Author Interview: Andy Millman on Pat Conroy

An unconventional take on our author interview, but what a worthwhile, inspiring and incredibly touching read. Enjoy.

Kate

“I Met Pat Conroy Last Night”

by Andy Millman

 

I met Pat Conroy last night.

Meeting idols is risky. Even when expecting nothing, disappointment is possible. I have few idols, which makes meeting them even riskier. I can’t afford to lose the ones I have.

He was here for the release of his new memoir, “The Death of Santini.” He described his writing as “confessional,” which seemed fitting as was speaking in a large and very crowded church.

I’ve never asked for an autograph or for an author to sign a book. I hate bothering people. Plus, I don’t like to wait in lines. Last night I made exceptions.

I had to thank him. I recently listened to “My Reading Life,” in which he discusses his favorite books along with the people in his life who have inspired both his reading and his writing. My reading life starts with Pat Conroy. I rewound passages of that particular book just so I could hear his voice telling his stories. I would mention that, too.

I would thank him, compliment him, and be on my way. He must be tired, I thought. It was getting late and I was near the end of a long, long line. Still, I saw people ahead of me chat with him and even ask to pose for pictures with him. He was like a one-man receiving line, gracious with every guest.

As I inched closer, I began to get nervous. Thank him, compliment him, be on my way. Thank, compliment, go. I can do this. Or so I thought. It was my turn. I moved up a step.

“I’m Pat Conroy,” he said, and held out his hand.

His handshake was warm, his smile appeared genuine. “I’m Andy,” I said. I had a moment of – writer’s block, I guess – before I remembered what I was supposed to do. I thanked him for his books and complimented his narration in “My Reading Life.”

He laughed. “I hate the sound of my voice,” he said.

“You shouldn’t,” I told him. “I think you should narrate everything you write.”

Then I told him something I had not planned on saying. “I’ve been writing seriously for about ten years, and you – you…” It’s a bit embarrassing to be searching for a good word when face to face with someone who always seems to find the great ones. But then I thought of his book and all the authors who mean so much to him.

“You inspire me,” I said. “And I’m very honored to meet you.”

“You’re a writer,” he said. He opened my book and began to inscribe it.

I hesitated. He’s a Writer. “I try,” I said.

He wrote a little more and then put down his pen and leaned back in his chair. “The most important thing is to have confidence in your work,” he said.

I nodded but did not speak. I wanted to remember what he said and cluttering the memory with my own words would only make it more difficult.

“I know it’s hard,” he continued. “It’s hard for me, too. I still don’t have confidence in what I write.”

This I would remember. Not just his admission, but his generosity in sharing it. He could probably see the reverence I held for him, and he was, in the most modest of ways, saying, “No matter how great you might think I am, there are struggles we share.”

It was a gift, and I had to respond. “You should have confidence,” I said, “because you are a treasure.”

He thanked me and we shook hands once more. I took the book and began to walk away.

“Andy,” he said.

I turned.

“Let me know if you get published. Mention where we met. I’ll remember you.”

I nodded and resisted going back and shaking his hand a third time or giving him a hug or telling him how much this moment meant to me. Instead I smiled and said thanks and gave a final, little wave. I walked out of the church clutching the book and my coat. It was cold but I was warm.

I walked back to my car and remembered a passage in “My Reading Life,” where he talks about his high school English teacher. The teacher, whom Conroy remained close to for the remainder of the teacher’s life, instructed him as a young man to be kind and helpful to aspiring writers should he ever become successful. I couldn’t help thinking how often he’d be making that teacher proud.

I was anxious to read the inscription but resisted the urge to. Reading it would be like reading the last chapter in one of his books, and I employed the same tactic I’ve used with those. I held off a little longer because I did not want the story to end. Before I went to sleep I figured it was time. I carefully opened the book and found the page. This is what he wrote:

To Andy,

For the love of writing. Have faith in yours. Go deeper. Go even deeper.

Pat Conroy

I should not have been so hesitant. The story didn’t really end. As he demonstrated so well in “My Reading Life,” stories stay with you, words stay with you. His will hang above my writing desk. They will be read, reread and hopefully absorbed. They will urge me to become a better writer. I realize I may never be able to write a Pat Conroy story, but the words will remind me that I already have one.

Adam Natali, author of A Message from Roswell

Q1. What inspires your creativity?

Having a creative outlet usually feels more like a physiological need than something I have a choice about. When I don’t take the time to sit down and listen to my thoughts and write them down, my head starts to feel like it’s going to explode. Okay, maybe that’s a little melodramatic, but I do get really cranky.

Q2. What conditions do you like to write in? Standing on your head, sitting on the bus, eaves dropping at a party…

I’m a freelancer who mostly works at home while taking care of my 3 year old son and 18 month old daughter. There’s a brief moment of time everyday where they stop fighting for my attention, and actually play quietly together. I can never predict when this moment will come, but when it does, I rush and get my notebook, sit down a safe distance away, and write as fast as I can.

Q3. Are there any writers that you most strive to be like and why?

I’d love to have a career like Neil Gaiman. He’s written adult novels, YA novels, middle grade novels, picture books, short stories, comic books, movies, TV shows, and probably a bunch of other things I’ve forgotten about. Some people get stuck thinking that writer’s write books, but in my opinion writers just write. He’s a great example of this.

Q4. What is your favorite book and why?

The Princess Bride by William Goldman. I loved the movie as a child, and finally read the book when I was an adult. I know there’s Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain, Faulkner, and all the greats, but in my mind, that is the most amazing book I’ve ever read. It has all the humor and adventure of the movie, but it’s not written as a grandfather reading a story to his grandson. It’s written as a history of a fictional place which the author is pretending to abridge, and there are long hilarious passages where he explains what he’s cutting out and why. I’ve never seen a story written like that. Whenever I feel like my story structure feels too contrived, I flip through that book again.

Q5. Do you have any tips about the writing process?

I’d probably just repeat the cliche that everyone says, “read a lot and write a lot.” I never knew what that really meant though until I read Stephen King’s On Writing. He said that when he was starting out, he had a nail on the wall in his attic. Every time he got a rejection letter he’d stick it on the nail. At some point he didn’t have anymore room on the nail so he replaced it with a railroad spike. That’s a good example of how much you have to write. It’s also a good example of how crazy you have to be to want to share the things you’re writing.

Author Interview: Jim Eigo, 2020

Zest interview: Jim Eigo, author of 2020

Q1. What inspires your creativity?

Often, especially for the very short flash fictions that I have been writing lately, just a word or phrase will set me off, a succession of sounds and its pulse, what it means, how it means, how many things it can mean at once. I let that lead me somewhere—to a place, characters, situation. Sometimes instead I begin with a strong image. My novel-in-progress began with an image I had from nowhere, a very small boy colliding with a woman pushing a cart on a city street. I have structured the novel (which is not autobiographic) around a series of strong photographic memories that I retain from my boyhood in the Bronx—which ended when I was 5 and my family moved away—and hence were frozen in time.

The piece I have in the Evolution issue of Zest, “2020,” began with an idea, not a common beginning for me. When I returned to writing after many years of editing two small gay magazines, I was shocked by how, in the wake of the cultural ascendency of the Internet, the rhetoric of agents had changed. Every writer had to build a platform, had to become one’s own brand, the better to sell oneself. In “2020” I follow the trajectory of that imperative—the reduction of self to brand—into the near future and to its (il)logical conclusion.

Q2. What conditions do you like to write in? Standing on your head, sitting on the bus, eaves dropping at a party…

I carry little stubs of pencils and scraps of paper on my person at all times. I frequently scribble notes, mostly no longer than phrases, though it’s not rare for me to write a note that’s several sentences long, a full situation right from the start. On these scraps of paper I doodle too; they arrive home with me a barely legible mess as I am left-handed. Before the end of the day I like to enter the material I have written on those scraps into a Word file on computer. This is raw material for longer pieces.

When I am banging out a longer piece, fiction or essay or article or speech, I am most often lying semi-recumbent on a futon (actually a few futons stacked on top of each other), detachable keyboard on my lap, computer on a long low table next to the futons. I love having the words hanging up on the big screen in front of me, out in the ether. Although I can appreciate the mechanical beauty of the typewriter, I hardly miss the era of writing on one. But I keep a typewriter for one thing: the writing of concrete poetry, which I did a lot of at one time, work dependent on the typewriter’s perfect grid, the result of the machine’s mono-spaced lettering—think tic-tac-toe.

Q3. Are there any writers that you most strive to be like and why?

I try to be as attentive to my material as I believe Samuel Beckett was to his.

Q4. What is your favourite book and why?

Here are four that in some way changed my life: Hiroshima, by John Hersey; Three Novels, by Samuel Beckett; Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, by Noam Chomsky; The Collected Books of Jack Spicer, by Jack Spicer.

Q5. Do you have any tips about the writing process?

Try to listen to the writing itself, particularly at the deep level of language in all its materiality, and then get out of its way. Let the sentence you are writing write itself. Like a toddler, it will need some direction—but not too much. If you give it freedom to go, the unwinding sentence itself will tell you the proper cadence, shape and length it must achieve in order to best tell what it will find it has, from the beginning, been made to tell.

Why We Write – Issue 2 Interviews

Got five minutes to spare whilst you sit down to a well earned cuppa? Why not take a gander at these fabulous writing tips and anecdotes provided by the extremely talented contributors from issue 2 of Zest. Archived posts of all contributors from Issue 1 and Issue 2 can be found in the Why We Write section of the site. Enjoy!

Kate 🙂

 

Sarah Jean Krahn, author of Pulp Fiction

1) What inspires your creativity?

My best pieces grow out of raw emotion. Writing in these instances is a coping mechanism that allows me to turn sometimes destructive feelings into something useful and meaningful. I also occasionally find inspiration in odd objects or events that I have a desire to capture the essence of. In the case of “Pulp Fiction,” inspiration was from a combination of emotion and an object, a chunk of paper pulp that I kept in my bedroom as a child.

2) What conditions do you like to write in?

This has changed for me over time. I used to like to write anywhere and everywhere about whatever happened to strike me there. Now my writing tends to be much more deliberate, and I like the atmosphere of the university library where I can smell the mustiness of all the ideas around me. Writing in a public space feels awkward sometimes, but it can help by simultaneously increasing my consciousness of my self and allowing me to tune in to ideas outside of my self.

3) Are there any writers that you most strive to be like and why?

I really appreciate writers who strive to incorporate the political into their work. I have a particular attachment to feminist-conscious writing, and this is why I was inspired to co-create S/tick. Having studied English literature in school, I have a strong feeling that masculine writing is privileged greatly, not only as showcased in the traditional canon, but also in the current realm of creative writing. Two writers I like for their feminist consciousness and unconventional styles are Alice Walker and Nicole Brossard.

4) What is your favourite book and why?

And now for something completely different! No matter what I read, my favourite always remains The Monster at the End of this Book. Grover is an awesome protagonist. He engages his audience directly through the 2nd-person p.o.v. (“Did you know that you are very strong?”), and the illustrations even offer eye contact! The reader is encouraged to participate in the events of the book and consequently comes to acknowledge her active power as a reader—she is no passive bystander to the stories she takes in.

5) Do you have any tips about the writing process?

Don’t be afraid to revise. I used to refuse to revise because I saw the writing product as inspired, perhaps spiritually in a way, and I didn’t want to compromise that original idea or feeling. I still struggle with revising because I’m impatient to get my ideas out there. But it’s always worth it, even 5-10 times, with something radically different as the end product. The best tidbits remain and get the idea across much more effectively than the unfortunately unnecessary pieces that get discarded or turned into something else.

 

Snails Hibernate, Right?

Are you familiar with those lit mags that you send an enthusiastic submission to, only to discover that weeks (perhaps even months) later you have received no acknowledgement, never mind a super lovely, complimentary acceptance email?  Me too. What’s worse: I fear that Zest Lit may have snuck into that category. Isn’t it just as well that the new year is fast approaching? You know, it brings with it the obligatory opportunity to create life-altering resolutions such as: reply to all contributors in a timely fashion, post issue 2’s contributor interviews sometime this year (er, that one might be a long-shot at this stage…), etc, etc.

Let me take this opportunity to apologise for the slackness on the editorial/correspondence front. As I type, I am spraying WD40 in the rusted up cogs of this literary machine. Keep your finger on the refresh button on that email inbox, some long awaited mail should be winging its way to you very soon!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Kate