Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
My name is Richard Weems, and I am the author of three short story collections: Anything He Wants (winner of the Spire Fiction Prize and finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Prize), Stark Raving Blue (a compendium of my Amazon bestselling Cheap Stories ebook series) and most recently From Now On, You’re Back . I also co-wrote the short film Goodnight Death , which premiered at the LA International Film Festival. I live and teach in New Jersey.
What inspires/inspired your creativity?
Robert Lowell once said, “Revision is inspiration.” For me, writing requires a work ethic, so the practice of writing is the secret of creativity.
How do you deal with creative block?
Simply put, writer’s block is a myth. There is always something to write. Sometimes, it’s simply not very good, but if you can form the words ‘I have nothing to write’ in your head, you have just proven yourself wrong. The only thing that stops anyone from having something to write is internal editing. To write, you have to trust yourself to write something awful and hope that you can spot how awful it is before you spend a lot of time revising it, or that you will be able to polish this turd into something wonderful.
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
Not writing it. Working on any book is like walking down a dark hallway. Sometimes, you reach the other end. Other times, you end up at a dead-end and having to go back and try another route entirely. But even the failures are a learning experience.
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
I think the best titles direct us towards the heart of a story, and they are usually simple enough to resonate into different meanings. Looking back on my titles, I noticed how many are three words or less, often just one word. The longer titles are usually absurdist (“The Author Outlines a Letter of Apology to His Twin, Eaten in the Womb”). Titles can provide a context that lets me jump more quickly into the situation of a story without needing more exposition (the opening clause of a story I titled “Reincarnation” reads, “Back when you were a porcupine…”). Or, like Raymond Carver’s short story, “Cathedral,” the title can alert you towards something that will prove significant in the story. Once a cathedral is actually mentioned in the story, our antennae rise, as we now know there is something important enough afoot. Titles that are overly wordy or pedantic often prove less appealing. I have occasionally come across editors who have wanted ‘catchy’ titles, but more often than not I find those misleading or just unnecessary.
As for cover art, I again prefer simplicity. An image that stands out from a story, or relating to a theme in the book as a whole, maybe. I was quite enamored of an image of a coffee can telephone for From Now On, You’re Back . You know, a can with a string laced through a hole at the bottom, presumedly leading to another can. There is no such object in any of the stories in that collection, but I did like the image and how it relates to poor communication. I led me to think about how much my characters in that book suffered from being able to communicate with each other.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
I still appreciate the act of being reviewed in the first place. As I’m not out to write popular fiction, I don’t worry much when people don’t like it. Though I haven’t had a review that I would consider cruel, so I won’t pretend that I would let everything slide off of me. I am sorry when anyone receives reviews that are intended to be cruel and personal, and anyone who writes reviews that are intended to wound people should be banned from any form of posting to such sites. At the same time, I do worry about the constant need for positive reviews and how it leads to a lack of discussion, as it suggests that we can only respect other’s efforts if we say sappy, vapid things we don’t mean. I think we can discuss aesthetics and the differences therein in respectful tones and still reveal our actual opinions.
How has your creation process improved over time?
If anything, I might offer that I’ve gotten better at finding the heart of a story with a bit fewer revisions than in the past. It used to take me many, many, many revisions to even know where a story was going. I think I’ve gotten better and listening to the potential behind my early ideas.
What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?
When I looked at the full manuscript for anything He Wants, I noticed how many times I was using the name Phil. These stories weren’t connected, nor did they share the same characters. I had written them all separately and only put them together into a collection when I had enough published stories to do so. I can see why I used the name Phil so often—so many of my characters were empty holes, looking for ways to fill those voids. But when you have four or five Phil’s and none of them are supposed to be related…
An awful thing I realized with my first book was that people don’t just call you up and offer your readings or appearances when your first book comes out. The publishing company arranged a couple of events, but I just waited for more people to reach out to me. It’s rather shocking to find out how few people care.
One big drag about completing a book is of course the copy editing. Can seem dreary and not worth it, but if you let that step slide, and then you see stupid errors in your book later, you will feel absolutely embarrassed that this product has your name on it. No one is going to care as much as you about that, so take care of those problems when you have the chance to.
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
My biggest goal is always to write stories that I don’t get embarrassed about later. I want them to have an honesty and life that surpasses me. That kind of effort is what I think will then most appeal to readers who will like my kinds of stories. I don’t have a knack for satisfying an audience as my only goal. People who can do that obviously have better sales records than mine.
Do you have any creativity tricks?
I’m not a fan of keeping a regular schedule. But when the ideas and opportunity arise, I am a full advocate of binging. I married a poet, so we both appreciate the need to hole up, away from contact, to plug away when the mood strikes.
What are your plans for future books?
I have some longer, speculative stories that might fit together, though I feel that I want more of them to get published in magazines before I feel confident about them nestling together into a collection. They’re tough sells, though, because they seem too literary for genre magazines and too tainted with genre for literary magazines. There are zombies, flying cars, dopplegangers, etc., but they focus less on plot and more on character. I’ve also been working on flash fiction that address events and propensities of people to commit atrocities on other human beings. Neither are up to full-length collection status, so I keep vacillating between both concepts as I work forward.
Tell us some quirky facts about yourself
I was head bouncer of a nightclub in Margate, New Jersey for two years. For a while, I went from my bouncer job to bartending in Atlantic City from 6am – 2pm. I like to juggle, I love Shostakovich string quartets, and I also love GWAR and saw them live quite a few times before the death of Dave Brockie. Teaching high school is a pure joy.