Monday, June 20, 2005

Steven Gillis

Author Steven Gillis's latest novel, The Weight of Nothing has recently been released by Brook Street Press and he's enjoying great reviews in influential and prestigious publications such as ForeWord Magazine.

His first novel, Walter Falls was selected as a finalist for the 2003 Book of the Year for Literary Fiction by ForeWord Magazine and also as a finalist in the Independent Publishers Association 2004 Book of the Year for General Fiction. I just finished reading Walter Falls and loved it. With believable characters crafted with depth, Gillis creates a truly moving journey as we as readers watch a man's life, both domestic and professional, fall to pieces in a faustian manner. Even more haunting is his journey to put it back together and carry on.

Steve is the founder of 826 Michigan. An extension of Dave Eggers's 826 Valencia, 826 Michigan is a reading and writing program, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. In Steve's words: "Our services are structured around our belief that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success. With this in mind we provide drop-in tutoring, field trips, after-school workshops, in-schools tutoring, help for English language learners, and assistance with student publications. All of our free programs are challenging and enjoyable, and ultimately strengthen each student's power to express ideas effectively, creatively, confidently, and in his or her individual voice."

His work can be found extensively online in the form of short stories and reviews. A brief sampling: Coveting at Facets, Korematsu Love at Tryst, Aftercare Paumanok Review, and The Crown Upon His Head in Paumanok Review, and an upcoming story in the summer issue of Frigg Magazine.

He can be found in upcoming issues of the print journals Fence, Bullfight Review, and Orchid.

His new novel, The Weight of Nothing, is the story of two men, Bailey and Niles, who join forces on a journey to Algiers to confront their haunting tragedies.

1) Who are some of your favorite writers, and how do you think they've influenced you?

I love language and writers who know how to tell a great story in unique ways. I think John Cheever is brilliant and return to his stories all the time. Chekhov and Doesteyevski are writers I cut my teeth on. Lately, I find myself inspired by many of the post-modernists who are truly trying to do great things with the narrative form while still showing deference to classic themes and the essence of the narrative construct, writers like Donald Barthelme, George Saunders, Aimee Bender, Robert Coover. I take a little something from every writer I read and I read all the time. I love to be awed by great writing. I just read a wonderful story by a young writer named Wells Tower that blew me away.

2) What do you think is your greatest strength or asset in your writing? Your biggest weakness or flaw?

I think, again, it is my love of language. I love it when finally a paragraph works just so because of the detail to language and the commitment to knowing what the story requires. Making the words work to create just the right image, I try very hard to get at. As for weakness, I have a romantic spirit and have to very consciously try to avoid being overly earnest. A story will die from to much earnestness. I try to write "around" the events if you know what I mean, to get into the heart of the matter by exploring the grey, by not smashing the nail on the head if you will, but showing how the hammer became raised.

3) A lot of your work revolves around domestic life/issues in one way or another. Do you think being a family man helps you to think about and ask questions about fidelity/trust/betrayal in this manner?

Good question. Honest answer: what I write about when it comes to family evolved from my childhood which was fraught with familial incidents and details which forever framed me; my wife says damaged me but that's a story for another time. I try not to repeat past sins with my own family now, though certainly their presence in my life - my wife and two kids Anna (10) and Zach (7) influences a great deal of who I am and what I write. SO in short, it was my childhood which framed the domestic aspect investigated in my writing, but certainly my current happy adult family life that allows me to feel grounded.

4) The Weight of Nothing, however, doesn't seem, by the initial description, to be quite as "family" motivated. Was this an intentional departure, or does it still have family ties at its core?

TWON started as a very family oriented piece as you can find from the opening scene. As the novel evolved, I did consciously set out to do something different from Walter Falls, and I was becoming very politically conscious, very disheartened by things I was witnessing, the hate and how this country could be so foolish as to elect G.W and then elect him again! I wanted to explore certain aspects of this but as you see it is all tied up in the familial, as everything that happens in the world, as they say, comes home to roost. In the end, TWON is a philosophical treatment on love and loss, recovery and memory so in that sense, yes, it remains a "family" piece.

5) What are you working on now?

I started the drafting of a new novel - Temporary People - about a year ago and got 4 drafts in and am very pleased - as pleased as I ever am in the middle of writing a novel. Then as is my habit, I came up for air and wrote a story. I usually only write one story then go back into the novel I am working on. This time however, I really enjoyed the short story writing process, and more importantly, was discovering things in the writing of stories which was allowing me to evolve as a writer. (Even after 2 novels published and years of writing behind me, it remains always a process of wanting to improve and learn as writer.) The story I wrote sold very fast, and I wrote another. That one sold, too. I wound up writing 8 stories - more than I ever had in one stretch - and sold them all. This has been between January and June. I am now finishing up a few more stories and have a collection of stories I am working with my agent to publish. I anticipate returning to my novel - with newfound energy and much excitement - by July and completing it over the next 12 months.

6) Stock question: Dinner with anyone, dead or alive. Who is it?

Ahh. As I lost my father last August, I would say him. But that is me being too earnest and romantic. Still, yes. My dad whom I had a "lively" relationship with to be sure. As for someone famous. Hmmm. John Cheever as an author and - to cheat and give you three then - I admire much the courage and charity of Ghandi (truly people hear the name and it is a cliche but the man was amazing) and would love to talk and find out how he did it. But I doubt he would eat much. :)

7) One CD, one book, one DVD and a desert island. What book, CD, and DVD do you take?

Well the DVD would have to be Cool Hand Luke - assuming its out on DVD - a great movie! ("Sometimes nothing is a pretty cool hand." "What we have here is a failure to communicate.") The CD, mmm, I tend to fall in love with music then play it to death. What CD has lasted over the years for me? I would say Deja Vu by CSNandY. The book? To repeat a theme: The Collected Stories of John Cheever. For the novel maybe The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles.

8) Other than fiction writing, what's the biggest lie you ever told?

Wow! The G-rated or X-rated version? And for the record, fiction is a misnomer as nothing is truer than good fiction writing. But I digress. The biggest lie? X-rated: "I'll only put it in a little bit." G-rated: assuming any lie is G-rated, I was always the youngest in my class at school and used to tell the girls I was older. This was fine until it came time to drive. I told a girlfriend's mother I was 17 and had my licence. She let us use her car and I - true story - wrecked it pulling out of the garage! Took the whole side of the car off and much the same for the garage door and wall. Needless to say, I didn't get lucky that night.

9) You can't have both: Would you rather have respect from your peers and critical acclaim (but not making cash from writing), or would you rather be a bestselling author with the fat coin?

Easy easy easy. Truly. As sincerely as I can say this, there is only one answer for any writer worth a damn: respect from one's peers. If you are writing to simply make a buck, I say go away and go sell shoes or practice law and leave writing to the real writers! Can you tell you hit a nerve with this question? Ha! In point of fact, I was making some nice money when I did practice law - which I did until I turned 30 - and was writing all the time then too, and decided life is too short and bagged law and went from making the big bucks to no bucks and writing and I have never been happier. Any writer who writes solely to make a buck is not really a writer if you ask me. One man's opinion.

And that's it. Thanks, Steve!

Thank you very much Susan.

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