10 Questions with Zack Graham
Zack Graham is a writer of fiction and film from Chicago, IL. He was a finalist in The Masters Review’s October Scarefest competition, and is the co-editor of Fablesque, an online journal of new fables.
1. How long have you been writing and what got you started?
I’ve been writing since I was twelve. Storytelling was initially a way to entertain myself as an only child, but it grew into my passion. I feel lucky that I’ve found something that I love to do. Few people can say that.
Like everyone else, I started out writing what I later discovered to be fan fiction derived from my favorite books and movies. I forget when I began writing original stories, but I was a fiction writing major in college, so I suppose I started telling my own stories at some point between twelve and twenty two.
2. What is the best piece of advice you have for new writers?
I’ll go ahead and crib two pieces of advice from two writers I greatly admire. The first: “You must never be afraid to go there.” That’s Harlan Ellison. The other comes from Joe Hill. Someone asked him this question at a reading this summer, and he said that young writers should write long-hand. He said it forces you to tell your story, to move forward, as opposed to rewriting the same sentence fifteen times on a computer screen. I’ve found those pieces of advice particularly helpful.
3. Are there any writing resources, such as books or websites, you’d like to recommend?
Everyone has a favorite style book and/or guru. Strunk & White, E.M. Forster, etc. The best thing any writer can do is read, widely, voraciously. Read for plunder, as my old teacher used to say. Writing workshops are also very helpful. They let you get outside your head. There are quite a few in New York (where I currently live) that I’ve found beneficial. I’d also encourage any writer to get on Twitter. Twitter is great for finding new writers, readings in your area, good stories, etc.
4. What is your favorite type of fiction and who are your favorite authors?
My favorite authors are Machado De Assis and Martin Amis, De Assis for his storytelling and Amis for his style. I’m also a fan of the New Wave sci-fi writers, particularly a writer named Norman Spinrad. Spinrad’s genius is totally overlooked. It’s a shame. He wrote a story called “Carcinoma Angels” that blows my mind every time I read it.
As for my favorite type of fiction, I tend to veer toward dark literary fiction with tinges of sci-fi and/or horror. J.G. Ballard, Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, Aldous Huxley, and more recently Will Self, Mark Danielewski and Jeff VanderMeer. I also like a lot of writers I learned about in class, like Jean Rhys, Jorge Luis Borges, F. Scott Fitzgerald, David Foster Wallace and Denis Johnson.
5. What tips do you have for finding time to write?
Setting writing goals for yourself is probably the most efficient way to find time. Self-imposed deadlines for drafts, determining that you’re going to start submitting a story by X date, etc. My friend Brian has this thing where he pays himself to write. Literally. If he works on an essay (he’s a journalist / critic) for 30 minutes, he gets to spend fifteen bucks on beers for himself, which is only like two beers in New York, but still, it’s a unique approach.
6. Do you prefer to outline a story in advance or write on the fly? Why?
I tend to know where a short story is going before I start a draft, and then I sort of write in that direction. I wouldn’t necessarily call it an outline, more a general understanding of the narrative arc and how the characters develop. The third or forth draft of the story looks way different than the first, but I typically find that the story’s trajectory is more or less what I had in mind when I started it.
When you’re writing something longer, like a novella, a novel or a screenplay, I think some kind of outline or blueprint is helpful. It’s kind of a like a North Star. It’s there for you in case you lose your way.
7. How do you deal with rejections?
My friend/teacher Ted Thompson once told me that submitting a story is like courtship. You send it on dates with editors, and most editors won’t want it. An editor has to fall in love with your story in order to publish it. How many dates do people go on where they don’t fall in love? A lot. So whenever I receive a rejection, I just assume the story wasn’t a perfect fit, and I move on with the hope that another editor will fall in love where the previous editor didn’t.
8. What are your writing goals for the next twelve months?
“The Garden of Eden” is a story from a nearly completed collection of sci-fi / horror stories. I hope to have more of the stories from that collection published. I’m also working on a few stories that don’t have sci-fi / horror elements, and hope to land one or more of those as well. I like bouncing between the two collections, because when I get tired of one style I can dive into the other.
9. For the next five years?
With regard to fiction, my goals are pretty cliche, really. The whole publish stories / publish a book / get an agent kind of aspirations. I might look into getting an MFA at some point. Clarion has also been on my mind a bit.
Looking a little past five years, I hope to one day get involved in screenwriting as well. A lot of very talented fiction writers are writing some spectacular films / TV shows right now. Nick Antosca, Nic Pizzolatto and Tom Perrotta come to mind.
10. Is there anything you’d like to plug? Feel free to share a link.
My friend Brian and I are currently taking submissions for Fablesque, an online collection of original fables. Check us out at http://www.fablesque.com. We pay, and we’re looking for anything and everything that could be considered a fable.