Author Q&A: Andrew Dugas

Andrew O. Dugas’ work has appeared in Unlikely Stories, 100 Word Story, LITnIMAGE, MIXER, Instant City, and elsewhere. His novel SLEEPWALKING IN PARADISE was published in 2014 by Numina Press. He recently snail-mailed 1,001 original hand-inscribed haiku postcards to as many randomly selected recipients, and he still doesn’t know why.

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TBL Author Q&A Series: Andrew Dugas

This is one in a series of brief interviews with a diverse array of writers, editors, and other industry professionals. Check back over the coming months for more!

When did you begin writing? Was there a specific story or poem that really launched your career?

I’ve written my entire life. My mother was a big letter writer and had a typewriter set up on a special table in our kitchen. She seemed to enjoy writing so much and making that clack-clack-clack-ding sound, and I wanted to do it too. I was always writing scenes and sketches and little stories.

As an adult, my first publications were poems in the early 90s. Before then, despite college workshops and an arts residency in Northern California, I rarely submitted work. In the early 2000s my interests turned away from poetry and toward fiction. I had some pressing ideas for novels but found that, after almost twenty years of poetry, my fiction chops had grown rusty. I set about writing short stories to get back into shape. This time I submitted more deliberately and acceptances came quickly.

My personal favorite was a longish story called Permanent Record that was picked up by Unlikely Stories, and ultimately caught the attention of several bloggers.

It has since been widely bootlegged and is easy to find online.

You’ve written short stories, poetry, and a novel. Your flash story “Profile” is only 100 words, but your novel Sleepwalking in Paradise is approx. 268 pages. How do you balance the different styles/genres specifically? Is there one form that you prefer to write in or that you find easier to write?

Writing short-form work, be it haiku, micro, or flash fiction, provides an immediate dopamine rush of satisfaction. Sometimes I sit down with Nothing and emerge an hour or two later with Something. How can that not feel extremely good?

Long form work like a novel or even a lengthy short story is another animal altogether. Anything that requires numerous sessions over an extended period of time to achieve fruition satisfies on a much deeper level, but such an effort can be sustained only by the most intense level of obsession. At least for me.

In terms of balance, every form has its season, its right moment. While one field lies fallow, I plow and plant in another. After decades of poetry, I wrote short stories to whip my fiction chops into shape. Then I spent almost three years working on nothing but the early drafts of Sleepwalking in Paradise. With that done, I needed something to fill the creative void, so I turned to haiku, and eventually found my way back to short stories, including flash. And every now and again, a poem pops out.

You’ve been published in a number of literary journals. What was the publication process like? How did you choose which ones to submit to?

Publishing a journal is almost always a labor of love, and thus requires a certain kind of passion, even madness. When you submit to a journal, you are in a sense inviting the editor to dance with you, to enter into a relationship, however fleeting.

It’s very straightforward. Research the markets and send out the kind of work you think fits. Remember the dance metaphor: if the editors clearly prefer the lindy hop, don’t invite them to waltz.

And when you find a journal you like, keep sending them work even if they keep rejecting you. Unlikely Stories, helmed by the mad and passionate Jonathan Penton, does great work, and has published (and rejected) both my fiction and poetry. I always send them work that I think fits.

On occasion, it happens backwards. In 2007, I read an early, very San Francisco-centric chapter from Sleepwalking in Paradise at a Literary Death Match. Afterward, Gravity Goldberg, the editor of Instant City (a “literary exploration of San Francisco”), approached me and invited me to submit. Eventually a chapter from the novel made its way into Instant City #7. Gravity has been a big supporter of the novel, and we’ve since become good friends.

Submission is hard work. The research can be grueling. Keep at it. It’s not a numbers game, but if you don’t submit, you won’t get published. I’m no saint in this regard and often succumb to resistance.

Tell us about your 1,001 Haiku Postcards project. What one thing did you learn the most from the project? Do you think you’ll ever do it, or something similar, again?

This was one of the best projects I ever took on. My original purpose was to take my daily haiku practice (started in 2009) to a new level. If I’m mailing the haiku to someone, it had better be good, right? The project quickly expanded to include a posed photo of the postcard. I had little holders and sometimes I would ask someone to pose with the haiku.

If I learned one thing, it is that people love to receive mail. Not email. Not a tweet. Not a Facebook like. But something physical, something unexpected poking out like a surprise among the junk mail and grocery store fliers. Mail someone a haiku, and they will love you forever. And in some disembodied way, you love them too.

I mailed the first card on March 1, 2012 and the last one on November 27, 2014. I miss the project terribly.

 

You write an immense amount of haiku. Do you write poetry in other forms? What is it about the haiku that most intrigues you?

At first, coming off a big project, I was attracted to the haiku less as a form than as a daily practice, a way to keep my hand in the creative pot. In 2009, a writer friend tweeted a haiku a day to celebrate National Poetry Month, and I thought, at last, here is something I can do on Twitter. I quickly found out I was lousy at haiku, but after several hundred attempts and much study, I began to get lucky.

I do write other poetry but only when inspiration strikes. Some ideas lend themselves more to poetry than prose. I tend to let such poems collect over time, then go over them en masse before submitting (or not).

I like to play with formal poetry, especially the villanelle, but those are mostly just for exercise. Which is my way of saying they are not very good.

You’re a two-year veteran of the Creative Writing Workshop at Cornell University. How has this impacted your writing? What would you tell someone who was debating whether or not to participate in a writing workshop?

The Creative Writing Workshop was a summer program. A small group, we met every day and had to produce constantly. The pressure was wonderful and intense. I felt completely out of my league, but the others accepted me as a peer, which I took as a great honor. That may have been the first time I felt comfortable identifying as a writer without feeling self-conscious. The second year, Robert Morgan led the workshop; his personal encouragement still resonates with me thirty-plus years later.

As far as advising a writer considering a workshop, I say it depends on the workshop. Does it focus on craft? What are the leaders’ credentials? Being a successful author does not automatically make someone a good writing teacher, and sometimes the best teachers have never published a single book. Find out from writers who have attended previous sessions or otherwise worked with the workshop leaders.

Is there a specific theme or topic that inspires you or that you often write about? How has this evolved throughout your writing career?

My novels lean toward examining the psychological intersection between our human and spiritual identities. I thought about Sleepwalking in Paradise for about seven years and made a lot of false starts before really digging in, but I’d been mulling over the ideas behind the story and even specific narrative elements since college.

Most of my short fiction is darker and tends to build around the disconnect between the true self (who you really are) and the persona (the mask you present to the world).

Someone’s better nature coming out in a moment of crisis makes for a good story. But the failure of someone to rise to that same challenge can make for a better one.

My themes have not evolved so much as they have narrowed or been refined. I’m more aware of what I’m after as I’m working on something, whereas before it was unconscious and accidental.

Are you a full-time author or do you have a “day job”? How has this impacted your writing?

I wish! No, I have a day job. I spent my first decade after college as a vagabond poet, working odd jobs, living in out-of-the-way places, and writing the whole time. When my son reached school age, we had to settle down, so I sought reliable and gainful employment. For almost twenty years now, I’ve been writing professionally in high tech.

The impact on my writing has been transformative. I spend my days among real people going through real life, and feel like I have learned to write to that reality. It’s been great for material. I couldn’t have written my novel without it.

Also, being a writing professional, as it were, has taught me project management skills and instilled in me discipline that I might have never acquired otherwise.

You’ve had incredible success getting published. What’s next? Another novel, haiku, 100-word story?

I have many projects in different stages of execution. I’m working on a series of short stories about a paper boy in 1970s suburbia, two of which have already been published. I’m about ten thousand words into a period novel set in Ancient Judea. For the last five years, I’ve been working on a deeply personal novel that I orbit like a comet, coming back to work on it intensely with renewed insight, until gravity pulls me away again. I produce two to three pieces of micro or flash fiction per week, the best of which I am collecting for a potential mail project similar to the haiku postcard.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Assuming you are already writing daily and reading constantly…

Bring something to the table. Give people a reason to read your work and to be glad they did. That might mean being funny. That might mean being vulnerable. Whatever it means for you, whatever your unique offering might be, find it and bring it.

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