10 Questions with Jeff Suwak
Some of Jeff Suwak’s recent short fiction publication credits include Plasma Frequency Magazine, The Colored Lens, Specklit, and Spark: A Creative Anthology. He is the author of Beyond the Tempest Gate and No Punchline, and is a regular contributor to the Prague Revue, Song Places, and Song Facts.
1. How long have you been writing and what got you started?
I’ve been writing down stories since I learned to put words on paper. It’s just who I am. But it was only a few years ago that I decided to start taking publishing seriously. A person has many opportunities to look his mortality square in the eye when he’s deployed overseas. My personal experiences inspired to give a real go at writing.
2. What is the best piece of advice you have for new writers?
I might get crucified for saying this in the current writing environment, but I think many new writers today suffer from paralysis by analysis. They spend way too much thinking about writing, and reading the endless string of rules from the experts (both the actual experts and the fake ones), and bickering on writer’s forums. Just write. Get words down. They will be terrible at first. Eventually, they will be slightly less terrible. I don’t know if first drafts ever really get good. I remember reading something where Hemingway said that writing never got easier for him. Every new book was the same, massive challenge. So, you just write. You just put your head down and go for it. You’ll pick up things in the process. You’ll come across worthwhile advice. You’ll discover your own voice. But the important thing is to just write. Get the damn words down, finish things, and keep plowing forward.
3. Are there any writing resources, such as books or websites, you’d like to recommend?
I love Scribophile. It’s the only writing site I’ve ever used and the only one I intend to ever use. I’ve met great people there and developed many worthwhile friendships.
4. What is your favorite type of fiction and who are your favorite authors?
I don’t think I have a particular, favorite type of fiction. My taste is pretty eclectic. But, I grew up with not much money, doing physical labor, having to fight for basic dignity and all that good stuff, and I think my taste in books is probably reflective of that. I tend to gravitate towards tough, gritty books, about people with few resources having to overcome great challenges. Authors I love are Cormac McCarthy, Richard Price, Jack Kerouac, Roger Zelazny, Frank Herbert, Vonnegut, Steinbeck, Melville, Francine Prose, Robin Hobb, Hunter S. Thompson…this list could go on a long time! Literature has always sort of been my religion. I revere the great writers. I feel like I’m kin to all the real writers, even if I don’t like them personally.
5. What tips do you have for finding time to write?
Everybody’s life is different. I don’t yet make enough money off of fiction to do it full time, which means I work a regular job. So, I’ve made huge sacrifices to find the time to write. You’ve just got to want it more than you want anything else. I don’t really know if it can be fabricated. I think you’ve either got the obsession, or you don’t. But, okay, maybe that was too broad. When it comes to specific methods to find time to writer, one thing I’ve learned is that you can write in little nibbles throughout the day. I think a lot of writers are like me in that, if they can’t get 3 solid hours in a row to work, it feels like a waste of time and as though you can’t get anything done. But you can. A paragraph scribbled just before taking the morning shower, a few lines typed on the bus, speaking into your phone to ‘type’ a few passages while driving…these things add up. They will be sloppy and they will be disjointed, but they can be cleaned and sewn together in the revision process.
6. Do you prefer to outline a story in advance or write on the fly? Why?
I think my general method might be somewhat unique. I need to know how a story ends before I can really begin it. So, with shorter works, I tend to plow through and finish the whole story in one very hasty, sloppy, and rudimentary draft. After that, I start filling in the middle. For longer works, I do outline, but I sort of do it as a continual process. The outline evolves with the writing, and vice versa. They are never static.
7. How do you deal with rejections?
First, I want to say that this is a subject I enjoy talking about. One of the absolute best things about being a writer is having to deal with a lot of rejection. It has helped me grow so much as a person. That growth spills over into all areas of life. Asking for a promotion, approaching people I’m interested in, , all of these things benefit from becoming immunized to rejection. Receiving well over 100 rejections has, truly, made me a better person.
Most rejections don’t bother me at all, anymore. Sometimes, though, they still sting. But, I have a system set up, one that I learned from Louis L’amour’s “Education of a Wandering Man.” I always have a market in the queue to send my story off to. When I get a rejection, I already have the next market lined up, and I send the story there right away. So, while I have the sting of rejection, I combat that with an instantaneous jolt of hope and optimism as it goes off to a new market. Also, I set rejection goals. Like, “when I get to 50 rejections, I’m going to go for a nice walk and buy myself sushi as celebration.” It’s mostly a mind trick, but I do think there’s a practical side to it. Publishing is largely a numbers game. I firmly believe that. It’s not just a matter of writing a good or great story. It’s also about that good or great story getting into the slush reader’s hands at just the right time, and then the lead editor’s hands at just the right time, etc. So, the writing has to be good, but after that, it’s largely just a matter of getting enough stuff in front of enough eyes that the odds start to tip in your favor.
8. What are your writing goals for the next twelve months?
I have several longer projects that are near completion. I want to finish these. One is a thriller about an expert tracker hunting down a serial killer in the southwest. Another is the first book of a fantasy trilogy set in a Native American mythology-inspired realm. And the other is a science fiction novella. I also need to get better with self promotion. Self promotion is part of writing today, and I’m just not very good at it. I need to focus on improving in that area.
9. For the next five years?
No comment. I refrain from answering for fear that my answer be mistaken for arrogance.
10. Is there anything you’d like to plug? Feel free to share a link.
Plug?!!? I LOVE that word!
First, there is my dark fantasy novella “Beyond the Tempest Gate,” which takes the old trope of the demon-slaying, divine-prophesied knight and turns it completely on its head. The book asks a simple question: what if the knight isn’t actually destined for anything? What if he only thinks he is, but is actually undertaking a mission to confront an evil he can’t possibly understand, putting the whole world at risk by doing so. Or, what if this is what appears to be happening, but the doubt itself is part of his destined quest? Is he a hero chosen by the gods, or is he a lunatic narcissist? You’ve got to read the book to find out! It’s available in digital and in print at Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Most people buy through Amazon, it seems, so the link is: http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Tempest-Gate-Jeff-Suwak-ebook/dp/B00ERY9OOS/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1411892215&sr=8-2&keywords=jeff+suwak
Also, there is “No Punchline; Or, the Night Chale Thayer Blew His Head Off at the Punch Drunk Comedy Club.” This is the story of a comedian that has decided he’s going to commit suicide on stage during one of his acts as a show of defiance against the injustice of the universe. It’s a dark comedy of sorts, though the grittiness casts a pretty dense shadow. Right now it’s only available digital: http://www.amazon.com/No-Punchline-Night-Thayer-Comedy-ebook/dp/B00JNXMPVM/ref=pd_sim_kstore_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=046775N4WHW304ZHPMYZ