Q&A with Instructor Manuel Gonzales

This week’s Q&A spotlights Manuel Gonzales, an Austin-based writer who has published stories in Open City Magazine, Fence Magazine, One Story, Esquire, and McSweeney’s Quarterly Review. Click here to register for Manuel’s upcoming WLT class, The Elements of Fiction: Plot, Character, Description, and Dialogue.

What book are you reading right now?

Right now I’m reading Kira Henehan’s novel, Orion You Came and You Took All my Marbles, published last spring by Milkweed Press. It’s a strange, subversive detective novel with a lot of Samuel Beckett and Gary Lutz and Gordon Lish influences to it. In the wings, I’ve got Hit Man by Lawrence Block, Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon, and Lowboy, by John Wray.

When you’re not reading or writing, what do you like to do with your time?

I like to play with my kids, though my youngest is too little to know he’s actually playing. I like to cook and bake. And I like to watch formulaic mystery television shows – Psych, Monk, etc.

What’s your favorite opening line of a book?

“Seven years came and went,” from Jim Harrison’s novel, Warlock, though, to be honest with you, I haven’t read the rest of the book – someone I was working with 13 years ago was reading it, and I picked it up and read the first line and it’s stuck with me ever since.

What life lesson did your last book or project teach you?

My last book – a collection of stories – taught me not to give up on old ideas or stories, and that time and distance spent away from a piece of writing can open up new insights to the work.

What word do you love? What word do you detest?

Last year, I found the word, squishop, in the OED, and it kind of gives me the heebie-jeebies, even though it’s nothing more ominous than a medieval squire who is also a bishop. As for a word that I love, I don’t know that I love one word above the rest of them. I’m pretty fond of the entire English language.

What is a little known fact about yourself?

I used to co-own the Clarksville Pie Company, for which I baked and delivered pies to restaurants all over Austin.

How do you deal with ups and downs of the publishing business?

I try to ignore the publishing business and focus on my work. Having had a number of stories and essays published over the past nine years, I’ve learned that the really great thing about the work is the writing, and that by the time something’s been bought or sold or published, I’ve already moved on to the next writing project, which is where I’m happiest.

How do you balance writing with work and family?

Having just relocated to Austin, after twelve years, and just added a baby to the family and a new job to my resume, it’s been difficult to balance anything lately, much less writing, and so I’ve been writing in the small moments afforded me throughout the day – on whatever semi-clean scrap of paper handy – knowing that soon I’ll have a schedule carved out again when I can toss these scraps into the fire and melt them all together. And when my schedule’s working, I usually find myself writing while everyone else is sleeping – usually very early in the mornings.

What is your writing routine and where do you write?

My general routine is to wake up by 5:15 and be wherever I need to be by 5:30 and begin writing. I like to write outside of the house so that all the obligations of the house aren’t a distraction, and I spend two to three hours a morning at work when possible.

Do you outline or just start writing?

Write, write, write.

Do you have trusted readers you turn to as you write, and if so, who and what stage?

I have a few friends – writers I know from graduate school – and my
agent, all of whom are grand and patient and thoughtful readers. I’m a first-drafter, ready to get the newly finished story or chapter out of my hands as soon as it’s put down on the page, mainly as a way to free myself up to move onto the next thing.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

The summer after my sophomore year of college, on a Saturday morning, I woke up with a story in my head and couldn’t help but sit down and start writing it. It was an awful story, as were the next few I wrote, but I knew, even then I knew, that writing was the thing I wanted to do most.
Cyndi’s Fast Five

1. What are three things in your office/writing space that would surprise someone who popped in?

I don’t have an office or writing space right now, but before moving to Austin, I was living in Paris, Texas, and made the Paris Bakery – owned by a friend of mine – into my writing space, arriving there promptly
at 5:30 every morning. And there, you could find a six gallon Hobarth mixer, a freshly baked tray of the best cinnamon rolls you’ll ever eat, and Kit Lindsay, owner of the Paris Bakery and baker extraordinare.

2. What book first influenced you as a child?

Jane Yolen’s, Dragon’s Blood.

3. What time of day do you write?

Until just recently, early in the mornings, though, lately, whenever I’ve got a spare few minutes and something to write on.

4. If you could have a beer or coffee with a writer living or dead, who would it be and why?

Joseph Mitchell, reporter, most famously, for the New Yorker
Magazine, and, in my opinion, the father of the kind of essay known as the Profile. He was a fascinating writer, full of an esoteric understanding of New York, but, even more importantly, people, how to work his way inside of them, how to turn their lives into epic stories in ten thousand words or so. And also he suffered perhaps the most famous and longest lived bout of writer’s block in history.

5. Beer or coffee?

Beer.

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