Sean Lovelace interview by David Alan Binder
Post date: Jan 21, 2016 2:33:30 PM
Author interview Sean Lovelace interview by David Alan Binder
By way of introduction Sean Lovelace is Director of Creative Writing at the Ball State University in Muncie Indiana. He is also a professor.
Blog: seanlovelace.com (has long list of online publications)
He reviews flash fiction for http://thediagram.com/
His good reads page: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11353674-fog-gorgeous-stag
His seller site: http://www.rosemetalpress.com/Catalog/TCNLCT.html
His chapbooks: http://bateaupress.org/chapbooks/view/27
Faculty page: http://cms.bsu.edu/academics/collegesanddepartments/english/facultystaff/administrators/lovelacesean
1. How do you pronounce your name?
Interesting question. People have called me “Seen” my entire life. Bizarre. It is Sean, as in “rhymes with on.” Sean Connery, for example.
2. Where are you currently living?
In the Midwest and I am clearly a southerner. It is one degree outside as I type.
3. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
That’s a good question. My journey has been bizarre. In about fourth or fifth grade, I wrote these short stories about my classmates. My go-to move was hyperbole. I’d have some kid eat 10,000 hamburgers, for example. My teachers really enjoyed them. I read them aloud to my classmates; they laughed and enjoyed them. I was amazed. Who doesn’t like positive feedback? So that’s an early core event.
Years passed. I won some essay contests and such, but no real focus on creative writing. High school blurred by, college. I became a registered nurse. For some reason—probably stress; I worked in an ER and so on—I took a night class, an intro CW class, at the University of Tennessee. Something clicked. My professor told me I should get an MFA. I said, “What’s an MFA?” I am now the director of a creative writing program! Odd, strange trip. Way leads onto way, as Frost noted.
4. How long on average does it take you to write a book?
That really depends. Since I primarily write flash fiction (compressed stories, basically), I write in bursts. I do focus on book length projects now. I used to just write whatever entered my mind. That led to a lot of individual publications, but not books. I’m not sure the average. Maybe a year or two? A set timeline, maybe shorter. The poet Mark Neely and I are writing a small book right now, about James Franco. It didn’t take that long, because we’re under a publication deadline. The work got done.
5. What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
That really varies. I have a family, a busy job, and a ton of hobbies. This is probably a bad thing for a writing professor to admit, but writing isn’t some all-consuming passion. I view it as an intellectually difficult challenge, so fun (in the way golf is fun). I also view fishing a river or disc golfing or playing chess or running a race or bow-hunting or any of my other interests the same. So, I’m not crushed if I don’t write today. When I find slivers of time, I write. I will say mornings are better; the mind crackles early.
6. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
I embed the number 14 into everything. I’m also very interested in popular culture as metaphor. For example, my new book is about James Franco. My last was about Velveeta. Yes, Velveeta.
7. Did you self publish or have a publisher?
Several publishers. Rose Metal Press, Chicago. Publishing Genius out of Maryland. Bateau Press is in New England. New Michigan Press is in Arizona (weird, huh?). They have all been relatively small presses and show the commitment, care, and individual attention of a small press.
8. How do you feel about eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
Get off my lawn! Just kidding, sort of. I think a publisher can do a lot for a writer, but I do see how a writer could do most (if they had the skill set) of that for themselves. I think self-publishing has a stigma; that could be on me. Many of them look, well, self-published. I just think an external review by peers is significant, too. Personally, I’m not interested in self-publication. Things could change, though. I can tell you for a fact in my academic life (where you are reviewed and evaluated perpetually) a self-publication isn’t going to carry much weight, but that could always change.
I don’t read eBooks. Nothing personal; I just have so many codexes, “thing” books I’m reading and want to read. And how can I write in an eBook and sweat on it and bend the corners and leave part of me behind and then pass it on to the next reader, altered? A book is a time capsule of all who read it. Is an eBook?
9. What process did you go through to get your book published?
Many different processes. I won two contests. Once, I had a publisher read an individual work I had published on Fictionaut and they complimented me. I said, “You want to see the rest?” They did. Then it became a book.
10. Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Reading, listening, and paying attention, for sure. I’d actually argue creative writing, which is a life, really, a way of living, makes a person MUCH more aware of the world. Your antennae are always out. I like concepts, Velveeta as a metaphor for language, celebrities as contemporary gods, Charlie Brown as a study of clinical depression, etc. Another thing I mentioned earlier is hobbies. I’ve never met a creative writer who wasn’t totally geeked out by things. Obsessed, or at least interested in all this swirling world. Michael Martone is obsessed with Indiana. Erika Lopez is obsessed with sexuality. Katy Didden with the natural world. Borges with libraries. Murakami with jazz music and talking cats. And so on.
11. When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I used to create my own hunting magazines as a kid. So I guess I have self-published! Ha. Yeh, I’d write the entire magazine, from front matter to reader questions to the articles and advertisements. A copy is somewhere in my parent’s home. 1982 maybe? I think Ken Sparling has his entire family make his books, at home. His daughter even draws the cover. He has more traditional publisher books, too, as do I. My first one from a publisher was, um, 2000? It was by Elixer Press, name of Grass, a tiny book I just remembered I wrote.
12. What do you like to do when you're not writing?
See above. Many things. Hard to beat drinking a beer and fishing a river.
13. What does your family think of your writing?
My kids (ages 8 and 12) do some creative writing and seem to enjoy the process. I teach a Creative Writing in the Community class (more a program) at Ball State University. The class works with kids in the local community to create a creative writing anthology and a reading and so on. My kids were in the program once. The boy wrote of barbecue, the girl wrote of frogs, her obsession.
(I was supposed to write my daughter a frog book for Christmas 2015. I did that. It sits on my computer, in Word form. I was supposed to make it into a book for her to read. I still need to do that…)
I have no idea if anyone else in my family even reads what I write. I publish all over, so maybe. They do seem to enjoy public readings. They do enjoy those, for sure.
14. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
It’s a collaborative act. These people at these various presses are kind and generous and thoughtful, and really want to get behind what you do. That’s pretty surprising, such dedication. People talk about the treacherous nature of the book industry and I haven’t seen that. I’m not naively saying everything has been roses, but mostly editors are really serious and caring with my words, and they don’t have to be. It’s very impressive. It actually makes me more caring and generous. It makes me want to give back to the world of writing (and I do). It’s also an argument for small presses. I really do feel they care more—about the book, not other things.
15. How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
One longer book, maybe 4 chapbooks, and I’ve had stories or essays or whatnot in many, many anthologies. My favorite is “How Some People Like Their Eggs,” simply because it touched so many people. It was quickly sold out and then reprinted in a larger book form with other flash fiction authors. I received a kind note (an actual hand-written note on a card!) last week about that little book, actually, and it’s been years and years since it appeared. Also, that book has the number 14 embedded everywhere!
16. Do you have any suggestions to help others become a better writer? If so, what are they?
Well, there’s no shortcuts. Remember, I started all this as a registered nurse. I knew basically nothing about creative writing or the immense and complex world of. So I read like a madman, for years. Then I wrote very badly for years, badly for years, average/OK for years, then actually good/Ok for years. I’m probably still at good/Ok now, but hopefully I still have time to improve. Other advice is to engage with life. Do things! Don’t let it pass you by, folks, because this is not dress rehearsal.
17. Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
Surprisingly, yes. They mostly point out where something I wrote moved them in some way. I’m very grateful. It is odd, but I don’t know why I say that: I’ve been moved by so much writing I’ve read. So.
I also hear from people after readings. They say very kind things and I’m grateful.
18. Who is your main audience for your books?
I’d say those that want language in the forefront. They don’t just want plot, a narrative—they want the bending of language, the dazzle of sound and sight, of concepts. The English language is a wide, wide variety of tools. Each word is a little puzzle piece. (I thought I said tools! Ah, metaphors…) The type of readers who appreciate abstract, contemporary art over a more logical/realist landscape or portrait from the 1800s, etc. That’s me and my readers, most likely.
19. What do you think makes a good story?
Baudelaire said always be a poet, always, even in prose. Yep. A book like James Dickey’s Deliverance (A novel WRITTEN BY A POET). A book by Annie Dillard. A flash fiction book by Kim Chinquee or Ana Maria Shua or Amelia Gray, since flash fiction often borrows from poets, to achieve the brevity and compression. That’s what I admire.
20. As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Something involving sharks.
21. . Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one field or genre, how do you balance them?
Somehow, flash fiction has taken over my life. It’s such a great genre, especially if you write in fragments of Time, and I do. It’s also great for teaching. The genre is focused. It is also very popular and getting more so (that was a lucky accident for me). Of course, flash has been around forever, from Aesop’s Fables to religious texts and so on, but the genre seems really healthy right about now. I wrote longer stories, essays, reviews, and poetry, too. Whatever I feel. That’s what’s sort of great about life as an artist: you create what you are into. That’s sort of excellent and freeing.
22. What do you think most characterizes your writing?
Juxtaposition and humor, but hopefully not thin, clever humor. Humor with some supporting structure, some theme, I’d hope.
23. What inspires you?
The marathon, whitetail deer, James Franco, nachos.
24. How did you get to be where you are in your life today?
A lack of self-pity. Get on with it, I’d say. I don’t wait around for the muse, I’ll say that. Put your ass in the seat and write. Just keep trying. Most of my life lessons I’ve learned from a lifetime of running. TRAIN. Do your homework. No shortcuts, folks. Also, I don’t take myself very seriously. Life is comic and tragic and absurd. So relax, folks.
And observe others. Successful people tend to have certain attributes. They rarely luck into anything, though it might appear lucky. Ben Hogan said, “Weird. The more I practice, the luckier I get.” Yep. I’ve seen really hard-working authors, many of them my friends. I watch how they navigate this world of writing and I learn.
25. Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work
Ernaux, Duras, Brautigan, Erika Lopez, Lydia Davis, Blake Butler, on and on—any author who liberated me by saying, in their work, “You can do WHATEVER you want to do.” Anything. I once thought a book was a certain thing. It isn’t. It can be anything. What is Trout Fishing in America? Well, exactly.
26. Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?
In the university, there’s a saying: publish or perish. I have to write, professionally, though I of course would anyway. The great news is the university also wants me to write WHATEVER I WANT. Like Velveeta counts, OK? Funny world. So, writing for me is a job and not a job. It’s a life.
27. What are some day jobs that you have held? Did any of them impact your writing?
Great question! Are you ready? Not in order, but dog groomer (one of only two jobs I was fired from), lifeguard, pizza delivery driver, produce market cashier, fireworks salesman, landscaper, professor, registered nurse, Chili’s busboy, automotive plant clean-up dude (I even cleaned the robots that make Mercedes SUVs), air conditioner cleaner, DuPont chemical worker (even worked with cyanide!)…what else? I may be forgetting. These jobs were invaluable to me as a writer. Jobs are the core of a key epiphany: appearance versus reality. The world appears to run one way; then there’s reality. Also, jobs taught me cool words, jargon.
Did you know nurses call motorcycles, donor-cycles. Well, they do.
28. What makes your book stand out from the crowd?
Not sure if they do. Juxtaposition and pop culture, maybe (maybe…).
29. What are some ways in which you promote your work?
I could do more. I’m sort of over that game. I sort of publish them and move on, honestly.
30. What do you like to read in your free time?
Anything. I read multiple books at once. Right now, stacked on my table, a collection of hunting essays, Flamethrower, White Noise (I know, I know, I should have read that by now!), and some flash collections I may (or may not) review for Diagram.
31. What projects are you working on at the present?
James Franco book with poet Mark Neely.
32. If you had one thing you could do over (concerning writing, publishing, etc.), what would it be and why?
I would have fought harder to have my Velveeta book title, Velveeta.
Also, with magazines, don’t send in things until they are actually ready. How do you know when they are actually ready? Good question.
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