Category Archives: Interview

Anthony D’Aries CNF W’09 talking _The Language of Men_

Anthony D’Aries CNF W’09 was Randolph College’s Emerging Writer in spring 2011. While there, he finished a draft of his memoir The Language of Men. Bunny Goodjohn P W’07, professor at Randolph and member of their Visiting Writer selection committee, spoke with Anthony shortly after he landed a publishing contract with Hudson Whitman. 

Goodjohn: So, Anthony, how did you get into writing?

D’Aries: I was a very shy kid — still am in some ways — and I think writing was my quiet way of making noise. I had an English teacher in high school, Mr. Driscoll, who was such a cool guy. He taught a creative writing class, played in a band with a few of the other teachers, had long hair and often brought in Tom Waits albums for us to listen to in class. I loved the way he ran the workshop — he would read our work out loud anonymously, even swear words, which some of us took advantage of. I liked that for fifteen minutes the class listened to my thoughts, and I didn’t have to say a word.

Goodjohn: Do you have an elevator pitch for The Language of Men?

D’Aries: A darkly funny look at a father-son relationship, and the unsettled terrain that shapes fathers, sons, brothers, and husbands.

Goodjohn: Why memoir? Why this memoir?

D’Aries: There are those moments when I’m talking about my book and the word “memoir” comes up in the conversation. Some people roll their eyes and think I’m publishing a glorified diary or that I must think my life is so tragic. Sometimes memoirists are viewed as narcissists. But I don’t see it that way. Our lives are our stories and sometimes sharing them makes us and others feel less alone. I was always interested in domestic, suburban stories about families.…The different roles we play in a family and how the dynamic shifts when people step outside those roles. I wanted to write about “normal” families, living “normal” lives, sift the murky waters at home. I didn’t feel the need to read or write about faraway lands when there was so much here I didn’t understand.

Goodjohn: Keyboard or legal pad? Starbucks or the kitchen table? What can you tell us about your process?

D’Aries: Early mornings and coffee. Not much else is consistent for me. Knowing when to stop writing for the day. Sometimes I write best when I’m not writing.

Goodjohn: The Language of Men is about family. Did that have any impact on the shape of the work…where it goes…where it doesn’t?

D’Aries: I think I hesitated the most when I began to write about myself. When I was growing up, I hardly read. But as I got older, I read Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff and Ernest Hemingway and reading their stories was like watching my uncle suck the marrow out of rib bones. These guys didn’t give you much. So for a while, I felt strongly that the scene itself was enough. No reflection. No exposition. I think I was still uncomfortable with memoir itself and didn’t want to bog the story down with me, me, me. But slowly, very slowly, I realized that I could do both. Keep the scene subtle yet also lay down a road map for the reader to follow. The book has a lot to do with masculinity and femininity, and I think the bare-bones scenes I wrote was an attempt to write in a macho way and the digressions and questions (the parts I often edited out) were too flowery and feminine. A lot of the book is about me asking questions, questioning masculinity and gender roles and sexuality and all the things that men like my father summed up as “Well, it is what is.” Marrying a feminist from a strong family of women exposed me to different viewpoints. I began to no longer be satisfied with flippant answers.

So, back to the question: It took me some time to feel like it was NECESSARY to show my mind at work on the page, to write thoughts and reflection and questions. To doubt myself. To second guess myself. To allow myself to hint at things I don’t know about my family. I also realized I couldn’t dig into other people’s lives unless I was willing to unearth my own. My family has always read my work and my father was very willing to be interviewed by me. At many points I felt: Wow, all I had to do was ask.

Goodjohn: Sue Silverman says, “What shrinks readership is the failure of writers to take emotional and stylistic risks.” What is the grandest emotional and/or stylistic risk you’ve taken in your writing?

D’Aries: I think writing about me and my wife Vanessa was a risk for me. Some of the things I write about were and are sore spots in our relationship, those topics couples skate around when someone breaches the subject. But I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to accept that married couples are supposed to act a certain way.

Goodjohn: You work or have worked as an Instructor inside the Corrections system. Can you tell us a little about that and whether that experience has had any impact on your own writing or on your outlook on writing?

D’Aries: Because the book deals with how men express themselves, often times non-verbally, I think the way my students at the prison are silenced had an impact on me. I teach basic literacy, many guys can hardly read or write. I encourage them to talk in my class, share their opinions. It’s hard, at first. Like learning another language. But most of the time, at one point or another, they’ll open up. I think there are different levels of silence, how we communicate with others and ourselves. What’s interesting is the scene in the book about my classes is dialogue-driven. Our discussions are loud and the personalities in class are all over the map. Some of the toughest men I’ve met have been scared off by three-syllable words.

Goodjohn: If you couldn’t write or teach, what job do you think you are best suited for?

D’Aries: Perhaps a therapist. I like listening to people. Or maybe a traveling salesman of some kind. I enjoy teaching because it allows for moments of intense interactions and periods of isolation. Prepare alone and then jump in to a room full of people. I need a job that has both. I used to think I could do a job without interacting with people all day, but eventually, my mind feels stagnant. So traveling salesman could work — long drives, then meetings, then long drives. Do those jobs still exist?

Goodjohn: What was the hunt for an agent/publisher like for you?

D’Aries: I’d been working on The Language of Men for five years. After my time at Randolph, I got to a place where I felt it was finished. I didn’t realize I’d feel that way many more times. But I think it was important for me to feel and believe that each of those drafts was the final. It gave me permission to back off for a while and let it sit and then get back to it and see what I needed to fix. Then I started writing query letters to agents. But the book still didn’t feel finished to me, and writing a query about a book I didn’t fully understand yet was slow-going, at best. I felt like “okay, if I write this query, then that’s what the book will have to be about.” So, the query got rejected a bunch of times. A few agents took a peek at the manuscript, but rejected it. Then I got discouraged, hit a wall with the manuscript itself and wasn’t sure where to go. Then I met Bill Patrick at Hudson Whitman Press. We crossed paths at Stonecoast years ago. I told him about the book and he seemed interested and willing to work with it. These past few months have been incredible for me because Bill and I formed that writer-editor relationship that I thought didn’t think exist anymore. I sent him what I had plus pages and pages of raw material and together we shaped it. I remember hearing Tracy Kidder talk about his relationship with his editor Richard Todd, how Tracy would read drafts over the phone to Richard and vice versa. I didn’t think anyone could care about my book as much as me, but if it’s possible, then Bill was that person for me. From what I’m told, this type of situation is rare, so I feel lucky.

Goodjohn: The printing press changed the relationship between writer and audience. It also changed the nature of that audience. Do you feel the e-book is forcing a similar change?

D’Aries: Perhaps. I like paper books. So much of writing is intangible — thoughts, questions, Word documents, emails, etc., so it’s nice to have something to hold at some point. But as much as I find it sad watching people in restaurants stare down at their phones through dinner, I notice that my younger cousins are voracious readers and now they constantly have access to words. Does it make the work seem more disposable? Perhaps, but there are benefits, too.

 Goodjohn: Where can we get hold of “The Language of Men”?

D’Aries: The book is available for pre-order through my website, www.anthonydaries.com and will be available through Amazon and your local bookstore by July.

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Bunny Goodjohn is the author of Sticklebacks and Snow Globes (Permanent Press, 2007). She has published in various journals including The Texas Review, The Cortland Review, Zone 3, and Reed Magazine and has work forthcoming at Connecticut Review. Goodjohn recently won the 2011 Edwin Markham Poetry Prize.

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Gina Troisi CNF ’09: “Emerging” at Randolph College

The members of Randolph’s Creative Writing department are proud of their Visiting Writer Series. The program allows them to invite six writers onto campus each year: three established writers (flying visit with reading), two Writers in Residence (one month teaching gig plus reading), and one Emerging Writer—defined as a “bookless” recent graduate of an MFA program.

Bunny Goodjohn P W’07 was behind Gina Troisi’s invite, and at the end of the residency (seven weeks), she took the opportunity to ask Gina how it all went.

Goodjohn: What were your plans for a writing life “post Stonecoast”?
Troisi: When I graduated from Stonecoast, I hoped to complete the collection of linked essays that I began during my first semester while working with Joan Connor.  I also hoped to write more poetry and fiction (since my MFA was in Creative Nonfiction), to continue to read widely, and to submit individual essays.  I left Stonecoast stimulated by the thought of having so many more stories to write, books to read, and things to learn.  At the time I was an adjunct at a local community college, but I found I needed more of an income, so I went back to tending bar.  I found that teaching and working in a restaurant left me with too little time to write, so I reluctantly dropped the teaching with the idea of keeping the job that would help me prioritize my writing.  For the past couple of years, I worked three nights a week and spent my days off writing, with a weekly goal of twenty hours. Finding a way to support myself while still having time to write has been and will probably continue to be the hardest part about maintaining a writing life; this is one of the many reasons that my time at Randolph was so valuable.

Goodjohn: Did you have any preconceptions about the Emerging Writers position?  Were there any surprises?
Troisi:
No, I can’t say that there were any major surprises; one wonderful surprise was that I found out I wouldn’t have to prepare my own meals.  I imagined that Emerging Writers were allowed a chunk of time to devote to their own work, and would also have some responsibilities, which was pretty accurate.  Before being accepted for the position at Randolph, I’d been applying to artist colonies, hoping for some uninterrupted time to fulfill my visions–to decide which essays were meant to be in the book, which needed to go, what else needed to be added, how to sequence things, etc.  The Randolph residency fit the description of what I’d been looking for even more than those programs to which I’d been applying.  For instance, being on a campus within an academic community seems to fit me more than a colony in the woods does, since it provides necessary structure for my writing routine.  The Randolph faculty and students, and their focus on the arts stimulated and inspired me.  The few responsibilities I had (teaching a class, holding office hours) offered necessary breaks from my own work, for the time to let my subconscious sort out different aspects of my own project, and to become integrated with the academic community.

Goodjohn: If you knew then what you know now, would you have prepared differently for the experience?
Troisi
: I wouldn’t have spent so much time practicing for my reading.  I am a fairly new reader and had only gotten up in a front of a group to read my own work a handful of times, each time for far fewer minutes than the sixty I read for at Randolph.  For days before my reading, I became distracted from my writing and got caught up in practicing.  I not only deliberated far too long about what I was going to read, but I tape recorded myself and played it back continuously, nit picking every little thing.  I learned that there is such thing as practicing too much, and although my time at Randolph was prolific, it would have been even more so had I let the reading be more organic.

Goodjohn: What was the high point?
Troisi
: There were so many high points! I particularly enjoyed the mornings.  At home, I work nights, so the residency allowed me the rare opportunity to rise with the sun, brew coffee, and get right to work, without having to consider how I’d make it through a long night of slinging drinks and serving food.  I had been wanting to experiment with writing in the mornings, but since my “regular” life doesn’t permit that kind of schedule, it’s yet another experience that I now associate with the magic that is Randolph.  The window above the desk in the apartment revealed the night turning into day, as I typed for hours, not noticing the passage of time until I became distracted by hunger.  I’d break for lunch and contemplate the morning’s work, then begin again.  For most of the seven weeks, I remained in the blissful state of subconscious creation.  It was truly an amazing experience.

Goodjohn: What was the low point?
Troisi
: The only low point I can think of was about halfway through the residency.  I participated in a Q and A session with the BFA students a couple of days after my reading and during the session, I found myself explaining, and at one point almost defending the genre of creative nonfiction.  I know that the genre has had its share of bad publicity, but after the discussion I found myself playing back questions and answers, analyzing my responses, mulling things over in the obsessive way I tend to, especially during a bout of solitude.  What I realize is that the questions weren’t what bothered me, but rather the fact that much of this book I’m trying to put out into the world involves people who are or have been in my life, and I became sort of paranoid about what their responses might be to it.  I’ve spent nearly five years on it, but the alone time at Randolph accentuated possible negative reactions in a very real way, especially because I was finally completing the manuscript.  The question of changing names and places, and the uncertainty surrounding how much to change was bothering me, and I had some pretty panic filled moments concerning this.  I think this would have happened with or without the Q and A session, but I guess it just jump-started my worrying in a way that had never happened when I was surrounded by writers in similar situations at Stonecoast.  Of course, I got through it, and I learned from it; I realize that we can never guarantee how anyone will react to our writing, regardless of the genre, and it’s something we all have to deal with when we are hoping to release our writing into the world.

Goodjohn: You taught for seven weeks, sometimes outside the genre of your choice. What was that experience like?
Troisi:
Teaching Exploring the Creative Writing Process was one of the many wonderful experiences I had at Randolph.  The students were amazing; they were eager to participate, and they truly cared about writing.  I was fortunate to have a talented group who were open to sharing ideas and insights and trying out new exercises and techniques. My background in teaching has been mostly composition or creative nonfiction based, so the Randolph experience has helped me to become a more well rounded teacher. I put a lot of thought into picking out the assigned readings, and spent much time considering the aspects of each genre we’d be focusing on, given that we only had seven weeks to work with. I had been working on some new poetry and fiction before arriving at Randolph; the teaching, as I’d hoped it would, did influence and inform my own works-in-progress.

Goodjohn: Was seven weeks long enough to make you feel part of the academic community? Or was there a sense of separateness? Was this a good or a bad thing?
Troisi:
I did feel that seven weeks was long enough to make me feel like part of the academic community, but of course there was a sense of separateness, since I was “visiting,” and since I was there with a specific solitary goal in mind.  I think it felt exactly as it should.  The faculty members at Randolph were warm and welcoming, and I received many invitations to social gatherings. It was a perfect balance of productive time and social opportunity. I feel so fortunate to have been part of such a rich and unique academic community, even for a limited time. So far, it was the highlight of my writing life.

Goodjohn: The Emerging Writer gets to spend a lot of time holed up in the campus apartment writing. How did that go?
Troisi:
 It went really well!  I am mostly an extroverted person, but I am diligent about my writing, so I was mentally prepared to spend a lot of time alone and fully focused on my project.  The apartment’s space was extraordinary, especially since all of my belongings weren’t crammed into it the way they are at home!  I put my book together, meaning I literally covered the apartment’s rug with pages and pages, continuously reordered them, decided what needed to go by actually cutting up pages, and wrote new material to make up for what the manuscript was missing.  With such a concentrated amount of uninterrupted time, I was also able to devour books of essays and memoirs, studying and restudying how authors structure works of creative nonfiction.  I moved from the kitchen table to the couch to the bedroom, and I took breaks by doing yoga on the living room floor.  One mistake I made was not setting aside time to unwind at night; I would plan on it, but then get neurotic about my work and keep going, so I didn’t leave myself room for the “non-thinking” time that prevents me from having insomnia.  I found myself dreaming about the writing, especially during the last few weeks.

Goodjohn. Has the Emerging Writer gig changed your writing plans in any way?
Troisi:
No, it didn’t change my plans in any way–if anything, it got me moving forward.  Since arriving home in mid-March, I’ve been working on finding a publisher for my collection of essays/memoir and applying for adjunct teaching jobs. I am hoping that I can cut down on bar shifts by taking on a couple of classes at a four-year college. I am trying to set aside time for new creative work instead of using all my free time to get the book published, even though I am working hard to get it out there.  I have learned that I am a person who needs balance; when I am not creating as well as submitting, I feel constricted, unhealthy, and unhappy.  Now that I am home, I’m getting back into a writing routine, and also looking forward to my next sacred retreat.

~

Gina Troisi is a writer of prose and poetry.  Her work has appeared or is appearing in PMSpoemmemoirstory Literary Journal, Best New Writing 2010, Hope Whispers, Room Magazine, The Concho River Review, Compass Rose, and The Clackamas Literary Review.  She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from The University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA Program.

Bunny Goodjohn is the author of Sticklebacks and Snow Globes (Permanent Press, 2007). She has published in various journals including The Texas Review, The Cortland Review, Zone 3, and Reed Magazine and has work forthcoming at Connecticut Review. Goodjohn recently won the 2011 Edwin Markham Poetry Prize.

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Faculty Interview: Aaron Hamburger on Writing and Teaching

It’s always fun to sit down and chat with the Stonecoast MFA faculty. So, we were especially excited to have  alumna Linda K. Sienkiewicz S’09 interview fiction faculty member Aaron Hamburger. Not only is Aaron a terrific guy, but he’s a fantastic teacher and writer. We hope you enjoy the interview!

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When and how did you realize you were meant to write?

Aaron: When I was 12 and my English teacher asked us to enter a short story contest. I wrote a story, loved it, but forgot to bring it to school on the day it was due, and so I lost the contest. I decided I wanted to show that teacher I deserved to win. So that’s how I got started, and I just never stopped.

What excites you about teaching?

Aaron: Sharing my love of writing and literature, but also sharing my love of learning and teaching in general. I think whatever subject you’re teaching, you’re actually teaching critical thinking skills that apply in so many areas in life.

You’re big on craft, precision, word choice, grammar–where does that exactitude come from?

Aaron: From my training in my MFA program. Specifically, I had two wonderful classes with a professor, Richard Locke, who taught us the immense power of seemingly tiny choices on the level of language in a variety of masterpieces in Western Literature, including the essays of George Orwell. (If you haven’t read “Politics and the English Language” by Orwell, do so immediately!!!)

Also, I taught freshman comp, and during my training, I realized how little I knew about how words and sentences were put together. It was important to me to learn that, just as a painter learns how to mix colors or a musician practices scales on the piano.

What do you think is your main goal as a writer?

Aaron: To figure out what I think and what I feel. I think E. M. Forster said something to the effect of how do I know what I think until I say it? By trying to express myself in as precise a way as possible, I can better determine what my life is.

What obstacles do you struggle with as a writer, and how do you overcome them?

Aaron: Time, money–but actually these are really a matter of will, more than anything else, of learning to say no when it’s necessary. But the biggest problem for me, which I’ve only recently come to understand, is that my ego and ambition sometimes pushes me to pursue subjects or stories that aren’t really mine to tell. It takes a remarkable fortitude to pursue your own obsessions, even at the expense of finding an audience who’s as interested in what you write as you are. Nevertheless, it’s the only reason to be a writer, I’ve come to understand.

How do I overcome the temptations of ego and ambition? Humility, humility, humility. You put down your head and go to work. You do not compare or envy or resent. You expect nothing in terms of rewards except those that come from the satisfaction of getting your work done on any given day.

~

Aaron Hamburger was awarded the Rome Prize by the American Academy of Arts and Letters for his short story collection THE VIEW FROM STALIN’S HEAD (Random House, 2004), also nominated for a Violet Quill Award. His next book, a novel titled FAITH FOR BEGINNERS (Random House, 2005), was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Michigan Quarterly Review, Boulevard, Poets and Writers, Tin House, Details, The Village Voice, The Forward, and Out. He has received fellowships from the Edward F. Albee Foundation and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Umbria, Italy, as well as residencies from Yaddo and Djerassi Resident Artists Program. Currently he teaches writing at Columbia University, NYU, and the Stonecoast MFA Program. Visit Aaron online at http://www.aaronhamburger.com/

Linda K. Sienkiewicz earned her MFA from Stonecoast summer ’09. Her fiction and poetry is published in Prairie Schooner, Spoon River Poetry Review, Rattle, Clackamas Literary Review, Bartleby Snopes, A Twist of Noir, and other print and online literary journals. She has a poetry chapbook award from Heartland, a Pushcart Prize nomination, and three other published chapbooks. She’s working on the sale of one novel while writing another. Visit Linda online at http://lksienkiewicz.wordpress.com/

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