Please welcome author Mitch James. His short story, “Antigua Rising,” just released at Etopia Press.
Annie: “Antigua Rising” is filled with lush, evocative imagery. Is this something that comes naturally to you when writing, or is it something you consciously weave later to exactly capture the feel/effect you want?
Mitch: Imagery has always been centric to my style, so using it is very natural. However, my use of imagery isn’t as “natural” as it might look in the finished product. I think good imagery incites a reader; it should make them look at something mundane or trite in a fresh and provocative way. I think strong imagery also dictates a mood and relates to the characters driving the plot. Case in point, compare the lurid Faulkneresque imagery of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy or The Orchard Keeper with his latest novel, The Road. The imagery in the first two works is bountiful and more poetic than most poetry. However, there’s not a single word wasted in The Road. The description is like appendageless torsos scattered about. It hits hard. There’s nothing pretty about it. There’s so much missing, but the vitals are still there. With that said, imagery can often miss the point because describing something in a “fresh” way seems most natural when describing it as it is not. Good imagery describes things as they are but not as they tend to be seen. So, in short, using imagery is natural to me, yes. I envision and feel things very keenly, but using imagery well takes some rewriting and a sage readership to say, “No, Mitch, this really misses the mark—a sherbet blanketed sunset in a story were everybody dies a fiery death? It just doesn’t have a place here.”
Annie: You have an MA in Literature from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and you list a research interest in discovering new ways in which creative writing, literature, and composition assist each other in academic settings. Can you expand on this a bit?
Mitch: I could expand on it too much! There’s a lot scholarship on this kind of thing, so to surmise it in a single reply will probably offend more people than it satisfies. Plus, I can’t answer it truthfully because I’m still figuring so much of it out myself, but I can do my best to explain where I’m at with it at this point in time.
At most universities there are strict divisions between these three disciplines. It has more to do with academics than it does with common sense, I think. At the most basic level, whether we’re writing a novel, interpreting a novel in a literature class, or learning how to write about a novel in a composition class, we’re dealing with writing. Writing for me is a social act. We communicate with language; language is broken down into symbols that we pair together to make words; those words represent our understanding of existence as we know it. There would be no literature without the creative works. There would be no creative works without compositional skills. There would be little understanding of the value of writing or how it shapes our culture without the study of what we call literature. Good writing comes from all three disciplines. Each one brings a skill set to the table that can affect, in a positive manner, the processes and understanding of the other two. The university divides these three disciplines at the expense of itself, its students, and our culture.
Annie: Has teaching made you a better writer? Or are the two tasks more compartmentalized?
Mitch: This is a good question, Annie, and I think the answer would vary from person to person. As the prior answer suggests, I don’t believe most teachers find a relationship between their teaching and their writing. Learning is what influences my writing the most. And that’s not just learning from books. I like teaching college students because I learn from them. I learn about them, I learn about myself, I learn about the “cool” culture that I’m aging out of, and, yes, I learn more about writing. Though editors may disagree, I’ve learned more about grammar and mechanics by teaching it than I ever did by taking classes. Now that’s surface level stuff. On a deeper level, I think characters in my work are enriched by my constant interaction with people. People are the rawest resource for writing. Study them. Learn from them. It’s them that you’re attempting to speak to in the end anyway.
Annie: Do you feel technology is changing the way we write, read, and learn about literature?
Mitch: I don’t think anything has changed writing more in the past five-hundred years. We’re definitely on the cusp of a major shift. You know that better than most. Technology’s effects on the teaching of writing and the study of literature is one of the most published on topic in the English discipline right now. Psycholinguists, cognitive linguists, and neurologists all have documented proof that composing on different technological mediums alters the composing process, meaning different things happen in my brain when I write or read on paper as opposed to when I read or write on a laptop. This example is only at a cognitive level. That’s not mentioning how the teaching of literature and writing is changing in the classroom, and how the publishing industry itself is changing. New genres, such as short shorts or flash fiction, are progenies of the difference between Internet reading and paperback reading.
Annie: You also write poetry. Do you have a preference for prose or poetry?
Mitch: The motivation determines the medium for me. When I’m inspired to write, the inspiration or motivation dictates the medium. I know immediately what medium it will take to get my desired effect. Some concepts beg for the poetic form, some for the short fiction, and still others for the distance-run of novel work. I really can’t explain how it adds up, and I’m glad I can’t because then it probably wouldn’t. It’s just something I feel. The preference, basically, is not my decision at all. That sounds a bit obtuse, maybe, or even pretentious, as if there’s a sixth sense I have that can’t be taught. This is just how the multi-genre thing works for me.
Annie: Do you feel the language/precision of images in poetry has influenced your prose style?
Mitch: Absolutely, and I think this question issues a kind of challenge to writers of all forms. Read everything. Don’t pigeonhole yourself into a style or genre where you can’t grow. As I said, writing, on every level, is a social act, at least to me. People’s proclivities and interests change with culture. Good writers are able to adapt. That’s not to suggest that I find my material to be great stuff. It is still young stuff, stuff that has a lot to learn. But because I publish in multiple genres and read every style of writing that I can, I’m bolstering my ability to adapt what I do with the audience and culture I write for. Stephen King is a good example of a writer who has the ability to adopt different styles for the writing task and audience at hand. It has been said he reads over one hundred books a year. There’s no question that he is reading a little bit of everything, for one would exhaust a genre at that pace for all the years King has been writing and reading. The poetry I read affects the fiction I write because writing is a craft no matter the genre. All writing can share a common existence if you adopt a reading style that is also a learning style.
Thanks Mitch! Readers can find more on “Antigua Rising” here: http://www.etopia-press.net/shopping/pgm-more_information.php?id=12&=SID