Interview by Jane Ormerod
Thaddeus Rutkowski is great weather for MEDIA's guest prose editor for 2016. Submissions for our next anthology are open October 15th 2015 to January 15th 2016—so send him your best short stories, flash fiction, dramatic monologues, and creative non-fiction.
Thaddeus is the author of the novels Haywire, Tetched, and Roughhouse. All three books were finalists for an Asian American Literary Award, and Haywire won the Members' Choice award given by the Asian American Writers Workshop. His latest flash fiction collection is Violent Outbursts (Spuyten Duyvil, 2015). Thaddeus teaches at Medgar Evers College and the Writer's Voice of the West Side YMCA in New York. He is also the recipient of a fiction fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Website.
JO: Hi Thad! Could you tell us a little about your writing career? How—and why—did you start?
TR: I started doing creative writing when I was a teenager, because it seemed the easiest way to express myself. Other people might find it easier to use music or visual art to say how they feel, but for me writing offered a greater range of tone or nuance. I liked showing my writings to my friends. I could hold their attention with writing.
I was introduced to the writing world through college—undergrad and graduate. But I didn't feel a part of that world until I published my first book, Roughhouse. There was big gap between school and Roughhouse. Maybe I had to find a way to do my work and get it out into the world. This was a matter of self-discipline, and finding people who shared my interests. I did that by living in downtown New York and going to poetry readings, attending writing workshops, reading books.
JO: Your book, Haywire, is made up of forty-nine flash stories. It is surreal, funny, and is also carefully structured with terrific psychological examination of character. How did you come up with this format?
TR: With Haywire, I used the format that I’ve developed over the years. I begin by telling small stories fast, in snapshots or vignettes. I put these flashes together to form longer stories, and I put the longer stories together to form a "novel." This method seems natural or comfortable for me now, though it has no intrinsic value. Alternately, you can construct a novel by writing an outline and following it, for example.
I’m glad you mentioned character. If anything "drives" my books, it is the development of character. There isn’t much plot pulling you forward. But if the thoughts and experiences of the main character strike a chord, make you say, "Yes, I’ve been there" or Yes, I've felt that way," then the writing succeeds. My latest book, Violent Outbursts, is a collection of flashes, too, but these are mostly one-page, self-contained pieces. They don't connect in terms of action, but they are related in tone, and they are arranged in a sequence that (hopefully) builds.
JO: What artistic achievements are you most proud of?
TR: I’m proud that I've written pieces that are effective, that have some significance for readers. When you have a good live reading or get a good response to your work in a review or someone's email message, that is something to be proud of. I'm lucky to have gotten good responses, many from people I respect, over the years.
JO: Who are some of your favorite writers?
TR: I'm trying to read stories by Alice Munro now, but I'm a slow reader. It takes me weeks to read a story. Anyway, there's a simplicity on one level and a complexity on another in Munro's stories, and these different "energies" come to a kind of magical realization by the end.
I'm currently teaching Shakespeare's Hamlet in my World Literature class, and it's a challenging read, for me as well as the students. Sometimes, you have to plow through it, but then you come to these lines that say what's happening so succinctly, so correctly, that you stop and think about it. For example, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Hello! What's up with that?
JO: As great weather for MEDIA's guest prose editor, is there anything you particularly look for in a submission? Anything that puts you off?
TR: I'm looking for a range of work, from flash fictions to longer prose pieces, from experimental to more traditional stories. My tastes go beyond anything I could write myself. I like works that are engaging, provocative, entertaining. I don't like works that are self-indulgent, artless, or pointless.
JO: Being both a writer and an occasional editor/judge, do you have any general tips on how and when to submit work for publication? Any other advice for new writers?
TR: Generally, you should submit your work often. You should have some idea of the publication you are submitting to. Does it accept flash fiction; does it have a word count limit; when is its reading period? You can't submit outside the guidelines.
You should include a cover letter with your submission. Try to give a reason why you're sending to this particular place, and include a brief list of (real) credentials.
Do not submit the same work twice. Editors don't need the "revised" version unless they ask for it.
Do submit a clean, finished version. I tend not to ask for revisions—the work is accepted “as is” or is not accepted. However, I sometimes ask for changes. Wait until the editor asks before you start tinkering with a submitted piece.
Take advantage of the option to submit simultaneously. Many magazines and journals allow you to submit to more than one place at a time. Keep track of your submissions so you can withdraw a piece that is accepted elsewhere
JO: Finally, what’s next for Thaddeus Rutkowski?
TR: There seems to be a lot going on these days. I have a few fairly long trips coming up. I’m going to the Singapore Writers Festival in November—I'm taking my wife and daughter; none of us has been there before. In addition to these faraway readings and panel discussions, I have some local readings, including a book party at KGB in New York City for my new book. I also have another book in the works with a small press. This one will be similar to Haywire in format and theme; it’s scheduled to appear in 2017. And I'll also be reading at KGB on Dec 5 for the great weather for MEDIA event.
Submissions for great weather for MEDIA’s next anthology are open October 15 2015 to January 15 2016