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Q&A with Heather Luby

Thursday, January 21, 2016

As our winter session approaches, we’re posting Q&As with our favorite instructors here at STLWW. If you’ve been considering signing up for The Art of Writing the Very Short Story, but wanted to know more about the instructor, Heather Luby, here’s your chance. Find a cuddly blanket and a hot cup of coffee (Heather would take it black) and settle in for a good read about writing.

When did you start writing? Why do you write fiction? Have you written in other forms, too?

I started writing when I was in elementary school. When I graduated college my family had my first short story, written when I was about nine, bound and gave the book to me as a gift. It was a terrible story, but a wonderful gift! I didn’t start writing seriously until much later in life. I wrote stories and poetry through college and when I was first married. In my twenties I even ventured so far as to send a few things out hoping for publication. News flash—that didn’t happen! Then I didn’t write for years. After I had my first child I decided to take writing more seriously. Serious writing means real work, revision, more revision, and long hours with your butt in the chair. I didn’t start writing seriously until I was in my thirties. I write fiction because I guess I was never able to take myself seriously enough to write non-fiction, at least not anything like creative non-fiction or memoir. I worked as a newspaper reporter in my early twenties and did plenty of reporting, but personal essay writing always felt a bit out of my reach. As if I could hear some little voice saying ‘Now, why on earth would people want to know this about you? Why is your opinion so darn special?’ FYI – my internal voice often sounds a lot like Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies. But in fiction I can take myself seriously. I can write about the horror and beauty of the world, the dark and damaged, the empty and lost, but with a more discerning eyes. For me, I feel like fiction allows me to step out of myself, while still allowing me to pull the threads of personal truths at the same time. Plus, I am a firm believer in the power of fiction to change the world. Fiction can transform the hearts of those who read it and those who write it. As for other forms, I have written for a newspaper, I’ve written angst filled poetry, and I even wrote a screenplay or two in college. I have published a few poems and one essay, but mostly I write fiction. If I write in other forms now, it is just as a way to break out of my routine so I can come back to fiction more energized.

What surprises you about writing? What’s the hardest part?

When I first started writing seriously, everything surprised me! I had this vision in my head that writing was something that sort of possessed people or filled them like the Holy Ghost I heard about in church as a child. A wave of inspiration that would result in furious typing and a perfect first, and only draft. Boy, was I disappointed! I am surprised by how much it feels like exercise, like going to the gym. If I don’t do it every day (or at least more days than not in my week) then getting back to work becomes harder and harder. Making excuses becomes easier and easier. And the longer I’m away from the work, the more I feel like my writing muscles (and by muscles I mean my nerve and dedication) seem to atrophy. The hardest part is simply convincing myself that writing or being a writer is a job. There is nothing special about it that makes it immune to the reality that it requires real, actual work. Writing is a job. One I believe the world needs just as much as custodians and doctors and baristas, but a job nonetheless. Jobs require you to show up, whether you feel like it or not. Jobs require you to put in the hours. You are allowed to complain about your job and hate your job at times and that doesn’t mean you should quit. Jobs can also be pretty damn great too, because they feed you (literally and in the case of writing, also metaphorically). The best way I can sum it up is with a quote about writing from one of my favorite authors, Cheryl Strayed. “Writing is hard for every last one of us—straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.” Yes!

What work are you most proud of and why?

I’m most proud of my first novel, Laws of Motion¸ because I finished it. Not because it is the best thing I will ever write (it won’t be), or because it is the work that helped secure me an agent, though that was a definite perk! But because I didn’t quit, even when it was really hard. It took me 18 months to write and revise, not counting the revisions I did after I accepted agent representation. Ultimately, my agent didn’t sell it, but the work and time it represents is irrefutable proof that no matter what happens with my career, I AM a writer. I’m not really sure I ever believed that before I finished that book. I had an M.F.A., I had published a few short pieces, but nothing made it feel real until that novel was truly finished.

What are you working on now?

I am editing a thriller novel during the day, but my real baby right now is a new novel of my own. This one is set in the Ozark Mountains and told from the third-person POV of a female character. This is really hard work for me, as almost everything I have written or published has been from the POV of a male character, usually first person. Right now I have a few dead bodies, a love triangle, a small town with plenty of good old fashioned gossip and suspicions, and a really hard drinking, angry kind of female protagonist. A reluctant hero, to say the least. I’m having fun with it.

If you could give only one piece of advice to new writers, what would it be?

You are going to fail. You are going to fail way more than you will succeed and that does not, will not, ever mean you are a failure as writer. Rejection is inevitable. Accepting this truth won’t get easier, either. Sometimes you will find an audience for your work, sometimes you won’t, and both are okay. Sometimes the end goal of whatever you are writing will be found in what you learned during the process of writing it, not in publication. That is okay too. Just don’t forget that writing is a job. When you fail, take a break, have a little pity party, send your friends angst filled emails or texts, but then get back to work. In the immortal words of David Bowie: “There is no progress without failure.”