Wednesday, 9 January 2019

An interview with Gregory Wolos

Gregory Wolos made his first Dark Lane appearance in Volume 6 with 'Out of the Basil Pot'.  His short story collection, 'Women of Consequence' will be published in March this year by Regal House Publishing.

What are your working methods?  Do you sit down every day to write?  Do you have a designated place to work?
I try to write every day. I work best in the morning, generally for about three hours before the creative juices tap out. If I’m deep into a piece and can’t get it out of my mind—especially if I’m close to having something submission-ready, I often will get back to work in the late evening and continue into the wee hours of the morning. The physical process of composing has changed over time with advancing technology; these days most of my writing is done on my laptop stretched out on my recliner in my study. In regard to process, I usually begin a new story by consulting my notebooks (my little Moleskin never leaves my side). I like to juxtapose different ideas to see what happens—like when I was a child and would stick different species of insects together in a jar to watch them fight. First drafts are usually at least twice the size of final versions of stories. After the first draft I rewrite the entire story over and over, cutting ruthlessly as I seek out the story’s heart. When I find that heart, I rewrite again, slashing everything that no longer fits—scenes, characters, favourite metaphors. It’s rare for any single sentence to survive from first draft to final draft. The entire process, from beginning to end takes from one to two months of what I consider full time work.
Tell us about one of your favourite short stories and why you like it (not one of your own).
Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” affected me viscerally the first time I read it and then intellectually as I took a close look at the “how” and “why” of the story’s impact. From what at first seems to be a family situation comedy, O’Connor turns the story of “The Misfit” into a frighteningly realistic parable on the nature of “goodness.” It’s one of the stories that made me excited about trying to be a writer.

Tell us about one of your favourite short stories (done by you).
As I suspect is true of many writers, usually the last story I’ve written is my favourite—until I begin something new. But I have a special affection for “Queen of the Waves,” the lead story of my soon-to-be released collection Women of Consequence. The title comes from a poem that recounts the true story of an orphanage devastated by a hurricane in coastal Texas around the year 1900. The nuns running the orphanage tied the children together to try to keep them safe, but the ropes intended to save them tangled, ultimately contributing to the drowning deaths of virtually the entire group. My story is about a criminally overprotective single mother who tries to “save” her son by keeping him homebound. Through slow but intense psychological manipulation, she convinces him that he is unfit for the outside world. She literally steals his senses, demonstrating to him over and over that none of his perceptions—smell, sight, hearing, etc— are fully developed enough for him to survive outside of her care.

Where do your ideas come from?  Do you go looking for ideas – for example by brainstorming, or do you wait for inspiration?
Perpetual vigilance—I’m always on the lookout for something interesting—not so much a “fully formed” story, but anything that seems interesting finds its way into my notebooks. (I write down everything, trusting my memory to nothing). At this point, being an observer is not so much a part of my life as it is a way of living, if that makes sense. I mull over the stuff I collect, juxtaposing things or holding them up like prisms to see what happens when the light of inspiration passes through them (whew!).

Are you a full-time writer? If you have another job, what is it and would you like to become a full-time writer if you could?
For the last ten years, I’ve been a full time writer, which frees me up for full time observation.
What is the most difficult part of your creative process?
Probably the most difficult thing is moving from an early draft, where I’m not very critical about what I’m putting down, to the middle drafts, where I’m searching for what I referred to earlier as the “heart” of the story. Once I’ve found that “heart,” I actually enjoy my brutal treatment of every subsequent draft as I chisel a story down to its final version.
If you could go back in time, what would you say to your younger self about becoming a writer?
Here’s the contradiction most writers have to deal with: we have to be super-sensitive to everything in the world for the sake of the “truth” of our craft, but, simultaneously, we must be hard as nails. We must be hard in two different ways: first, we must be able to turn an objective eye on our work so that we can revise and edit without sentimentality; second we must be tough enough to face daily rejection and criticism. I know too many would-be writers who gave up after a single rejection. So—the trick is to keep an open eye to the world while covering oneself with a protective shield—easy, right?
Another thing new writers need to learn is how much time it takes to do the work. I find the process addictive and thrilling, but anyone watching from the outside would see only a person alone for hours, thinking and typing. Movies about writers usually focus on a writer’s life outside of the actual process. At least movies about painters can depict the artist vigorously splashing colour around.
I guess a final thing young writers need to remember is to trust themselves and their visions, even if—maybe especially if—they seem to be wandering out of the mainstream.