The Winter/Spring 2012 Workshop and Event Guide is now available; you can pick up your copy at TWC or get it online at our website.
Fully Engaged: A Profile of Clifford Garstang by Barbara Esstman, with Extended Material Not Available in the Workshop and Event Guide.
Barbara Esstman: What was your experience with a small, independent publisher? Re: distribution, P.R., and all that jazz?
Clifford Garstang: My experience with Press 53 was great in terms of the book design and editing. Kevin Watson, the publisher and editor, had some terrific ideas, but he also listened to my suggestions. Marketing and distribution are tough for a small press with limited staff and resources, though, and the lesson I’ve taken from the experience is that an author really needs to learn how to reach readers online, through social media, blogs, and whatever other avenues might be available. A small press can’t do it all—the author has to be fully engaged in the process. And I really mean fully. And I guess it was an okay experience, because I’m going to do it all over again with a new book in 2012!
BE: When publishing is so difficult these days, why should people go on writing?
CG: Writing and publishing are two different things, of course. For most writers, publication is one goal, but I certainly don’t think of it as the only goal. Writing is in and of itself a worthwhile occupation. Having said that, there are so many more avenues to publication these days that it’s really only traditional publishing that is out of reach for a lot of writers. It’s increasingly possible to connect with readers online or through eBook formats, and so writing makes more sense than ever. And sometimes that can be more lucrative than the traditional approach, too.
BE: Since we have so many lawyers taking workshops at TWC, what advice would you give them in regards to switching off, re-directing, or otherwise channeling their legal training into a positive force for their fiction?
CG: First, I think any profession is great fodder for fiction— you run into all kinds of characters and peculiar situations that may spark ideas for writing, even if you aren’t specifically writing about your professional field. Lawyers are no different, and there are probably great characters lurking in everyone’s daily life—be on the lookout for them and their stories. Second, I sometimes think of fiction as an argument that I’m building—I have a goal in mind for where I want the reader to end up at the conclusion of the story—and the text is all about amassing evidence that moves the reader in that direction. Lawyers are great at that! Third, sometimes I think that psychologists have an advantage as fiction writers because they know all about twisted personalities, and that can make for great reading. Lawyers, though, have a good sense of narrative and plot, not to mention suspense and drama. Use it! But—and this is a very big but—most lawyers do have to turn off what they’ve learned about legal writing, which can be very dry. How to do this? Read good fiction.
BE: How heavily did you draw upon your life in rural Virginia and how did that material shape-shift during the writing process?
CG: When I began writing the stories in the book, I was relatively new to rural Virginia, having spent all of my adult life in cities, including Chicago, L.A., Boston, D.C., and a few foreign capitals. Each story in the book has its own plot (although they share a setting, which looks a lot like the area where I live, and also have overlapping characters), but I found myself coming back to the idea of people who find themselves in unfamiliar situations and landscapes, just as I was also an outsider in that world. But the more stories I wrote, the more comfortable I was in my surroundings, I think, and so by the end of the writing, I think the characters also might have become more comfortable.
BE: Can you tell us something about your new book coming out in 2012 and where it will be available?
CG: The new book will probably come out in Fall 2012. Currently titled What the Zhang Boys Know, it is a novel in stories—a form that fascinates me—set in a condo building in Washington, D.C. The book consists of 12 stories, half of which have appeared or will soon appear in journals, including Blackbird, Tampa Review, cream city review, New South, Wisconsin Review, and FRiGG. Ideally, a few of the remaining stories will be spoken for also before the book comes out. Although the stories all stand alone, the book as a whole is about a man coping with the tragic death of his wife and his goal of finding a new mother for his two young sons.
Barbara Esstman, M.F.A., is a NEA, VCCA, Virginia Commission for the Arts fellow, and a Redbook fiction award winner. Her two novels, The Other Anna and Night Ride Home, were both adapted for television by Hallmark Productions.