Pietrzyk interview with David Alan Binder

 

 Her Website: www.lesliepietrzyk.com

Her Blog:    lesliepietrzyk.blogspot.com


Leslie Pietrzyk is the author of two novels, Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a DayThis Angel on My Chest, her collection of linked short stories, won the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize and was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in October 2015. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in many publications, including The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Gettysburg Review, The Sun, Shenandoah, River Styx, Iowa Review, TriQuarterly, New England Review,Washingtonian, and Cincinnati Review. She has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers'™ Conference and the Sewanee Writers'™ Conference. Pietrzyk is a member of the core fiction faculty at the Converse low-residency MFA program and teaches in the MA Program in Writing at Johns Hopkins University. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

 

Of This Angel on My ChestKirkus Reviews wrote, The author's™ wit, clarity, and literary inventiveness dance circles around the omnipresent sadness, making this book a prime example of the furious creative energy that can explode from the collision of grief with talent and craftsmanship, naming it one of the best short story collections of 2015.


 1.     How do you pronounce your name?

Pete-rick. Much easier than it looks! 

 

2.     Where are you currently living?

Alexandria, VA—outside Washington, DC.

 

3.     Where would you like to live?

New York City, preferably in one of those condos that I see advertised in the New York Times magazine, where there’s a floorplan and a picture of an amazing city view.

 

4.     Why did you start writing?

I always loved books and reading, and it was a remarkable realization when my second grade class invited a local author to visit after we had read her book. That was when I understood that books were written by real people and that one day I might be one of those people.

 

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

That talent will only take you so far. What you really need is a lot of hard work and perseverance. It’s nice that my stubborn nature is useful for something.

 

6.     What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

I write a lot about food. My characters are always eating or are about to eat. I’m not sure I would know how to write anything longer than five pages without mentioning food.

 

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

The publisher of THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST is the University of Pittsburgh Press, located in Pittsburgh, a city I’ve come to enjoy visiting. The book won the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize.

 

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

Write the best book you can. Then set it aside for a couple of months. THEN come back to it and revise. Don’t rush the writing process.

 

9.     How did you acquire an agent?  Any tips for new writers on getting one?

I don’t have an agent right now, but in the past I have found agents through an unsolicited query letter (which really does happen!), through work published in a literary journal that she read, and through a meeting at a writers’ conference. It’s back to that one word: perseverance.

 

10.                        Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST is based on my experience of losing my 37-year-old husband to a heart attack several years ago. The book is fiction, but at the core of each story is one hard, true thing from my life.

 

11.                        Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers?

Develop a thick skin when it comes to criticism. You want to write the best book you can, and you’re going to have to learn to hear from others the ways to improve it. Always approach writing with humility.

12.                        What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

What still surprises me is how long one can—and should—write without knowing exactly what you’re doing, that most of the discovery comes about during the process of writing, not in the thinking about writing. That said, I definitely know it’s not easy to keep going when you feel lost.

 

13.                        How many books have you written? 

THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST is the third book I’ve published…but it is the eighth book I’ve written. (Dare I go back to that word, perseverance?)

14.                        Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer? 

I teach creative writing, so I fill classes with my thoughts on this topic, but I’ll pass along one thing that I see often: too much backstory. Readers are reading to find out what happens next, not what happened a long time ago. Write out your backstory so you, the author, know it…then cut at least half of it.

 

15.                        We’ve heard that it is good to provide twists in a good story.  How do you do this?

I don’t like the word “twist” because it makes me think of something forced, something the author has planned from the beginning, so I like the word “surprises,” which emerge from the characters I’ve set up. People in real life are always doing surprising things, so fictional characters should be no less complicated, confusing, and startling.

16.                        What makes your book stand out from the crowd?

I play with form in THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST, so while I have traditional short stories with a conventional beginning-middle-end structure, I also have stories told in the form of a list, a quiz, a craft lecture about creative writing, and even a YouTube video. Several stories are also told in the second person point of view. It was a fun challenge exploring these different ways to tell the same story: what happens after a young husband dies suddenly?

 

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

I’ve been writing a literary blog since 2007, and I’m active on Twitter and Facebook. I love visiting classes/universities/conferences and giving readings. Plus I stand outside my house wearing a sandwich board sign (just kidding!).

 

18.                         What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing) and why?

I went for my MFA degree right out of college, and now I would advise people to wait a couple of years before going to graduate school (if that’s a path they want to take).

 

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

It seems that my writerly goal for the ending of every story might be apt on a tombstone: Surprising yet inevitable.  

END OF INTERVIEW

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