What drew you to write in your genre?
From earliest time (childhood), I wanted to be a journalist and did so. Then, each genre beckoned when it became the one—after experimenting—that I determined would best tell the story I had in mind—narrative nonfiction, poem, nonfiction essay or article, short story, historical fiction or allegory.
What other genre would you like to write in?
Presently, I’m pursuing two that are new for me in fiction: mainstream/suspense and an allegory.
What are your most influential books/favorite authors?
Oh, there’s a raft of those. Starting off and continuing over decades, Gay Talese. A journalist his book, The Kingdom and the Power, made me say (as a recent college “J” grad), “I want to write like him…applying story craft to journalism. Then, another journalist, Willie Morrow—on his stints at the Texas Observer, the New Yorker, what we’d call now a Narrative Nonfiction Memoir (North Toward Home) and then perhaps my favorite of his literary fiction, TAPS—still occupies a niche in the bookshelf of favorites and most influential. Along came a novelist who hooked me into the genre of historical fiction as a reader and a writer, John Jakes with his bicentennial series, starting with The Bastard, continuing through California and Charleston. Ivan Doig is such a master of description, he drew me with both memoir, This House of Sky and historical fiction with his Montana series, particularly Mountain Time. David McCullough enchants with his factual stories of American people and places, particularly Truman and John Adams. Another historical fiction writer I grew to love and admire is James Alexander Thom, particularly his Native American stories, Panther in the Sky foremost.
My newest/latest favorite? Unquestionably it’s Peter Heller, first with The Painter and just out and even richer, Celine, masterful storytelling in a mash-up of mystery and literary.
What do you think makes a story memorable?
For me, it’s the characters –in detail--and their worlds. Bold and complex enough to encourage confidence yet struggles; flawed enough and with challenging worlds to worry how they will make it. I do enjoy interesting characters that offer variety of experiences and emotions much as I enjoy interesting people and their multiples of experiences.
What do you think is essential in a classroom?
Respect. Teacher for student; students for each other; students for teacher. That circular approach, like stories, produces a strengthened learning situation. Perhaps first, but not alone. Enthusiasm and curiosity for teacher and students. Enthusiasm for the craft of writing, for the story ideas that bring together a cluster of writers, and then the curiosity that draws out a willingness to learn, to explore, to break out of old forms and embrace new ones.
What did you learn from your favorite and/or best teacher?
That if I didn’t write my best I was cheating myself in the world of literature; to not take “no” for an answer at any stage. And then, to write a “biography” of the main character (Fact or Fictional) before attempting to write the story, in order to get to know them, to get inside their heads, given their time and place circumstances.
What makes for the most "success" in student
Curiosity and persistence. Curious enough to ask the questions why, what if, etc. and explore what makes people and society tick. Persistent enough to try different story forms and genres to determine what will showcase this particular character, this particular story problem; persistent enough to try new tactics, literary techniques, research, etc., and then, of course, persistent enough to keep submitting despite/because of rejections when we reach the publishing phase of writing.
How did you come to teach at The Writer's Path?
A misdirected phone call back in the “switchboard” days at SMU. I called for the Press and was connected with the forerunner of “The Writer’s Path.” After a chatty and fun exchange, the admin said: “We’ve just lost our nonfiction teacher. Interested?” Never having taught before I demurred at first but she said give it a try…and that was 1997/1998 (thereabouts). I fell in love with teaching what I have learned and been doing throughout the decades of my career.