Michal C. Keith, is associate professor emeritus at Boston College. Known for his work in radio studies, he received several awards, among them the Lifetime Achievement Award in Scholarship from the Broadcast Education Association and the Frank Stanton Fellowship from the International Radio Television Association. Prior to entering academe he was a radio broadcaster. He has received critical praise for his memoir, The Next Better Place (Algonquin Books), and for his short story fiction. His work has been translated into many languages. www.michaelckeith.com
WELCOME TO MY BLOG, MICHAEL, AND THANKS FOR TAKING TIME TO ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS:
How do you come up with book titles?
They just seem to pop into my head. Sometimes I retrieve them from something I’m reading or something someone says. Titles pretty much drive my writing.
As people learned about your book, what unexpected things happened along the way?
Nothing really. People were curious about the title, speaking of titles. It, too, like most, just manifested. Can’t recall anything prompting it.
Who are your literary influences or inspiration?
Oh lord, that’s a tough one. I think everyone I ever read fed into my writing persona in some way. Richard Brautigan was an early influence. Then Kurt Vonnegut. Before them, Hemingway and Bradbury. Maybe Joyce, too, but don’t ask me how.
What have people most liked or found most meaningful/funny/creative/ challenging about your book Quiet Geography?
My somewhat unconventional (deranged) take on the world, informed, as it is, by ironic off-kilter humor.
Why do you write?
It is who I am. From a very early age I was playing with story writing. That said, it wasn’t until I was 60 that I shifted from writing non-fiction to fiction. It began with my memoir (The Next Better Place) and a YA novel, and from there it was short stories, literally by the hundreds.
As a result of publishing your book, what have you learned about yourself and/or the writing process?
You have to have a passion for publishing because it isn’t an easy road. If the idea of having a book with your name on it is your all-consuming desire, then you have what you need starting out of the gate. Next you need to have the so-called goods—creative imagination and writing skill/ability. The former you either have or you don’t. The latter can be developed.
Tell an anecdote about an interaction between you and one of your more articulate fans.
Since I principally write micro-fiction, I’m sometimes asked, why don’t you write a novel, as if the genre I’m working in is a lesser literary art form. It is not, of course, but there’s so much emphasis on the novel, that it’s the coin of the realm for most of the reading public.
Were there overt negative reactions to the book? Did they contain grains of truth? What was your response to those reactions then and now?
Some readers find my pieces on the cryptic side. I encourage them to read a piece a couple times confident they’ll encounter its essential message. Some don’t, of course. As long as I’m confident my pieces relate, I’m okay with a reader’s uncertainty. We all come across writing that confounds us. There’s value in that. Not everything should be perfectly clear or accessible. Mystery should exist. Too many writers tell readers what they should understand.
Where do your characters come from?
Everywhere and thin air. They find me and I find them.
At what moment did you decide you were a writer?
I still question whether I am. But I had the urge to create at a very early age. I began as an academic writer and switched lanes with my memoir nearly 20 years ago. Tony Early says a memoir is half memory and half imagination, so it proved a good bridge to pure fiction writing for me. Borges said whatever passes through memory is fiction. Truth in that.
What does your writing space look like?… like do you have a crazy mess of a desk full of notes and post its? Or is it a quaint chair at a coffee shop?
The former. It seems to get messier as the years pass. Maybe it’s because I get messier as the years pass.
What genres do you work in?
Micro-fiction. Also called prose/poetry.
How do you start a novel/story?
Often with a title. It contains the essence of the story.
What feeds your process? Can you listen to music and write or not… can you write late at night or are you a morning person… when the spark happens, do you run for the pen or the screen or do you just hope it is still there tomorrow?
When the spark happens, I write. Get it down immediately. Doesn’t matter what time it is, but I’m at my desk very early.
Where do your ideas come from for stories/books?
Life and other fictions.
How much time do you spend writing each day?
Varies, from days without writing to constantly writing.
What’s the hardest part of writing or publishing?
The hardest part about writing is finding a publisher. The hardest part of publishing is promoting/marketing a title. Most small presses don’t do it because of time and budgetary constraints.
When did you first write a story? What was it about?
When I was 10 years old. It was a story about a cowboy who wins the day. My mother saved it and showed it to me decades later. It was a paragraph long. Guess I was destined from a very early age to write micro-fiction.