What are you reading these days? Do you love/hate/feel neutral about it, and why?
Mostly I read student writing, which I don’t love, but I don’t hate either--I’m happy to have a job. The last three books I read that I still have by my bedside (an indication that they affected me) are The Wall by Marlen Haushofer, Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West, and Marx’s Inferno by William Clare Roberts. Haushofer I discovered a few years back in the Denver Public Library stacks and now it’s like comfort reading for me. (I just re-read it over Christmas and the New Year). Nathanael West I’ve been meaning to read for years and finally did. That book resonates with a certain Trumpian-COVID era foulness. The last, Marx’s Inferno, is a book of political theory I’m reading almost as a self-help guide for understanding impersonal domination in a market society.
Could you provide for us a passage of writing that deeply shifts something inside you?
This, from Marx’s Inferno: “The great irony of modern market societies is that they give rise to the cult of the individual at the same time that, through their institutional order, they render the specificity of any individual irrelevant” (97). I’ve been thinking about Roberts’ book a lot—it’s basically a reading of Capital in terms of freedom and domination. Capitalist society dominates us, according to Roberts’ reading of Marx, because it renders us irresponsible for our economic lives. Which I interpret more broadly as “our lives.” His analysis has helped me to understand how you can feel dominated without being able to point to an agent of that domination—because it’s the system itself. In a way, it’s everybody (though certainly some people are benefitting more from the social arrangement than others). And it’s also made me think differently about characters in stories, and the current obsession with identity-based fiction as a fantasy of individual mattering in a system that needs atomized individuals for its functioning--while at the same time abolishing individuality.
When you are working on a piece, what inspirations do you draw from?
I love Felisberto Hernández. Of all my favorite writers, I’d like to write more like him. He has this great piece in Piano Stories, called “How Not to Explain My Stories,” where he compares writing a story to growing a plant inside of him. “I must take care that it does not occupy too much space or try to be beautiful or intense, helping it to become only what it was meant to be” (3). I just love that.
What craft elements are you most interested in/attached to within your writing?
I’ve also been reading and teaching George Saunders’ A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, which is a surprisingly useful guide to story-writing for the 21st century, even though it is based on Saunders’ readings of Russian short stories from the 19th. Saunders’ approach to craft is one I haven’t seen before. Instead of beginning with the usual elements of plot, character, setting, and point-of-view, he arrives at conclusions by reading each story, a page at a time. It’s more inductive than deductive. That just strikes me as a much more practical way to go about it. It’s closer to the actual experience of writing, which is one sentence after another, creating expectations and then responding to them.
Who (or what) are some of your writing obsessions, and why?
I’m obsessed with novellas. I will read any novel shorter than 100 pages. I have no idea why! I like efficiency, I guess. I feel, also, that most novels could be shorter than they are, and I trust the writer who goes against commercial fiction norms.
What are some ways in which you remain productive/find time to be a writer?
I am not a good person to give advice on this topic right now. I tend to write in bursts and the challenge is to keep it going for as long as I can. The problem is that those (too few) bursts are preceded by weeks and months of writing total garbage. So it’s a matter of enduring stretches of mindless productivity (going through the motions) to get to meaningful productivity.
What are some ways in which you get through a block in your creative work?
I try to distract myself from worrying too much about it and am usually not successful.
How do you navigate the experience of submissions/rejections/acceptances?
It’s funny. People can tell you it’s a numbers game when you start sending out your work but you don’t believe them because you are desperate for meaningful feedback. Then later you can see that it really is a numbers game. That seems like a really terrible thing to do to writers. It’s easy to think rejections matter, that it says something about you. I think on some level you need to think that just so you don’t have to face the near nihilism of the writing market.
Do you have any recent publications and/or projects?
Is there anything else you would like to share with other writers?
I would like to share my book with them—everything I have to offer that’s actually worthwhile is in there.
Angela Buck is the author of Horses Dream of Money (FC2), which was a finalist for the AWP Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction. She is Assistant Professor of English at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio.