Interview with writer Stephanie Vanderslice

Writer Stephanie
is sitting under the spotlight today. She’s
chatting with me about her new creative non-fiction, The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life.
Stephanie Vanderslice’s was born in Queens, NY in 1967 and grew up there
and in the suburbs of Albany. Her essays have appeared in Mothers in All But
Name, Knowing Pains: Women on Love, Sex and Work in their 40’s and many others.
In addition to The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life, she has also published Can
Creative Writing Really Be Taught? 10th Anniversary edition (co-edited with
Rebecca Manery) with Bloomsbury. Other books include Rethinking Creative
Writing and Teaching Creative Writing to Undergraduates (with Kelly Ritter).
Professor of Creative Writing and Director of the Arkansas Writer’s MFA
Workshop at the University of Central Arkansas, she also writes novels and has
published creative nonfiction, fiction, and creative criticism in such venues
as Ploughshares Online, Easy Street and others. Her column, The Geek’s Guide to
the Writing Life appears regularly in the Huffington Post. 
tell us about your current release.
The desire to create, to write, to fulfill our artistic dreams is a
powerful human need. Yet the number of people who make a living solely by their
pen is actually quite small. What does that mean for the rest of us, the
self-described writing geeks, who are passionate about writing and who still
want to sustain successful literary lives? What does it really mean to find
time to build a rewarding writing life while pursuing a career, being a partner
or raising a family, in the distracted, time-deprived, 21st-century? In 
The Geek’s Guide
to the Writing Life
, based on her Huffington Post blog
of the same name, Stephanie Vanderslice shares the secrets and tools to
developing a successful, rewarding writing practice in a way that inspires the
reader to persevere through the inevitable lows and even the highs of a
literary life, so that anyone can pursue the path to realizing their artistic
inspired you to write this book?
In 2011, after blogging for about 4 years on my own about
the writing life, I had the opportunity to publish in the Huffington Post. I
conversed with readers directly about issues in my writing life that way, the
instant feedback I got, and decided to expand the column into a whole book.
from The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life:
Chapter 1, Making the Commitment:
“You don’t always choose writing. Sometimes writing
chooses you. Sometimes it grabs you by the lapels, gets in your face, and keeps
you awake at night, assuring you won’t rest until you get your thoughts down,
somehow. Sometimes it just feels like a constant malaise, a low-grade depression,
like you’re forgetting something, leaving something behind, by not writing. Sometimes
it feels like a slow build-up of thoughts and words until it feels as if your
head, or your heart, might burst.”
exciting story are you working on next?
I’m revising the middle novel of a triptych set in
Queens, NY, where I was born and spent a great deal of time growing up. Beautiful, Terrible Things ranges from
1904-2004, following a family’s fortunes from the General Slocum Steamship fire
in New York Harbor in 1904, through World War II, 9/11 and the Indian Ocean
Tsunami, and then it’s on to 1970’s-80’s Queens and a young woman making sense
of life, family and love with a closeted gay father during the AIDS crisis in
the yet-untitled last book. I’m also working on another memoir, Dear Madeleine:
Letters to the Daughter I Never Had, about growing up female at the end of the
20th century.
did you first consider yourself a writer?
You know, I’ve never not
considered myself a writer; I’ve written since I was very young. As I write
in the book, I had a teacher in high school, Kevin McCann, who really validated
my writing ambitions and that certainly made me feel like a writer. But I’ve
written compulsively whether I felt anointed as a writer or not. Writing is
just something I have to do; it’s how I make sense of the world.
Do you
write full-time? If so, what’s your work day like? If not, what do you do other
than write and how do you find time to write?
I don’t write full-time, which is a challenge, but I am
fortunate in that my other job is teaching creative writing in college, so that
when I’m not writing I’m at least thinking and talking about it. If you do it
right, teaching college writing is still time consuming, though, like any other
full-time job, so I am always working to fit my writing in. I try to find an
hour or two a day during the week, before I go to work, sometimes more if I am
working at home that day. I work a great deal on the weekends and at night to
keep up with my teaching and writing. And I write solidly through the summers.
I also have a family, so it’s a constant struggle for balance. Fortunately, my
husband is also a writer, so we’re always trying to balance together. I write
about finding that balance a great deal in the book, about what works for me.
would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I don’t know that it’s that unusual, but I have to have
coffee or some kind of warm drink when I’m writing. It’s non-negotiable, a
ritual. It helps if I have my dogs around; they’re quiet and unconditionally
accepting and cuddly. I write more and more exclusively on the computer—typing
is actually a very tactile experience for me and puts me in the zone. I just
got a manual keyboard for Christmas (thanks, Mom!) I am so excited about.
Before I moved to typing, I wrote exclusively with a ballpoint pen. I hate
writing in pencil—hate, hate, hate it, and don’t like felt tip much better. I
need to feel my words glide across the page. Stone paper is my new favorite
thing for that—have you ever written on stone paper? It’s amazing, the texture—but
it’s super-expensive. A stone paper journal starts at $12-13, so I’m not going
to lay in a stock of that any time soon, but one journal, maybe. Writing on it
is like nothing you’ve ever felt.
As a
child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve always written but I didn’t think writing was
something people did as a job when I was very young. First, I wanted to be a
paleontologist—I was obsessed with dinosaurs, rocks, and fossils, not unlike a
lot of kids. I dreamed of finding a fossil in my backyard—(when I moved to
Arkansas years later and discovered masses of actual fossils on the Buffalo River, I thought I was in heaven).
Then I became obsessed with dolphins and I wanted to be an oceanographer like
Jacques Cousteau—I had this beautiful book my parents had given me about
Cousteau and his ship, the Calypso that I loved to page through. I can still
visualize the illustrations and photos. Somewhere after that, as a pre-teen, I
figured out that books, which I had always loved, really were written by actual
people—at that point I never looked back. I knew that whatever I did, I would
always write and that the more closely I could align my day job to writing, the
additional you want to share with the readers?
If you want to write, there’s nothing stopping you. You
don’t have to wait for permission. Just begin!
you for joining me today!

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