Author Interview: George Singleton

Author George Singleton has stopped by today as part of a blog tour promoting his new book Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds: Wisdom and Advice for Writers, published by Writer’s Digest Books. George has published short stories in a massive amount of magazines (the list is so long, I’ll let you check them out for yourself on his website) as well as four story collections and two novels.

Originally from California, George grew up in Greenwood, South Carolina, and has been a visiting professor at the University of South Carolina and UNC-Wilmington.

His latest book, a collection of tidbits about the craft of writing and life of a writer, offers lots of words from the wise, such as: “Do not allow another obsession–golf, basket weaving, nursing orphaned monkeys back to health–to overshadow your writing until you’ve published three or four books. I’ve noticed that people who say, ‘I’m a writer, actor, painter, dog groomer, teacher, oboist and dirt bike racer,’ are not very good at any of those professions or avocations.”

Welcome to Day By Day Writer, George. Could you give us some background on how this book came about?

I’d blurted out some kind of non sequitur to a student, and she said, “You need to write down those things you keep telling us.”  So I sat down over a week and wrote down every little aphorism I could think of.  It ended up being three single-spaced pages.  I thought, Is this all I’ve learned over all these years of teaching?  And then I got flooded with anecdotes, extended metaphors, and the like.

You’ve published two novels and lots of short stories. Do you have a preference between the two?

I wish that it were easier to get publishing houses to publish collections of stories.  I like to write stories, but I think it might be a good idea these days to write stories that are linked by a single character, or characters that live in the same town, and so on. 

When you get an idea, do you immediately know whether it’ll be a novel or a short story, or does the action dictate that as you go along?

Both Novel and Work Shirts for Madmen were stories that kept going.  I’m hard-headed, so in both cases, at about page 50, I said to myself, “Uh-oh.”

Are there any differences between a novel and a short story in preparation or writing?

Probably, but I wouldn’t be the person to ask.  I’m sure it’s different for everyone.  If a novel is set in the past, certainly one would need to take a lot of time doing research.  I despise doing research.  I learned that I hated doing research in about the eleventh grade, to which my English teacher can attest.  The easy way to get out of this problem, of course, is to set everything Now.  And to be honest, if I knew ahead of time that I would be writing a novel instead of a story, I probably would never get started, knowing what a grind stands before me.

In Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds, you give aspiring writers lots of advice, and plenty of warnings. For you, what is the most difficult aspect of writing, and what keeps you coming back?

I don’t really mind getting rejections, but I guess it can wear on a person.  I went eighteen months without an acceptance back in the mid-1990s, and that about did me in.  I mean, I wrote daily, and nothing was working out.  What keeps me coming back, though, is the notion that maybe I can write a better story—maybe, through luck and patience, I can one day write “Good Country People,” or “The Enormous Radio,” or “Cathedral,” or “A&P,” and so on.  It’s addictive as all get-out, you know.  It’s like finding a doubloon with a metal detector, and then hoping and needing to find two doubloons the next time out.

Thanks, George. And good luck with the book.

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