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.









Driving The Dream ~ Katey Schultz’s View From the Keyboard

Okay, so I know you all have had this dream: chuck most everything and then pack up your car with a few scraps of clothes, lots of books, journals, a gross of your favorite pens, gallons of water, a bottle of whiskey and your laptop. Then take off. Drive. Dream. Write.

There are not many of us who would have the cojones to actually live this sort of life, though, so it brings me great pleasure to introduce you to someone who does. Katey Schultz is a writer I had the opportunity to meet at the Interlochen Writers’ Retreat this past summer, and have been following cyberly ever since. Now you gotta meet this woman. Let me introduce you:

Katey: Not too long after the Great Recession earned its name, I finished grad school and faced a market saturated with MFA graduates. About the time my student loans kicked in, I was laid off from my part-time job slinging coffee and decided the only sane thing for a partially-not-sane writer to do was hit the road. For three years. Today I’m 23 months into that 36-month journey and my view from the keyboard happens to be the Shenandoah Valley in Amherst, VA, where I’m a Fellow at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Last month, my view from the keyboard was of parched Texas Hill Country, packs of wild boars, and a herd of 46 bison. Before that, I’d been holed up in a warehouse with a painter in Houston. Before that, nestled along the banks of Green Lake in Northern Michigan. Before that? Eastern Oregon…All of which is to say, my view from the keyboard that conjures any semblance of my current writing reality is something like the map I created using Google Maps. The letters mark residencies and fellowships I’ve traveled to since January 2010, driving most places with the exception of Alaska. I suppose it’s also fair to say my view from the keyboard includes my 1989 Volvo Station Wagon, affectionately known as THE CLAW, which has magical powers beyond metaphorical description.

Traveling and moving as much as I do provides me with immense food for thought and exciting possibilities for place-based writing. I tend to process publicly, using The Writing Life Blog as my sketchpad and then later incorporating what I learn about place into my fiction as I feel inspired. For over half of the journey so far, I’ve been reading, studying, interviewing, and writing for my current fiction manuscript titled FLASHES OF WAR. This collection is 29 stories told from the perspectives of characters in and around the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To relax from the intensity of war-themed work, I explore my surroundings and blog about it. These two forms of writing seem to balance each other successfully. Mix in a little cardiovascular exercise, singing in the car, some wine with friends, and daily supplements of chocolate and you’ve pretty much got my recipe for the writing life.

Here’s a sample of my war stories, recently published by War, Literature, & the Arts. The link goes to the contributor page and from there click on Katey Schultz for a free download.

With regard to life on the road, here was a particularly popular recent blog post that demonstrates how place inspires my nonfiction. It’s posts like these that I feel certain will grow into longer essays someday.

Last but not least, here’s a sample of the reality of life on the road: learning to wear my business cap and market myself as a writer. I live on roughly $12,000 per year earned from teaching and fellowship stipends, plus a little from freelancing. I offer free content on my blog but have learned that in order to buy gas I need to have money and money can come from all kinds of services. I edit for three magazines (here’s my favorite one), teach students by correspondence, and most recently came up with Monthly Fiction, an affordable, fun way to keep writing, stay connected, and eke out a living. In fact, in true business cap fashion, if you sign up because you found the link on this blog, email me (katey.schultz[at] with the words PATTY ANN in the message and I’ll send you a free zine just for signing up.

Meantime, here’s an excerpt from the first short story in Monthly Fiction:

“Amplitude” by Katey Schultz

That time? We hiked along Pinch Ridge to the apex and climbed the radio tower at dusk. Ben didn’t know the way, even though these mountains belonged to him as much as they belonged to me. Two creeks south along the ridge, his mom’s trailer squatted on a cinderblock foundation—a Carolina Country doublewide the color of spent Levi’s and just about as worn. I lived with my parents at the base of Pinch Ridge. A stone-faced house with a white porch and fancy roof; something the Baptists might have cornered in on if it weren’t for the fact of property and bloodlines.

Ben’s mom worked nights at the sewing factory and he started junior year at the high school the same year I was supposed to graduate. He worked evenings bagging groceries at Hughes Market where it was my job to unlock the tobacco case anytime somebody wanted a pack of Camels. A month before, Ben’s kid brother overdosed on crystal and he missed a week of pay. The paper ran the story. Everyone in town said Patrick convulsed for hours in the ER, rattling the hospital bed like the rapture. “Some trouble, that kid,” my old geometry teacher said to his wife the day after the obituary ran. He stood at the checkout counter, talking as if nobody cared. “Hush now,” his wife said, touching his forearm. “Think of the mother.”

Two hours uphill and another half mile along the ridge, we came to a mowed patch of mountaintop and heavy fencing around the radio tower. “Don’t you want to climb it?” I said, shoving Ben a step toward the guard fence. The radio tower loomed a hundred feet above us. He shoved me back and that’s when I curled my fingertips around his belt buckle and pulled him in for a kiss.

Ben pushed me off of him. “Why’d you do that?”

“Shut up,” I said, reaching for him again. It was our first kiss and I was sick of waiting. He kissed me back this time, mouth sweet and salty as ketchup. I liked his soft cheeks and pointy Adam’s apple, earlobes like little shrimp tails just waiting to be sucked. He mashed my breasts around and I leaned my back into the fence. He wasn’t very good…


Okay, friends–you heard it here: Katey Schultz will send you a free zine if you email her and sign up for her Monthly Fiction (details above.) And don’t forget to check out her blog, The Writing Life. Drive carefully, Katey; drive on.  -PMc←