Today I’m talking with EVAN MORGAN WILLIAMS, who will read Saturday, March 19, 2016, at 7 p.m. at the Nye Beach Writers Series in the Nye Beach Visual Arts Center, Newport, Oregon.
Williams’ stories are works of realistic fiction, set mainly in the Pacific Northwest, often on the Pacific shore. His stories deal with people making difficult choices, choices that invariably mean tugging or loosening the ties that bind. An award-wining author, Williams has published over forty stories in such magazines as Witness, Antioch Review, Kenyon Review, and ZYZZYVA. He has an MFA from the University of Montana, and has taught in a public school for over twenty years. Most recently, he has held a Writers in the Schools residency, an AWP Writer to Writer mentorship, and gave the inaugural reading in Eastern Oregon University’s revived Ars Poetica Visiting Writer Series.
Hi Evan, tell us some more about you.
1) Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?
I have always felt that writing was a calling. In college, when I read the short story collections of Barry Lopez, this was made particularly clear to me. I got started by writing stories that probably sounded like cheap knock-offs, though earnestly done at the time. That was a very long time ago.
2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?
My writing routine is to write in the early hours of a weekend morning and for a little while after work during the week. Sometimes, I’ll go out on a Saturday night to a quiet venue to write. My discipline is highly variable; I’m not as disciplined as I should be. I work better when I’m facing a deadline or working with others, as in a writing group. Like everyone, I’m challenged by distractions online. I recently deleted my Facebook, and that has been very helpful.
3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?
My book is a collection of stories, and I revise exhaustively. Most of my stories have been drafted and revised over the course of many years. Sometimes, rarely, a story will come to me fully formed, so to speak, and in this case the revision process goes pretty quickly.
4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?
The best thing that happened with my writing career was the discovery, after many important and formative experiences such as an MFA program and working with a mentor in Portland, that I could write a story that resonated with my internal vision all by myself, and that others would like it too. A few of my most well-received stories never went through any workshop or critique, ever. Of course, I’m not opposed to those processes; they have been extremely helpful, too.
The worst thing that happened was my own fault, spending about 8 years doing almost no writing after I graduated from my MFA program. I was teaching middle school and throwing myself into it, but I was getting a diminishing return. By the time I went back to writing, I was extremely rusty, starting from scratch.
5) What part of your job do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?
The part I love the most is when a story acquires a sense of compelling reality that feels more real than the reality that surrounds me. I have heard athletes talk about “flow” or “being in the zone,” and I think this must be something akin to that.
The part I dislike the most is structuring narrative out of raw notes. Plotting a story remains the part I resist the most. It is hard labor, a battle between commitment and skepticism. I have a few tricks to make it go better, but it’s still extremely difficult.
6) What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a novel? Favorite authors?
Reading is a necessary component of writing new work. It is a reciprocal process. You get ideas from what you’re reading, and you read differently when you’re writing. My all-time favorite authors are Hemingway, Barry Lopez, and Garcia-Marquez. This year, I’m trying to read the entire catalog of Propellor Press, a small press in Portland, Oregon.
7) What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?
The best advice was from a retired editor at Esquire, who was teaching a class at the University of Montana. He had four pieces of essential advice, of which I only remember two, but I go back to them all the time: 1) Know your own secret and 2) Seize form. I like the advice because it is suitably vague that I can bend it to my purposes. But it is also rigorous; one has to maintain certain disciplines.
The worst advice was probably something that someone said during a badly run writing workshop.
8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?
I wouldn’t say that my writing sounds like Hemingway, not even close, but reading Hemingway’s stories taught me how the flow of language on the page doesn’t just relate a story in a neutral way, but rather becomes the story.
9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?
I have a “special pen” that I found in a load of used office supplies that the BLM donated to my school. It’s somebody’s retirement pen, with a tortoise shell finish and gold accents. The lettering on the side said something about the “Interagency Fire Team,” but it has worn off.
10) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?
I am working on a neo-noir novel, set in 1980s Los Angeles, about a young Japanese interpreter who gets caught up in someone else’s scheme. I am still early in the process, but I enjoy the convenience of noir: everyone is corrupt, compromised, complicated. Every character is capable of contradicting their type.
11) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?
If I could turn back time, I would buy that beautiful Craftsman house at 23d and Sherman for 67k in 1994.
12) What advice would you give beginning writers?
Write a lot. Read a lot. Immerse yourself in a supportive community of writers, and give as much as you get. Develop a thick skin because there will be a lot of rejection, but also develop a strong internal editor because a lot of that rejection will be deserved. Be very clear on how ambitious you want to be; the writers who get published have worked really hard to make it happen.
13) Something we don’t know about you?
I believe that cake is tawdry and that pie is sacrament.
And: what’d you like us to know about your latest release:
My book of stories, Thorn, is realistic fiction, set mainly in the Pacific Northwest. It features an ethnically diverse cast of characters: men, women, rich folks and poor, each having to make difficult choices. Five of the stories are set on the coast. The book won the Chandra Prize at BkMk Press (University of Missouri-Kansas City)