Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Interview with writer Stephanie Vanderslice

Writer Stephanie Vanderslice is sitting under the spotlight today. She’s chatting with me about her new creative non-fiction, The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life.

Stephanie Vanderslice's was born in Queens, NY in 1967 and grew up there and in the suburbs of Albany. Her essays have appeared in Mothers in All But Name, Knowing Pains: Women on Love, Sex and Work in their 40's and many others. In addition to The Geek's Guide to the Writing Life, she has also published Can Creative Writing Really Be Taught? 10th Anniversary edition (co-edited with Rebecca Manery) with Bloomsbury. Other books include Rethinking Creative Writing and Teaching Creative Writing to Undergraduates (with Kelly Ritter). Professor of Creative Writing and Director of the Arkansas Writer's MFA Workshop at the University of Central Arkansas, she also writes novels and has published creative nonfiction, fiction, and creative criticism in such venues as Ploughshares Online, Easy Street and others. Her column, The Geek's Guide to the Writing Life appears regularly in the Huffington Post. 

Please tell us about your current release.
The desire to create, to write, to fulfill our artistic dreams is a powerful human need. Yet the number of people who make a living solely by their pen is actually quite small. What does that mean for the rest of us, the self-described writing geeks, who are passionate about writing and who still want to sustain successful literary lives? What does it really mean to find time to build a rewarding writing life while pursuing a career, being a partner or raising a family, in the distracted, time-deprived, 21st-century? In The Geek's Guide to the Writing Life, based on her Huffington Post blog of the same name, Stephanie Vanderslice shares the secrets and tools to developing a successful, rewarding writing practice in a way that inspires the reader to persevere through the inevitable lows and even the highs of a literary life, so that anyone can pursue the path to realizing their artistic dreams.

What inspired you to write this book?
In 2011, after blogging for about 4 years on my own about the writing life, I had the opportunity to publish in the Huffington Post. I conversed with readers directly about issues in my writing life that way, the instant feedback I got, and decided to expand the column into a whole book.

Excerpt from The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life:
Chapter 1, Making the Commitment:
“You don’t always choose writing. Sometimes writing chooses you. Sometimes it grabs you by the lapels, gets in your face, and keeps you awake at night, assuring you won’t rest until you get your thoughts down, somehow. Sometimes it just feels like a constant malaise, a low-grade depression, like you’re forgetting something, leaving something behind, by not writing. Sometimes it feels like a slow build-up of thoughts and words until it feels as if your head, or your heart, might burst.”

What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m revising the middle novel of a triptych set in Queens, NY, where I was born and spent a great deal of time growing up. Beautiful, Terrible Things ranges from 1904-2004, following a family’s fortunes from the General Slocum Steamship fire in New York Harbor in 1904, through World War II, 9/11 and the Indian Ocean Tsunami, and then it’s on to 1970’s-80’s Queens and a young woman making sense of life, family and love with a closeted gay father during the AIDS crisis in the yet-untitled last book. I’m also working on another memoir, Dear Madeleine: Letters to the Daughter I Never Had, about growing up female at the end of the 20th century.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
You know, I’ve never not considered myself a writer; I’ve written since I was very young. As I write in the book, I had a teacher in high school, Kevin McCann, who really validated my writing ambitions and that certainly made me feel like a writer. But I’ve written compulsively whether I felt anointed as a writer or not. Writing is just something I have to do; it’s how I make sense of the world.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I don’t write full-time, which is a challenge, but I am fortunate in that my other job is teaching creative writing in college, so that when I’m not writing I’m at least thinking and talking about it. If you do it right, teaching college writing is still time consuming, though, like any other full-time job, so I am always working to fit my writing in. I try to find an hour or two a day during the week, before I go to work, sometimes more if I am working at home that day. I work a great deal on the weekends and at night to keep up with my teaching and writing. And I write solidly through the summers. I also have a family, so it’s a constant struggle for balance. Fortunately, my husband is also a writer, so we’re always trying to balance together. I write about finding that balance a great deal in the book, about what works for me.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I don’t know that it’s that unusual, but I have to have coffee or some kind of warm drink when I’m writing. It’s non-negotiable, a ritual. It helps if I have my dogs around; they’re quiet and unconditionally accepting and cuddly. I write more and more exclusively on the computer—typing is actually a very tactile experience for me and puts me in the zone. I just got a manual keyboard for Christmas (thanks, Mom!) I am so excited about. Before I moved to typing, I wrote exclusively with a ballpoint pen. I hate writing in pencil—hate, hate, hate it, and don’t like felt tip much better. I need to feel my words glide across the page. Stone paper is my new favorite thing for that—have you ever written on stone paper? It’s amazing, the texture—but it’s super-expensive. A stone paper journal starts at $12-13, so I’m not going to lay in a stock of that any time soon, but one journal, maybe. Writing on it is like nothing you’ve ever felt.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve always written but I didn’t think writing was something people did as a job when I was very young. First, I wanted to be a paleontologist—I was obsessed with dinosaurs, rocks, and fossils, not unlike a lot of kids. I dreamed of finding a fossil in my backyard—(when I moved to Arkansas years later and discovered masses of actual fossils on the Buffalo River, I thought I was in heaven). Then I became obsessed with dolphins and I wanted to be an oceanographer like Jacques Cousteau—I had this beautiful book my parents had given me about Cousteau and his ship, the Calypso that I loved to page through. I can still visualize the illustrations and photos. Somewhere after that, as a pre-teen, I figured out that books, which I had always loved, really were written by actual people—at that point I never looked back. I knew that whatever I did, I would always write and that the more closely I could align my day job to writing, the better.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
If you want to write, there’s nothing stopping you. You don’t have to wait for permission. Just begin!


Thank you for joining me today!

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