Tell us about your short story “The Give-Up” that won the fiction category of the 2013 Writers at Work Fellowship. How did the story come about?
“The Give-Up” may or may not have been inspired by an acquaintance who may or may not have committed insurance fraud. This was a number of years ago (ahem, if it happened at all), but I continued to be fascinated by the idea of a person being pushed to this point. And with the economic crisis, it seemed like more and more people were being pushed to crossing lines that they’d defined for themselves. I’m currently at work finishing a novel that deals literally and figuratively with border crossing, and I’ve been thinking a lot about Gloria Anzaldúa’s ideas about “borderlands” – about the dynamics that exist around a border – and I think it’s a really helpful way to talk about conflict in fiction.
What do you find most useful in improving your writing?
Reading, reading, reading.
What inspires you? What motivates you to write?
Sadness. Frustration. I think I get the most ideas when I’m driving, which explains why a lot of my work has fences in it. And black angus cattle. And road kill.
How do you know when a piece of writing is complete?
I’m not sure that my writing ever feels complete. I suspect if I read 100 drafts of something, I’ll still find things to revise.
What books are you reading now?
I usually have a ridiculous number of books going at once. In fact the top of my nightstand looks like I’m building a replica of downtown Chicago out of books. But right now I’m most into Kent Haruf’s Plainsong, Annie Proulx’s That Old Ace in the Hole, and a biography of Rafa Nadal. And I just packed Mark Twain’s Roughing It and Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire for a road trip I’m about to take from Iowa out to California.
What is a book by another that you wish you had written?
I don’t think I’ve ever read anything and wished that I’d written it because I know that I’d never be capable of writing it. Every story has its unique voice. And every story is comprised of details that the author’s eye picked out or chose to emphasize. They’re fingerprints. And I think that that’s one of the things that makes writing so special.
When are you happiest as a writer?
I love getting a solid first draft of something. I know that I’ll still have a lot of work to do, but it feels good to know that the pieces are there and that everything you do from that point on will just be making the work tighter.
What do you think is the future of writing? How will technology change literature?
Humans order the universe through stories. How we document or communicate those stories may change, but the act of writing – composing, creating, leaving our marks on something – will always be essential.
Writers @ Work is holding its annual writers conference at Alta Lodge in Alta, Utah, from June 5-9. See our conference page for all the details and register today!