1. If you were reviewing your own work, how would you describe its style or point of view?
I’ll tell you what I aspire to: the reader should be moved by the writing, while at the same time remain unaware of the writer’s presence.
2. Who are some of your favorite contemporary authors?
Most of the authors I read are dead. Among authors whose lives overlapped my own, I’m a fan of Kurt Vonnegut, especially his early stuff, and William Styron—I think he should be on the reading list of every 20th century literature course.
To escape, I like Ken Follett. For laughs, Patrick F. McManus. And because he’s an irresistibly likeable guy, Neil Gaimon.
The best kept secret in literature (unfortunately) is the large, virtually unknown community of contemporary short story writers. Writers like Denis Johnson, Richard Ford, and Mary Gaitskill have their followers, but there are many others, aspiring writers with breathtaking talent who aren’t on the industry radar—yet. It’s easy to find these writers, but you have to read literary magazines, and sadly, most of the people reading literary magazines are themselves writers, rummaging for places to submit their work.
3. If you were told you couldn't write anymore, what job would you pursue and why?
I’d be a teacher. It’s another route to immortality, albeit an indirect one.
4. When you think of Austin, what comes to mind?
Timely question! My older brother lives in Austin, and he happens to be the inspiration for “The Rocker.” He mentored me growing up, particularly in math and science. And, yes, he rocked—in all senses of the word.
5. Answer the question you wish we had asked.
If you had one piece of advice for beginning writers, what would it be?
Thanks for asking. I once made changes to a manuscript that I suspected were wrong, changes an editor demanded. Years later, I’m sure they were wrong. Because my guts tell me so.
There comes a time when you’re no longer tentative about your writing. You’ve mastered the language; you have a voice, a sense of style, an ear that is tuned to the complexities of fiction; you’re in command. The paintbrush in your hand obeys you, not your crit partners, not the publishing industry, not even your writing idols.
You first notice something’s changing when you draft a scene that sticks with you the rest of the day. When you read it again the next day, it doesn’t suck. And this is my point: the only way we know something is good is when it fails to make us blush when we read it again after having placed ourselves at a distance.
Because doubt manifests itself in your gut. Doubt doesn’t let you go. Doubt cannot be silenced by covering your ears and chanting, “Nyah, nyah, nyah.” If you experience doubt about your writing, if you fear it might not be accomplishing what you want it to accomplish, it isn’t. If you suspect it sucks, it does. When your doubt-guts are quiet, when you put some distance between you and your work, and upon returning are delighted by the way it sounds to your ear, you’re done. The paintbrush is doing what you tell it to do.
About Stephen Parrish
Stephen Parrish is the author of The Tavernier Stones, The Feasts of Lesser Men, and Anatomy of a Spy. In 2011 he was awarded an Independent Publisher (IPPY) gold medal. His short work has appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, The Good Men Project, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, and elsewhere and has been read in public by Liars’ League, Lit Crawl, and other venues. He presently serves as editor of The Lascaux Review.