S.H. Mansouri is a former biologist and writer of all things fiction. You can find more of his work at Acidic Fiction, The Manor House Show, The Dead Oaks Podcast and Cirsova Magazine.
1. What is the best piece of advice you have for new writers?
Read a lot. Read fiction and non-fiction and blogs and anything that gets your mind churning. Don’t let ideas linger in your mind, write them down. Make your writing personal. I have a tendency to remove my own voice and experiences from my stories, and that’s fine sometimes. The stories that take a piece of you—that drain you in some way—will make you grow. Don’t hold on to broken stories. Allow yourself the freedom to write shitty sometimes.
2. Are there any writing resources, such as books or websites, you’d like to recommend?
Chuck Wendig’s blog Terrible Minds is a great resource. Writer’s Digest and the I Should Be Writing podcast are helpful for craft. The Ditch Diggers podcast is good for understanding writing as a career. For short works try Tobias Buckell’s Nascence. Nancy Kress has a book called Beginnings, Middles and Ends that’s helpful. Dreamsongs by George R.R. Martin is great for writers concentrating on short stories; it’s a map of progression from amateur to dirty pro. You can find a ton of resources on audio via podcasts for practically every niche of writing.
3. If you could go back and find yourself five years ago, what advice would you give yourself?
Don’t be so damned afraid to write what you want. Stop trying to please everyone and please yourself. Become obsessed with building the life you want. Don’t feel obligated to live a life that someone else feels you should live.
4. How do you measure success when it comes to your writing?
I think it depends on your goals and why you write. If you don’t care about getting paid or making a living, success can be getting published and having your stuff out there for anyone to read. For me, success is measured in how much I feel my writing has grown and if it makes readers feel something at the end of the day. Success is clearly telling a story so that readers see and understand your intentions, ideas, and conflicts.
5. Are you an outliner or discovery writer? Or somewhere in between?
A bit of both. I would like to say I’m an outliner because it can make things much easier. But most of the time I just get a small glimpse of a story and run with it until I see an ending in sight. Short pieces are easier to write by the pants, but longer stuff can suffer from a lack of planning.
6. How do you deal with rejections?
If I’m getting rejected for the same mistakes over and over again, I put the piece away and dissect it until I can improve it later on. If it’s a piece I really believe in but can’t find a home for, I’ll just send it out until it sells. Most rejections come from the fact that magazines have an audience which is established. They know what their readers want, and your piece just might not fit. The rejections with really good feedback hurt the most. I’d rather have form rejections than ‘oh, so close,’ rejections. Just move on and keep writing more stuff.
7. Do you ever get criticism from family or friends who don’t understand your passion?
I’m sure my family wants me to be happy in whatever I do, but I’m not sure they had writing fiction in mind. People will always criticize you for doing what you love. That’s not your problem. Most times it has to do with the fact that they never did what they wanted to do, and that bleeds into their notion of what you should be doing. My support is pretty solid. At the end of the day, my biggest critic is myself.
8. In your opinion, how important is a writing degree or MFA when it comes to achieving success in writing fiction?
Not very. I’d love to have the tools that an MFA affords, but it’s not completely necessary. I just have to flail about more and learn from what I read. The one thing that’s great about MFAs is workshopping and critiquing.
9. What book(s) are you reading right now?
Finishing up Dreamsongs. Reading Christine by Stephen King and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. I really need to buckle down and read for a good week or two straight.
10. Is there anything you’d like to plug? Feel free to share a link.
I have two stories in Cirsova magazine issues #2 and #4 for fans of the old pulp, sword and planet genres. I have a new story in the cyberpunk magazine L0w L1f3 (low life). All of my stories and progress I tweet about @ShawnMansouri, and write about on my blog, Carved in Sand, at shmansouriblog.wordpress.com.
Thank you for your time.