The Writer’s Handful with James Goertel

Mondays + Writers = finally something to look forward to.

Today on the Writer’s Handful, we are honored to feature a conversation with poet and fiction writer James GoertelJames is one of those guys who is never far from the worktable, as is evidenced by his publications, forthcoming pieces, and work-in-progress. He also is one of those really nice writer guys who is eager to share ideas, good news, and encouragement with just about anyone.

Welcome James!


Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

Writers are compelled to write – the wave/urge/sometimes inconvenient impulse to do so is always there. I think writers would cut themselves and use the blood for ink if there were no other alternatives available at a given moment. The joy, the burden, the beauty of this craft is that constant craving to get it down. Today? A little poetry – a new poem for my ongoing feature at Yareah Magazine out of Spain. I am grateful for a forum where I go from script to screen in the course of a morning and that the audience for the magazine now graces my little corner of such a wonderful publication. My novel-in-progress is an ongoing concern of fits and starts which has added up to pages and pages of a story I always dreamed of getting behind and giving a go. I think the writing which takes place in the mind everyday is the most important writing we do. The physical act of writing is simply a mute dictation which hopefully doesn’t get lost in translation between the heart, mind, and page. The years behind me are littered with empty threats of quitting, taking a break, or ignoring the impulse – which usually end in short order with me scrawling some idea on a map while driving or leaving the Thanksgiving table in search of some loose leaf and a pen. At my house you might not get gravy and stuffing with your turkey, but you will probably get a story or a poem by the time the pumpkin pie is served.

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

The first thing I remember writing? I would not have considered this memory as a valid answer years ago, but with the energy behind and ubiquitous nature of the flash fiction at present, I would have to say it qualifies and is the first time I understood that words have power. When I was about five or so, I drew a cartoonish, crayon picture of my brother and a girl down the block – in the buff and anatomically incorrect as they both were sporting male genitalia. I captioned it, Billy is a playboy and was quite proud of it and so showed it to my brother who showed it to my mother and besides the taste of that Palmolive bar soap she washed my mouth out with, what I remember almost as vividly is her scolding query as to whether I knew what the word playboy meant – which I didn’t, which wasn’t much of an answer or a defense. Anyway – it was that piece of almost literal “flash” fiction I recall as my first brush with a literary career  – one part Henry Miller, one part Charles Bukowski, one part Robert Crumb, one part Palmolive bar soap.

What are you reading right now?

When I am working on my own fiction, I read non-fiction almost exclusively with some poetry thrown into the mix for variety. Currently I’ve got the gifted essayist John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Blood Horses going and Plath’s Collected Poems.

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

The most important advice I ever got was from a Philly writer who imparted that, Writing is not writing, writing is editing – which is the easiest thing to remember, but not always the easiest to do. My version of Kill your darlings is Writing is sewing, editing is tailoring.

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

My writing if it were an animal? Easy. A chameleon. I become whatever I am writing – excluding things like axe murderers which don’t translate well for a family man or his social life.


Born in North Dakota, James Goertel spent twenty years working in television for ABC, NBC, and ESPN, among many others. He currently teaches writing at Penn State. “Carry Each His Burden” (2011) is his fiction debut. “Each Year an Anthem” (2012) is his poetry debut and “With No Need for a Name” (2012) is his follow-up collection. Yareah Magazine in Madrid, Spain publishes his latest work in an ongoing, weekly poetry feature, Under the Same Moon. He is currently working on his debut novel “Let the Power Fall” for publication in 2014. James lives with his wife and son on the beautiful shores of Lake Erie in Western New York.









4 Replies to “The Writer’s Handful with James Goertel”

  1. Really enjoyed this – for lots of reasons. I follow the same guidelines when choosing what to read when I’m writing (other genre). Also, thoughts on writing as revision, which reminds me of Klinkenborg, whose book I turn to again and again. Also, was just rereading a history of flash fiction last night and it traced earliest concepts back to Japanese woodblock stories (also images). Fitting.

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