The annual In Print Festival of First Books at Ball State University includes readings, discussions, and classroom visits with authors who have recently published their first books. The two-day event, which takes place on March 19 and 20, typically includes three emerging authors and an editor or publisher. This year, the authors are Eugene Cross (fiction), Elena Passarello (nonfiction), and Marcus Wicker (poetry). Fulfilling this year’s editor/publisher slot is Sarah M. Wells, editor of Riverteeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative.

In Print also marks the release of The Broken Plate. This year, the editors of The Broken Plate asked the visiting authors to contribute an interview to the issue. TBP’s editors would like to note that they are grateful to Eugene Cross, Elena Passarello, and Marcus Wicker for the opportunity to share their ideas about writing with the readers of TBP. In the weeks leading up to In Print, we will be excerpting these author interviews here on the BSU English Department blog. Continue below to read Eugene Cross‘s interview.

*Photo provided by Eugene Cross

*Photo provided by Eugene Cross

Eugene Cross is the author of Fires of Our Choosing, published by Dzanc Books in 2012. His stories have appeared in Narrative Magazine (which named him one of “20 Best New Writers”), American Short Fiction, Story Quarterly, and TriQuarterly, among other publications. He is the recipient of scholarships from the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He currently lives in Chicago where he teaches in the Fiction Department at Columbia College, Chicago.

The following interview was conducted by Broken Plate 2013 student faculty member Chaylee Brock.

First of all, congratulations on your first book publication. Can you tell me a bit about that process and how it felt to see this collection published?

The process was a long one, but I feel as though that’s the norm for most writers, especially short story writers. I started by submitting the stories individually to different literary journals both in print and online. There was a lot of rejection along the way, but that which does not kill us, right? Eventually, I had what felt like a book, and I started submitting it to various contests. Dzanc awarded me their 2009 Prize for Excellence in Literary Fiction and Community Service and ultimately accepted the book for publication. It was, and continues to be, a really humbling experience.

When did you start writing fiction, and what and/or who helped point you in that direction?

I started writing as a kid. Fiction, poetry, movie ideas: all of it pretty horrendous. I gave it up for a while and didn’t come back to it until I was a sophomore at The University of Pittsburgh and I took an Intro to Creative Writing class. I was really struck for the first time by the power of stories, the way they can make you see the world in a new way, or feel something you hadn’t even anticipated. That was it for me. I was hooked.

Some writers have “rituals” they go through when they set out to write. Is there a specific pattern that you follow when sitting down to write?

My rituals vary, which I suppose doesn’t make them true rituals, but one thing has stayed constant ever since I began writing. I need to be alone and in silence. I wish this wasn’t the case as I’d love to write in coffee shops or at the bar with a cold one in front of me, but I’ve tried it and to little avail. There’s something about solitude and silence that really helps the process for me. I’m easily distracted (my fiancé might suggest that I have a slight case of ADD), and so I try eliminating those distractions up front.

I also like to write at night, listen to music before I begin, and there are even some magical sweatpants and coffee mugs that come into play, but none of those are as important to my process as being alone in a quiet place.

In the story titled “Fires of Our Choosing,” there are brief comedic moments (such as the story of Ear-Dick’s name) that appear within the darker elements of the story. What is the purpose of incorporating lighter moments?

I like to temper the violence of some of these stories with lighter moments, in part, for the contrast. Whether it’s gallows humor or dark comedy or just plain twisted, I like the idea of the two elements, humor and violence, coexisting. It’s often the case in real life, as well.

How much of this book is based on personal experiences? Are any of the characters based on people you know?

I would say that much of the book comes from real life experiences and people I know. However, most of those events and characters are just starting points and none of the stories in the book are accurate renderings of anyone I’ve ever met or anything I’ve ever done. I’ll hear something or meet someone and it’ll just stick with me. By the time it ever gets to the point where it finds its way to the page, the actual person or event has changed so dramatically as to be unrecognizable…I hope.

What did you learn about yourself and/or the writing process while working on Fires of Our Choosing?

I learned just how hard writing can be. I’ve read and/or revised most of the stories in the book hundreds of times…really, and by the actual publication date I was exhausted by some of them. However, I knew that was the only way to really get them right. So much of writing is persistence and hard work as opposed to god-given talent and that was reassuring for me. I don’t know how much innate ability I have, but I know I can work hard.

What advice would you give to young writers?

I would say to not be too hard on yourself, but to keep at it. Sounds simple, but it’s true. The writers I know who really excel are those who find a balance between life and the page.  Experience things and travel and meet people, but also write. Put down your thoughts; don’t get discouraged when it doesn’t come out the way you’d like it to. There’s maturity and revision involved and a great deal of questionable material needs to be written, both before and after you start writing what you consider to be “good” stories. Be passionate about it and read like crazy. It’s the surest way to improve.

– Interview conducted by Chaylee Brock