February 27, 2014: He was very musical.
February 26, 2014: Some were blessed.
February 25, 2014: There wasn’t much left.
Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.
“Part elegy, part master-student story, part road-trip Americana, Williams riffs on the dichotomy between appearance and reality.” That’s how Kirkus Reviews talks about Tom Williams new comedic novel, Don’t Start Me Talking. The story of Brother Ben, the “only remaining True Delta Bluesman” (Ted Dawson, and anyone else who is enthralled with music and blues culture, get this book!) is one of the latest additions to Curbside Splendor‘s fabulous literary roster. Lucky for us, Tom had a moment to answer some questions here, just as he heads back on the road.
Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?
No, because I’m on an early leg of a book tour and only just got my power cord out of my car, which was parked in the garage next door to the hotel and am still trying to orient myself to Central Time.
What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?
Aside from things I had to do in school, the first thing I remember was in the winter of 1978, which was a pretty bad one in Central Ohio, so bad that my school system could only reliably heat the junior high. Thus, all the kids would come in on one day of the week and get their weekly assignments, then go back home until the next week. I was in sixth grade, so I was eleven. But in addition to all this, my grandmother, who lived a couple hours away in Akron, started sending my sister and me these supplemental things to do to pass the time while we watched the winter take over our lives. And each week she’d ask us to do extra chores and some intellectual and creative exercises and then we’d get twenty bucks if we completed enough tasks. One thing was to write a story. I cheated and wrote a comic book, borrowing characters from Marvel and DC and throwing them into a time-travel/dinosaurs deal, but I remember still the thrill it gave me, and, as Hawthorne said of the “sensible ends of literature”: “the solid cash.”
What are you reading right now?
I’m teaching, so I just finished re-reading Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” and was surprised at how much I cannot tire of that. I also just finished Samantha Irby’s Meaty, and it is a real wonder. She’s a label mate at Curbside Splendor, so I’m probably biased. Just as I am with Dave Housley’s Commercial Fiction and Ben Tanzer’s Orphans: both dynamite. But this is a period where the books keep coming and there’s a lot to choose from and, most of all, a lot to be wowed by.
What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)
Hemingway and Andre Dubus: Stop in the middle of a sentence and come back to it the next day. I have done this for years now and find it to be so useful and practical, yet it verges on the spiritual. Stopping in the middle very nearly makes one commit to completing the next sentence, and it stands to reason that another sentence will follow.
If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…
A chameleon. Though I just found out that, really, chameleons don’t change color to match their backgrounds, that common misperception is what I want my writing to do: I want it to always take on the characteristics and hue and heft of the story I’m trying to tell, to be so integrated that it’s only in the briefest of moments—and then you’re not even sure—that you see a flash of movement that suggests there’s more to the story than at first appears.
Tom Williams is the author of the novel, Don’t Start Me Talkin‘, just released by Curbside Splendor. His first book, The Mimic’s Own Voice, a novella, was published by Main Street Rag Publishing Company. He chairs the English Department at Morehead State University and lives in Kentucky with his wife, Carmen, and their son.
→Don’t Start Me Talkin’, just released. Thanks, Tom, for talkin’. Thanks, as always, to everyone for reading. -PMc←
February 24, 2014: Sometimes they’d argue.
These past few days feel almost as though I have been trying to squeeze my whole writing career into them. The ups and downs, the good stuff, the bad stuff. The writing itself.
I am writing. And that’s a good thing. No small feat when the teaching gets busy, and when the meetings run thick. Still, I slog along with the novel, nearing (I think) the end of the first full draft (that includes lots of little drafts, some chapters and pages gone over dozens of times already.) A little taste of the chapter I have just—in these past ten days—completed:
“Is it ever a good thing when your doorbell rings in the dark first hours of morning? Good news rarely comes this way, long before dawn, unexpected and unannounced. And so when Bud and Rebecca and the youngest girls heard first the chime and then the pounding and woke in the cold, powerless house, they sat up in their beds and huddled under their blankets for a minute, blinking in the gray, their breath making ghosts in the space before them.”
I am submitting. And in the past week, I have been receiving rejections. Five of them. Mostly forms. But this one that I will qualify as a “good” rejection: “Please know, however, that we read this submission with more than the casual amount of interest; your work in some way distinguished itself from many of our other submissions.” This might be a form rejection, too, maybe just an upper tier form; if you have received this form as well, please don’t tell me. I want to believe it was meant for me and me alone. That it is specifically my work that distinguished itself. A little something to cling to.
A publication in Hypertext Magazine, one of my favorite on-line journals, in their Love Bites issue. A lot of good response to this, and I appreciate that. Here it is: There is a Light That Never Goes Out.
A contributor’s copy of a new text book (Culture: A Reader for Writers published by Oxford University Press) I have an essay in arrived in the mail this week.
A book club invitation where some people liked The Temple of Air, and some people hated it. The haters were the more vocal group. Ouch.
But back to the writing table I go. Why? Perhaps this: besides Philip and the cats, my writing brings me greater joy than anything else I know. Even when it disappoints me, even when it makes me ache.
To paraphrase James Dickey: a writer is someone who stands outside in the rain hoping to be struck by lightning.
Over these last ten days, there’s been rain. And a little lightning.
→As always, dear friends, thanks for reading! -PMc←