Earlier in the summer, we celebrated Andrew Scott and the publication of his first book by asking Jared Sexton to interview him about his life as a writer and a teacher at Ball State. Then, we found out that Jared will also soon be publishing his first book and decided to ask Andrew to return the favor. Their interview is below.
1. You often use the first person in your short stories. Is this your first instinct as a fiction writer, to channel stories through a character’s voice?
I really like first person. Since I’ve been reading and writing I’ve always preferred to be closer to my characters, particularly in my short stories. There’s something about the perspective, something about the bias and fallibility of a person that draws me in. Besides, this collection that’s getting ready to come out is full of mostly autobiographical material that kind of warranted the perspective. Though they are not entirely about me, and they are not entirely factual or related, there was a necessity for me to tell these stories in the kind of voice I grew up speaking and hearing. And, in a way, these are stories that serve to speak for a region, or more specifically, Southern Indiana and the Hoosiers who live there. I like second and third person, a lot actually, but I think when choosing which to go with for a story or a novel, it’s important to think about what you’re trying to accomplish.
2. Tell us a little about your forthcoming collection. It will be published next year, is that right?
Yeah, I think so. Either 2012 or 2013, that hasn’t exactly been ironed out yet. Its title is “An End to All Things” and it’s got a little bit of an apocalyptic feel to parts of it, so it would make a ton of sense to market it in the middle of next year’s Armageddon freakout. The content itself is pretty diverse. There’s a smattering of relationship stories, him and her if you will, and there’s a good deal of minimalist, traditional pieces. But there’s definitely a bunch of experimental work in there and commentaries on bigger issues. I think it all comes together though pretty well and makes a decent little romp. One second you’re drinking and the next you’re in a full scale revolution. It’s like a popsicle variety pack, only with more violence.
3. You’ve taught screenwriting for a few years now. How has that shaped your own writing, especially your fiction writing?
The funny thing about screenwriting is that it makes you understand pacing and tension. A lot of films are formulaic and rely on the same old tricks, but when you’re writing those or television shows you have to be constantly aware of your constraints, both in content and time. By studying the arc of films I’ve come a long way in realizing how scenes should play out and what sort of length and attention should be given. And, not to mention, the visual aspect of it is invaluable. If you want to learn how grow images that resonate and are handled properly, you could do a hell of a lot worse than pay attention to a film or two.
4. What piece of advice do you have for your younger self about writing and publishing?
When I was young, at Indiana State to be exact, I was an experimental machine. Looking back on old stories and pieces, I literally have no idea what I was getting at or what I thought I was leading my prospective readers into. I would definitely tell myself to cool it a little bit with the self-aggrandizing prose and giant logical leaps and take better care of those reading my work. I’d get myself to spend more times getting characters from point a to point b and then dealing with the artistry of it than the other way around. It took a long time to learn that and I wished I’d tackled it earlier.
5. What can students expect if they enroll in one of your writing courses?
Honestly, I want them to be serious. I don’t mean they have to live and breathe writing and keep ambitions to someday be a famous writer, but even a person wanting a decent knowledge or experience in a creative writing class should handle themselves appropriately. There are things to learn from creating art, things about yourself and your ability to communicate with others and society as a whole, and taking an introduction class or a fiction workshop or whatever should help in that. Read the work assigned, put your best effort into the production, and care.
6. Name one book you think every fiction writer should be required to read.
I’m going to cheat and name two. As far as craft, John Gardner’s Art of Fiction is an absolute must-read. The prose is arrogant and off-putting at times, but it does a world of good for someone interested in crafting their own voice and style. The rules section alone should be handed out to anyone with any sort of desire to make prose.
The second is a novel, Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show. When I was in grad school my professor Pinckney Benedict told my workshop that that book was a perfect example of a well-constructed narrative that literally anybody could piece together with the right amount of concentration and care. He was right. Just by reading and examining that book a young writer can learn a ton about structure, plot, and character.
7. What’s next for you? Are you working on a novel? A screenplay?
I work on too much, honestly. I’ve spent the summer beating away at a novel, my first one, and I’m tinkering around with a screenplay and a book of nonfiction essays. Mostly I’m focusing on the former and tending to the others whenever the stress gets to be too much or I want a change of scenery. The forms are all different, of course, so sometimes it leads to something of a schizophrenic existence. But the important thing is to keep busy, keep involved, and I think throwing yourself into these things is necessary.