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.









Writing Through the White Outs ~ James Goertel’s View From the Keyboard

Check out this gorgeous View From the Keyboard of James Goertel, a writer who makes his home in Western New York, and whose debut collection of stories, Carry Each His Burden, I am eager to read. (Even more so now having sampled the book through the excerpt below.) I imagine it is quite lovely where he lives right now, the leaves all colors before they fall and before the snow falls. And falls. And falls. But James Goertel is not afraid of a snowy winter; he just burrows in and gets writing.

James: My beautiful wife, Rachel, grew up on Lake Ontario. After we met, she told me it was a dream of hers to own waterfront property on one of the Great Lakes. I was working in media in Philadelphia and she was teaching in Western New York at the time, so when we got together we decided to live halfway between our families in rural Pennsylvania. Then two years ago we had the good fortune to have our son, Henry. The impetus quickly became for us to relocate near Rachel’s relatives in Western New York, so Henry could grow up around family. On one particular visit to the Great Lakes, we found a small cottage in need of a major rehab on Lake Erie with the beautifully mutable views I now have out the window where I write. We’re still rehabbing, but the memories we are building here as a family have been the sweetest yet of our marriage.

I had been writing professionally for video and film projects for years, but it was here on the shores of Lake Erie that I had the impulse to put together my first fiction collection. Rachel has her PhD in Composition, so with the best and most cost-effective editor so willing, so encouraging, and so close at hand, I dove in last winter and began crafting the stories making up Carry Each His Burden. Did I mention Western New York winters or lake effect blizzards yet? The winters here are long and last year’s began in earnest around Thanksgiving and didn’t have the good manners to leave us until late April. I did a lot of shoveling and a lot of writing. I watched the watery blue vista change from fluid to iced over; took in any number of storm cloud assemblages; peered through the window above where I write unable to see past the pane for the whiteouts endlessly battering our insulation-challenged rehab. By late spring I was, for all intents and purposes, snow-blind, but had finished my fiction debut. The sound of waterfowl and, at long last, lapping waves began to return with the opening of Lake Erie and I could finally push wide the window beyond my keyboard which had been shut tight for five months—and yes, it stuck badly when I first tried to pry it from its weather limbo. I am sure the long, winter days beyond this window, my view from the keyboard, inform the words within the five stories, but a strong sense of space and place is what I have loved most in the stories of my own favorite writers—Dickey, Harrison, Miller, Algren and, I think appropriately, two brothers from Minnesota, Joel and Ethan Coen. So with winter just around the corner again, I don’t mind if you take a look out my window, my view from the keyboard, the one that surely sits between the pages of Carry Each His Burden.

From CARRY EACH HIS BURDEN, an excerpt from the story “Animal Kingdom”

Unnoticed until now, the sound of peepers and crickets outside filled the silence of the sad, little kitchen. King took another languorous drag of the cigarette and placed both his hands behind his head. It was nearly time for a beer.

A whole lot of everything had passed King by since he was fifteen, when things had still seemed at least possible. But that illusion was shattered by the age of sixteen when he went to live with the neighbors after his mother went mad enough that he stopped being the only one who noticed. It was the inevitable conclusion to the year she refused to speak even a single word to him and communicated only with cryptic notes left here and there about the house. The afternoon he came home from school to find the house locked tight and his mother, completely naked, inside a tent pitched in the front yard, seemed to be a bellwether even his pot-clogged brain could interpret as a sign it was time to move on. The end was a beginning as most ends are and it was next door that he first encountered the man hiding inside himself that he would never be able to outrun. The neighbor’s daughter was only eleven or maybe twelve at the time, but it was hard to remember now and he didn’t want to anyhow. It was time for that beer.

Thanks, James, for letting us get a bit of your View From the Keyboard. Good luck with the new book and the events and readings that go with its launch. And if readers of this series want to find out more about James Goertel, his book, and upcoming appearances and events, stop by . Thanks again for reading! -PMc