Thursday, June 24, 2010


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After earning a law degree from Georgetown University, Mark Wisniewski decided that he preferred writing fiction to practicing law. He attended the University of Massachusetts' MFA program at Amherst, then, with the help of two creative-writing fellowships, went on to the University of California, Davis, where he received a master's degree. A former teacher and magazine editor at New York Stories, he is presently a full-time writer and book doctor in Lake Peekskill, N.Y. Wisniewski has published more than 100 stories in the top literary magazines in the country. His fiction is often comic and quirky, yet with an undergirding of dead seriousness, taking up such themes as romantic love, trust, and the question of moral principle vs. moral degradation.


Credits: Mark Wisniewski is the author of Confessions of a Polish Used Car Salesman, All Weekend With the Lights On and Writing & Revising Your Fiction. His fiction has appeared in The Antioch Review, The Southern Review, TriQuarterly, The Best American Short Stories 2008, and many other publications.

Why: I suppose I write to connect--with readers but also with a given story's narrative voice. At times I'm glad I've recorded the kinds of voices that might, in the future, prove rare. For example, those gossipy Polish-American women in Confessions. I'm glad I got them down. Soon there'll be a day when no one on earth talks like that.

Routine: I warm up by writing in a journal, at least one page of whatever comes out. The results can be senseless but can lead to ideas. Then I drink coffee and write on the PC on the desk in my office, with a CD playing. I'm not materialistic about a thing except CDs; they're stacked everywhere. I'll play one, and if it leads to good writing, I'll play it over and over.

I'm kind of a binge writer. If I'm onto a good story, I'll write all day and through the night. A poem of mine, "How to Write a Short Story," ends with me lying on my office floor with chest pains, nauseated and exhausted and passing out, sure I'm dying and all ticked off because the piece on my screen needs one more paragraph. And this has actually happened. But the worst part about binge writing is when you're not doing it. Waiting for good material tests you.

Revision: Having rewritten tens of thousands of pages--remember, I've also revised a ton of fiction as an editor and a book doctor--I find revision fairly easy. I don't mean it's easy to know that I need to rewrite a draft I'm infatuated with. What I'm saying is, once I'm in revision mode, execution is rarely a problem. There's a writer I work with who hates to revise because he thinks revision "isn't creative." I keep telling him he's wrong. Revision is where a story comes alive. You can delete one phrase and change an entire world.

Influences: I was born in 1958, an hour and a half from Oak Park, Ill., which all but guaranteed I'd be influenced by Hemingway. But by the time I began writing fiction, much of the lit world despised Hemingway. And I also loved [Raymond] Carver just as minimalism went out of style. So that all kind of messed with my head. But what it did over time was convince me that the best fiction requires listening, in your imagination, for a lively voice, then letting this voice speak through your prose, then using the Hemingway-Carver tricks to sharpen that voice as you revise.

Vision: I've just gone through two years believing it might be wise to write serious rather than comic fiction. Maybe it happened because my Best American Short Stories piece was pretty darned serious. But immersion in fiction void of punch lines for this long has been hell, emotionally speaking. Too much focus on death, too many characters who can't win, too much close analysis of the horrors you face when you leave the house or answer the phone. I'm beginning to think--again -that laughter may be the healthiest, best response a writer can hope for.

Advice: Be tough on your drafts, but don't ever give up. Let your early drafts sit for as many as six months before you revise, and then be brutal to your drafts before you let editors and fellow writers criticize them, but don't ever, ever give up.

Interview by Jack Smith, author of the award-winning novel Hog to Hog.

Source Citation
Smith, Jack. "Mark Wisniewski." The Writer Aug. 2010: 58. Academic OneFile. Web. 24 June 2010.
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