C.S. Fuqua’s books include White Trash & Southern ~ Collected Poems ~ Vol. I, Hush, Puppy! A Southern Fried Tale (children’s picture book), Rise Up (short fiction collection), The Native American Flute: Myth, History, Craft, Trust Walk (short fiction collection), The Swing: Poems of Fatherhood, Divorced Dads, and Notes to My Becca, among others. His work has appeared in publications such as Main Street Rag, Pudding, Dark Regions, Iodine, Christian Science Monitor, Cemetery Dance, Bogg, Year’s Best Horror Stories XIX, XX and XXI, Amelia, Slipstream, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, The Writer, and Honolulu Magazine.
1. How long have you been writing and what got you started?
Love of books and stories when I was a kid led to writing in secondary school, writing I’d rather not recall (even if this addled mind could). That initial interest in writing eventually led to a degree in journalism. After college, I worked as a reporter/photographer for newspapers and magazines from 1979 until 1987 when I became a full-time freelance writer. Believe me, there’s a lot of “free” in freelancing.
2. What is the best piece of advice you have for new writers?
I’m hesitant to give advice in the “do this and it’ll work” manner. What has worked for me, however, is persistence. Persistence, more than any other element except a smidgen of ability, has been the key to publication. Had I given up on a piece upon first rejection, nothing would have been published or received praise or awards—for example, “Mama’s Boy” was rejected by more than a dozen publications before being published in a small magazine from which it was subsequently selected for Year’s Best Horror Stories.
3. Are there any writing resources, such as books or websites, you’d like to recommend?
The best writing guide, in my opinion, is the classic gem by William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White, The Elements of Style. It’s my bible.
4. What is your favorite type of fiction and who are your favorite authors?
I like fiction that engages a reader to think. I suspect the majority of published stories in any given time period are selected for their ability to amuse, with most, if not all, elements defined. But I cherish stories that leave the reader occasionally scratching his/her head, pondering, “Just what did that mean?” Of course, a story must first entertain and provide what the reader needs to make conclusions, but every element, every event, every thought or act doesn’t have to be explicitly revealed, shown, or explained. Stories that have meaning beyond the page, provide a lesson or moral, and engage the reader fully as an integral part are the ones that endure the test of time. Writers whose work I greatly admire include Flannery O’Conner, Sylvia Plath, Karl Edward Wagner, Graham Greene, J.D. Salinger, Robert Cormier, Roald Dahl, Ray Bradbury, Anthony Burgess, Rick Kennett, John Irving, Jerzy Kosinski, Walter M. Miller, Jr., William Golding, George R. R. Martin, George Orwell, and Stephen King, but the two writers whose work I hold in highest regard are Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and Raymond Carver. Simply put, the work of Vonnegut and Carver is storytelling at its very best.
5. What tips do you have for finding time to write?
Don’t find time, make time. Self-motivation is as important as—or the key to—persistence. To get published, one must produce something worth publishing, and to do that, one must write and write and write to develop ability. If publication is a true goal, then some other activity can and will take a backseat to writing. Exploit every opportunity. Carry a pocket notebook or one of those newfangled digital devices everyone’s talking about. Use it to make notes and flesh out ideas when sitting in a waiting room, on a bus, in a train, in a car… Ideas have a way of vanishing before the writer can find time in their favorite writing environment, so it’s critical for a writer to have a notebook or digital device close by to jot down ideas before they vanish as quickly as they arrived.
6. Do you prefer to outline a story in advance or write on the fly? Why?
In writing fiction, I do a little of both. When an idea comes, I jot it down to begin a process I call cooking, a period of time during which I contemplate the idea, make notes about how I want the story to go—an outline of sorts, but certainly not a formal outline—and get a general plot in mind, defining where the story will open and how it will be executed. I suppose the true outline to any story I write is the first draft. Nothing in the first draft is sacred. In revision—where the real writing occurs—characters do and act in ways I don’t expect, inevitably changing everything as the story itself takes over.
7. How do you deal with rejections?
When I started out, rejections were, to say the least, discouraging, but they also became inspiring. Of course, a few acceptances made rejections easier to deal with. It’s about attitude, I guess. Rationally, writers know their work isn’t going to be accepted each time it’s submitted. Editorial preferences are as fickle and diverse as the work being submitted. It’s a matter of submitting the right piece to the right editor at the right time. That’s why persistence is so critical. Even so, rejections can anger, depress, or inspire at any point in a writer’s career. During the early 1990s, I submitted a batch of poems to a San Francisco litmag. By then, about 50 literary journals had accepted/published poems of mine, a fact I included in the cover letter. The editor, however, didn’t like my submitted work and assumed that my cover letter, which he returned in my SASE without the submitted poems, was a fabrication—which he emphasized by circling the number of published magazines and writing so hard that the paper tore, “LIE. THIS IS A LIE. YOU LIE.” The rejection was, at first, extremely inflammatory. Then depressing. Then funny and inspiring. All the poems in that batch, by the way, were later published by other magazines. Rejections are what they are, the result of subjective editorial preference. They are not the last word on a writer’s work. A rejection doesn’t make or break a story. It only expresses the opinion of one magazine’s editor (or slush reader). And, bonus, the backs of rejections make great scrap paper for notes, rough drafts, and scribbles.
8. What are your writing goals for the next twelve months?
I’m working on a nonfiction book that should be published by the end of July. Several projects await after that, including another collection of previously published poems, two new fiction projects, a couple of reissues, production of music…quite a bit on the plate.
9. For the next five years?
The two fiction projects mentioned above are primary. One has been cooking for some twenty or more years, and it’s time for the writing to begin. The other is a project with my wife, an idea we’ve been expanding for three years now. Should be a fun project, filled with mayhem, murder, and well-deserved karma for the characters who may or may not be based on friends and foes.
10. Is there anything you’d like to plug? Feel free to share a link.
Wolfshadow, a SF novel cowritten with Robert Edward Graham, is forthcoming from Hollywood-based Hunt Press. Rob’s a good friend who succumbed to cancer in 2009, two days after we completed the first draft of the book we began some twelve years earlier, a sweeping multiverse adventure, based solely on Rob’s ideas. Publication will break what I believe is new ground, with production and release of an accompanying musical soundtrack, the songs representing various characters and scenes in the book.
Please visit http://csfuqua.weebly.com for more information on Wolfshadow and other books, as well as Native American flutes, native flute CDs, and more. If you’re on Twitter, please follow at @CSFuqua, and I will certainly return the favor. If you’re on Facebook, please friend or follow at http://www.facebook.com/C.S.Fuqua.Author and/or http://www.facebook.com/PlayFolkInstruments.
Many thanks to editor/publisher Jason Bougger and to all Theme of Absence readers for your support of and interest in my work.