Wordsmith Interview - Robert McKean

Photo by Michael Bebabib
Robert McKean
Age: Old enough to know better
Location: Newton, Mass.
Education: BA/MA

The Writer

How long have you been writing?
Since 1970

Do you write full-time?
Every morning (6 or 7 to noon) that the world does not require my presence elsewhere.

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment as a writer?
Winning a Mass. Artist’s Grant for my fiction (Mass. teems with writers, as you might imagine).

What is your greatest challenge as a writer?
Writing something good enough to show someone else.

The Work

“Mr. Mason’s Camera.” Story of an eleven-year-old boy who goes a long way to growing up on one particular summer day.

What inspired this "Mr. Mason's Camera?"
Mr. Mason’s camera is the movie camera I bought secondhand as a boy (a boy slightly older than Sandy). I still have it – the camera sits on my bookshelves and would still work, I imagine, if one could find a roll of 8mm film to fit over its sprockets. The camera caught my eye one day and, like a grain of sand in an oyster, around it began to accumulate the ingredients of a story.  

How long did it take you to complete this piece?
A couple of weeks for a workable draft, but then the manuscript went through numerous edits.

Tell us about another project you have published or are currently working on.
"Someone To Watch Over Me:" a novel of the 1937 Little Steel Strike in the steel industry. A project I have just begun.

What inspired this work?
I worked (summers) in a steel mill, my father worked all his life there, both my grandfathers worked there, even an aunt worked there during WWII. Pretty much everybody’s father worked there. Western Pennsylvania and its crockpot of nationalities are all I have ever written about.  I have a Gazatteer (as I call it) with a list of some 300-400 named characters and close to a  hundred business that populate my stories and novels. Fundamental to the story of Ganaego is the founding of that mill, the importation of thousands of laborers, the 1937 strike, and the ultimate shutdown in 1983.

The Methods

Where do you write? 
My home office on the third floor of our house – me and the birds.

What time of day or night makes you most productive as a writer?
Mornings.  By noon I’m brain dead.

How many drafts do you generally go through before you consider a piece to be complete?
Way too many, dozens.

What is your usual starting point for a piece?
Something gets it going, a camera, for instance, a fellow shopper in Trader’s Joe’s, a fragment of a dream, the detritus left over from a sleepless night (there are a lot of sleepless nights).  Once it starts, things begin adhering to the original idea as if it were a flannel board.  Long walks help to sort things out, also staring out the window, playing the piano (poorly).

How do you react to editorial rejections of your work?
Everything is personal, everything negative burns like hell.  Writers who pin up their rejections notices are, in my opinion, mad.

What is your best piece of advice on how to stay sane as a writer?
Well, one, don’t pin your rejection notes up around you; two, find someone you love and hold on to that person with all your might. You’re going to need help.

The Madness

What is your favorite book?
The single book I am permitted to carry off to my Elba would be my Pelican collection of Shakespeare (Penguin Books). This tattered volume has sat by my bed for decade after decade offering me its wisdom and joy.

Who is your favorite author?
See above.  Plus, the geniuses of the third-person, Henry James, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Malcolm Lowery, and now Hilary Mantel.

If you could have dinner with one fictional character, who would it be and why?
Falstaff. Maybe because Falstaff possesses more life than any person I have ever met.

What is the greatest occupational hazard for a writer?
Losing confidence.

What’s in that cup on your desk?
Black tea (Assam, Darjeeling, Keemun) with powdered milk and honey. I know why you’re asking this: the beer stein I use for a teacup. But I can’t find a large cup that will keep my tea warm and that I can manage up the stairs without spilling.

How many of your character have you ended up killing off?
I remain continually and pleasantly surprised that my characters haven’t killed me off by now.

Cats or Dogs?
Cats, but dogs get on well with me.

Beer or Wine?
Wine, but prefer a dry martini straight up with a twist.

Pen or Pencil?
Fountain pens are a personal affectation.

The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?

Issue 133

The moon called last night, 
three fifty-one a.m. Full
to the brim—she had to tell

- From "The Moon Called Last Night" by Ani Tuzman

Tell us what you think of our latest issue by using the comment form at the bottom of this page!

Issue 133 Contributors

Karen Boissonneault-Gauthier
Karen Boissonneault-Gauthier is a photographer, writer and poet who loves finding the odd within the beautiful, the spark within the mundane and capturing the nightmare as well as the dream. Published internationally, regionally, as well as in heritage and military museums, she's been featured in Zen Dixie Magazine, Artemis Journal, Cactus Heart Press, Dactyl, Fine Flu Literary Journal, The Scarborough Big Art Book, Sand Canyon Review, The Notebook, Shadows and Light Anthology and Vagabonds Anthology to name a few of the creative places she dwells. Follow Karen @KBG_Tweets

James Seals
James Seals earned his MFA in Fiction at Southern New Hampshire University. His stories have been published in Amoskeag Journal, Forge Journal, Rio Grande Review and others. James also has published an essay and numerous poems. His stories "White, Like You" (’13) and an excerpt, "Turned His Eyes Away" ('14), from his masters’ thesis, American Value, won SNHU’s graduate writing contest. SNHU's MFA faculty awarded James' masters' thesis the Lynn H. Safford Book Prize.

Samuel Vargo
Samuel Vargo has written poetry and short stories for print and online literary magazines, university journals and a few commercial magazines. Mr. Vargo worked most of his adult life as a newspaper reporter. He has a BA in Political Science and an MA in English (both degrees were awarded by Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio, USA). Vargo was fiction editor of Pig Iron Press, Youngstown, Ohio, for 12 years. A book-length collection of Vargo's short stories, titled "Electric Onion Head and the Rotating Cyclops of the Month," was published by Literary Road and had a web presence for five years. 

Julie Wittes Schlack
Julie Wittes Schlack writes essays, short stories, and articles for the business press. Her essays regularly appear in Cognoscenti, and her work has been published or is forthcoming in numerous publications, including Shenandoah, Writer’s Chronicle, The Louisville Review,  Eleven Eleven, Ninth Letter, and Tampa Review. Julie received her MFA from Lesley University’s low-residency program.

Mitch Kellaway
Mitch Kellaway is a transgender writer and editor who currently contributes to The Advocate and the Lambda Literary Review. He earned a B.A. in Gender Studies from Harvard University. He has published (or has forthcoming) essays and articles in Original Plumbing, Cliterature, Outrider, Zeteo, and Jonathan. 

Karen Hildebrand
Karen Hildebrand’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in various journals, including Blue Earth Review, Blue Mesa Review, Fourteen Hills, A Gathering of the Tribes, great weather for MEDIA, G.W. Review, The Journal, Maintenant, Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, Nimrod International Journal, and Poet Lore. Her play, "The Old In and Out," cowritten with Madeline Artenberg and adapted from their poetry, was produced in New York City in June 2013. Karen has had two chapbooks published, "One Foot Out the Door" and "Final Shot at Love," and her work has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. 

Ani Tuzman
Ani Tuzman is a writing mentor at Dance of the Letters Writing Center that she founded in 1982 to help children, teens, and adults experience the joys of writing. Years earlier, before leaving city life, she also cofounded A Kangaroo’s Pouch (El Buche del Canguro), a bilingual and multicultural school in the Boston area. Ani’s work has been published in CALYX, Mothering, Tikkun, Sanctuary, Darshan, FamilyFun, and Body Mind Spirit, among other journals and magazines. Her writing is included in such anthologies as "Chicken Soup For The Mother & Daughter Soul," "Divine Mosaic," and MotherPoet. Her poetry is also featured on two CDs, "Spirals Of Light" and "Poetry and Chamber Music on Themes Of The Holocaust." She has received the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Prize for Poems on the Jewish Experience and the Peter K. Hixson Memorial Award for Creative Writers. 

Tennae Maki
Tennae Maki is a weekend writer that works for an architecture firm by day. She holds a Master's degree in Art History, where she studied architecture zines and urban planning. On a pro bono basis, she is also the audio archivist for a Brooklyn based arts radio station. Her work has been published in numerous print and digital literary journals, including; 491, Spillway, Eunoia Review, Futures Trading, The Bicycle Review, Lone Star Poetry Magazine, and Pure Francis. 

Issue 132

Whether or not you and your hubby
unraveled the secrets of the universe,
or were visited by celestial day-trippers - 
these assertions are irrelevant. 

- From "The Widow and the Scrivener" by Marie Lecrivain

Tell us what you think of our latest issue by using the comment form at the bottom of this page!

Contributors: Vincent Barry, Gwendolyn Edward, Marie Lecrivain, Robert McKean, Jay Merill, Katherine Minott, Ann Robinson, S.C. Sirleaf

Issue 132 Contributors

Robert McKean
Robert McKean, recipient of a Massachusetts Arts Council grant, has had work published in The Kenyon Review, The Chicago Review, the Dublin Quarterly, The MacGuffin, Ruminate, The Bacon Review, The Front Range Review, 34th Parallel, Shotgun/Armchair (forthcoming), and elsewhere. The setting for his fiction is a steel-mill company town in Western Pennsylvania. Over the decades that his fiction spans, the characters, who appear and reappear from story to story, form a diverse ethnic, racial, and generational stew of lives and passions. McKean’s collection of short stories was Finalist in the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, and a in the Sewanee Writers’ Series. A novel he is working on was a Finalist in the Heekin Group Foundation James Fellowship for the Novel in Progress and a Semi-Finalist in the Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel. 

Jay Merill
Fiction by Jay is published in the current issues of Anomalous Press,  Citron Review, Corium and   Night Train. Stories have appeared recently or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, Spork, Eunoia Review, The Legendary, Blue Lake Review and Vine Leaves Press.  Jay is the author of two short story collections  – "Astral Bodies" (Salt, 2007) and "God of the Pigeons" (Salt, 2010) and has been nominated for the Frank O’Connor Award.   Her story ‘As Birds Fly’ won the Salt Short Story Prize and is included in the ‘Salt Anthology of New Writing, 2013’. She has an Award from Arts Council England and is Writer in Residence at Women in Publishing. 

Vincent Barry
Vincent Barry’s affection for creative writing is rooted in the theatre. More years ago than he prefers to remember, his one-act plays caught the attention of the late Arthur Ballet at the University of Minnesota’s Office for Advanced Drama Research and Wynn Handman at New York’s The American Place Theatre. Some productions followed, as well as a residency at The Edward Albee Foundation on Long Island. Meanwhile, Barry was teaching philosophy at Bakersfield College in California and authoring philosophy textbooks. Now retired from teaching, he has returned to fiction. His short story “Dear Fellow Californian” appeared in the June issue of Writing Tomorrow Magazine. Two others, titled “When It First Came Out” and “The Girl with the Sunflower Yellow Hot Rod Limo,” will appear in forthcoming issues of The Write Room and Blue Lake Review, respectively.

Marie Lecrivain
Marie Lecrivain is the edtior-publisher of poeticdiversity: the litzine of Los Angeles, a photographer, and a writer-in-residence at her apartment. She's been published in various journals, including Non-Binary Review, Edgar Allan Poetry Journal, and Poetry Salzburg Review. Her newest book, "The Virtual Tablet of Irma Tre" (copyright 2014 Edgar & Lenore's Publishing House), a series of alchemical poems, is available through Amazon.com.

Ann Robinson
Ann Robinson's work is forthcoming or has appeared in American Literary Review, Coachella Review, Compass Rose, Connecticut Review, Diverse Voices Quarterly, The GW Review, Fourteen Hills, Freshwater, Hiram Poetry Review, Jelly Bucket, Natural Bridge, New York Quarterly, Passager, Poet Lore, The Portland Review, RiverSedge, Sanskrit, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Serving House Journal, Spoon River Poetry Review, Storyscape, Streetlight Magazine, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Weave Magazine, Whistling Shade, Willow Review, and Zone 3, among others. Her book of poetry, "Stone Window," was published by Bark for Me Publications in 2014. 

Gwendolyn Edward
Gwendolyn Edward writes nonfiction, poetry, and fiction. Her magical realism, slip stream, and fabulist short stories have appeared in Bourbon Penn, Jersey Devil Press, Lightning Cake, The Copperfield Review, and others. She retains a MA in Creative Writing from the University of North Texas and is currently pursuing a MFA at Bennington. She works with Fifth Wednesday Journal as an assistant non-fiction editor and also teaches Creative Writing. 

Katherine Minott
Katherine Minott, M.A. is an artist whose photographic work reflects the Japanese aesthetic of wabi sabi--the celebration of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Her work has appeared in Camas: Nature of the West, New Mexico Magazine, Visual Language Magazine, and the Santa Fe Reporter’s Annual Manual. Please visit her website at katherineminott.com.

Wordsmith Interview - M. David Hornbuckle

M. David Hornbuckle
Birmingham, AL
Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama-Birmingham

The Writer

How long have you been writing? 
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I was always a romantic, and I think I figured out by first grade that writing things for girls was a good way to impress them.

Do you have a specific writing style? 
I usually categorize my general style as post-modern Southern Gothic, though I also write in other modes. The story I have in Crack the Spine is something a little different from my usual modus operandi. More on that below…

Do you write full-time? 
I have made a living as a writer for almost 20 years, although the bulk of my income has come from non-creative writing. I do freelance editorial work, journalism, and business writing consultation. However, for the past couple of years, I’ve been transitioning out of that corporate work and transitioning into teaching. 

The Work

My work in Crack the Spine is a flash fiction piece called “Scrapple.” To describe it briefly would be essentially to tell the whole story.

What inspired this work? 
It was inspired by my work as an adjunct English instructor and playing Scrabble online with some of my colleagues. I’ll leave it at that. 

How long did it take you to complete this piece? 
My initial draft took about 5 minutes. It just sort of spilled out one day. But I kept coming back to it over the course of 2-3 months and revising it a little bit at a time in between working on other pieces. It would be impossible to count the number of hours I spent on it overall, but it was probably somewhere around one.

Tell us about another project you have published or are currently working on.
I have a novel called "Zen, Mississippi," which you can buy online from many reputable online booksellers. I also have a collection of short stories you can find in most of the same places. Currently, I am working on a novel called "The Fireball Brothers," and that’s all I will say about it publicly at this time.

The Methods

How often do you write? 
I write daily in some capacity or another. That doesn’t always mean working on my novel or other creative writing projects. Currently, I am spending the majority of my writing time on more academic projects.

What time of day or night makes you most productive as a writer? 
Surprisingly to me, after being something of a night owl most of my life, I seem to be most productive in the mornings. But I will write whenever I can fit it in.

What are your thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing? 
I’ll go ahead and say it… I have self-published some things, and I have had some things published through more traditional channels. My feelings about it are complex. I think self-publishing gets a bad rap. It shouldn’t have the stigma it has, but the reality is that there is a stigma. So I advise people to be cautious about self-publishing if they have ambitions to break into traditional publishing at a later time. Unfortunately, it can hold you back. I have experienced that first-hand. However, if you just want to get something out there, and it may be your only book—or if you are content self-publishing everything you write—many people have found success by going that route. 

How do you react to editorial rejections of your work? 
I am always disappointed, it’s a fact of life that if you decide to be a writer, you will be rejected far more often than not. So I recover quickly and get back to writing. I will probably resist sending the rejected piece to anybody else until I’ve taken a crack at revising it.

How do you react when one of your submissions is accepted for publication? 
With cheers and whiskey.

What is your best piece of advice on how to stay sane as a writer? 

The Madness

What is the greatest occupational hazard for a writer? 
Paper cuts? I bet everybody starts with that joke, and most think better of it, but I’ll leave it in. In all seriousness, I would say it is the loneliness.

Who would play you in the film of your life? 
I would like to say Ethan Hawke or Johnny Depp, but it would probably end up being Zach Galafianakas. 

How many of your character have you ended up killing off? 
Oh, so many. There are a lot of burials around my work desk.

Beer or Wine? 
I’ll have a Manhattan, thanks.

The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? 

Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams? 
Tennessee Williams

Additional Reading
Personal website/blog: www.mdavidhornbuckle.com
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