Terrie Leigh Relf: What types and forms of writing do you do?
Greg Beatty: Fiction, poetry, and nonfiction—a wide range of non-fiction.
The fiction is short stories and children’s books. The short stories are often genre/speculative.
Relf: What is your area of subject matter expertise? How did you discover this niche? What intrigues you about it?
Beatty: I would say I have several areas of subject matter expertise, but only write on two: education and literature.
I have a PhD in English, and sort of stumbled into nonfiction writing. I did some theater reviewing as a way to get more theater experience. I started reviewing books to force myself to publish in areas that might support my scholarship. I love listening to audiobooks as I drive, so I found an outlet to publish reviews of audiobooks and so on.
I have some other areas of subject matter expertise, and would like to write more about them. I used to do massage professionally, and have a strong interest in bodywork and martial arts. For example, I’ve done about ten years of tai chi, about ten of bojutsu, a little this, a little that.
Relf: How do you balance your creative and work time?
Beatty: I don’t.
I wish I did, but I don’t. Work takes too much time.
I can tell you how I try to balance things. I try to do some creative writing daily. I also try to maximize the creative writing process. For example, before I go to bed, I review my current writing project. Sometimes, this results in me dreaming about the work, and even if it doesn’t, it often results in me approaching the work the next day with a greater sense of familiarity, as if my subconscious had been working on it for me.
In general, I’m working on multiple projects at the same time. Some of these are nonfiction projects, which may or may not be as particularly creative. That doesn’t mean they’re bad by the way. Some things are not creative, but are very educational.
As far as my creative work, I usually have at least two short stories going at any time. This is partially in response to a nasty writer’s block from my 20s. If I get stuck on one project, I can always shift to the other one. However, it is also due to ideas simply bubble out of me. I’m always coming up with more ideas than I can write. I always have more creative work than time. Whether I have more creative work that is good, well, that’s another question.
Relf: What tips do you have for other writers and/or editors?
Beatty: Oh geez. Let me start with the easier part of that question. My advice to editors: answer writers. Let me explain what I mean by that. Some editors are extremely scrupulous about responding to work. They respond quickly, clearly, and responsibly. Others are less responsive. I find it extremely frustrating to submit work and simply never hear back from the editor or publisher. I find it even more frustrating to submit work and send follow-up emails or letters and get no answer at all. Form letters are fine – even if they are rejections. I just like to know my work is reaching you.
Now as far as advice for writers . . I guess I do have some.
1. Work in more than one field. This aligns with how I deal with creativity and the possibility of breaks as mentioned above. It is also simply an economic reality. If you can write good nonfiction that makes you money, that’s great. It may also carry you through emotionally and psychologically when you’re not getting poems or stories published.
2. Work where you should be working. That’s not meant to be Zen or evasive. In fact, it takes a great deal of time and effort for some people to figure that out. What I mean by that is work in fields that fit your talents, your interests. I also mean work in fields that have some professional potential for you, related to your ambitions. For poets, that may mean small press journals.
3. People move at different paces. Some people find their genres and disciplines right out of the gate. (We hate those people.) Others take a long time to mature. (We are those people.)
Relf: What are your thoughts on the creative process in general and your creative process in particular? Where do your ideas come from? What inspires and intrigues you?
Beatty: My thoughts on creativity and the creative process have changed over the years. I used to think and feel that the initial creative impulse, that spark, that pulse of excitement, was what mattered. I still enjoy that, of course. However, I now find that far less important than the execution stages of writing. I find revision difficult. Editing, not so much. I can edit my work. I can make it longer or shorter. I can adapt the vocabulary, the tone, the target audience. But major revisions, like changing the plot or excising a character, those are difficult. I include those as part of the creative process, because often those are what bring the initial creative spark into being. They are what transforms a great idea that’s just an idea, into a story or a novel or a series.
Relf: Where have you been published? Upcoming publications? Awards and other accolades?
Beatty: I have published hundreds of stories, poems, articles, and reviews.
I’ve won dozens of minor awards and/or contests. Most recently, I had an odd experience. There’s a local arts organization in my town of Bellingham, Washington. They have a poetry competition every year. Winners don’t get any money, but they get a great deal of recognition. The top 10 poems are printed on metal plaques, which are mounted in front of the public library downtown. Those 10 poems are also illustrated, and the illustrated poems are mounted on city buses for a year. This year, I entered the contest. I was one of the 10 winners. My poem is now in front of the library, my poem is now on buses, and I just signed up to read my poem on public access television. The funniest thing about this story? This is a poem I wrote in my 20s. I liked it very much at the time, but I never published it. No one showed any interest. Now, it’s an award winner. It seems like there might be a lesson in that.
Relf: What are you working on now?
Beatty: I’m working on several things. I’m always working on new short stories. Take that as a given. Recently, some individual stories have grown into series, sequences, or possibly collections. To be more specific, I wrote one story on something, or inspired by something, and then returned to those things later. In the last year, for example, I’ve written four short stories based on light houses. I have half a dozen more planned.
I am also writing children’s books. Children’s picture books, I mean. I am playing with ways of illustrating them myself. That’s hard, by the way. As far as I can tell, I have no visual talent at all. Not in design, not in drawing. So, that will mean either collaborating, or finding other ways to work on things. I’ve started studying paper crafting. My goal is not to learn or enjoy the craft in itself, but to use it to illustrate children’s books. Some great children’s books have been illustrated this way, by the way.
Relf: What challenges have you faced as a writer and/or with a particular project? How did you meet them? What did you learn from these challenges and how did it make you a better writer and/or editor?
Beatty: Well the single greatest challenge I faced as a writer came in my 20s. I was working on a novel, and I got stuck. At that time, I didn’t have a lot of support as a writer. I also didn’t have a lot of psychological or creative tools. The blockage on that novel became a block for writing itself. I gave up creative writing in my 20s. I thought I was done. That’s why I went to graduate school. I could always write nonfiction. Fiction was where my dream was, and it seemed blocked forever.
From that project, I’ve learned several things. I’ve learned to work on multiple projects at once. I learned to focus on shorter projects. I learned to write my way rather than the way I thought I was supposed to write. That sounds a little obscure, I know. Part of that means writing shorter works, but part means paying attention to internal processes. I sometimes know the story and where it’s going when I started. If I don’t, I need to have a sense that I can fix the gaps or holes in it or I don’t get started anymore. It’s just too frustrating to have 250 pages on a book and not know where the other 40 pages in the middle are.
Relf: Are you currently a writing mentor? If so, what are your thoughts on mentoring?
Beatty: I teach writing on the college level, so I am technically a mentor of sorts. However, in a large classroom setting, I am a formal teacher and mentor.
Relf: Who are your favorite characters? How did they come into being, and what do you love – or loathe – about them?
Beatty: Do you mean the favorite characters that I’ve created? Or do you mean the favorite quick characters that I’ve read? If you mean characters I’ve created, my favorite is a sword and sorcery figure named the Mad Milkmaid of Bel Lingum. She takes up stick fighting after losing her daughter to a plague. She leaves her mountain village and comes down into Bel Lingum where the wizards live.
If you main characters that I’ve read, that would be Miles Vorkosigan and Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
Relf: What poetic forms do you write in? What is it that you love about these forms?
Beatty: I guess I am a poet. I say it that way because I don’t have much ambition in that area. Sometimes, things just bubble out. I tend to write free verse and haiku. I would not say I love these forms. They’re just what I can handle.
Relf: Are you currently, or have you ever been, in a writing group? Your thoughts?
Beatty: I am not currently in a writing group. However, at certain points in my development, writing groups were essential. I’m not sure how much I learned from the early writing groups. At that stage, what seemed more important was support. Having someone acknowledge that something I wrote was worth reading was important.
I took some creative writing classes in college. Some of those helped strengthen individual stories. I have a tendency to sink into my own vision, and not realize how something is going to work for readers. The writing groups helped with that.
I learned the most in a group situation from my time at Clarion. This six-week intensive was indeed intense. At least one story a week. We critiqued each other’s work and we built a shared community. That was complicated and perhaps dysfunctional in some ways, but everyone in it could write and some people could write like crazy. And everyone believed in writing. Everyone believed in story.
Relf: I know our readers would love to hear about your networking, marketing, and promotional experiences – including tips.
Beatty: Funny you should ask this. My first thought is ask me again in a year. I say this because I’m just starting to self-publish a number of stories at Amazon.com, and want to re-publish as a number of short stories that I previously published in magazines. I don’t do much promotion right now. If I win an award, I send out announcements. Other than that, I don’t really do much. I do plan a major shift as I start self-publishing and self-republishing my work. It seems essential to get the word out. However, right now, that’s just theory.
Relf: What would you like to see more of in your specific genre? In the publishing field?
Beatty: More money for short works.
More answers for submissions and queries.
Relf: Thank you for creating the time for this interview, Greg – and congratulations on having your poem on a library plaque – and the Bellingham buses et al! Be sure to read his bio below and visit his webpage for more information.
Greg Beatty writes poetry, short stories, children’s books, and a range of nonfiction. He’s published hundreds of works—everything from poems about stars to essays on cooking disasters. His work has won a number of awards and contests, including the 2005 Rhysling Award for speculative poetry. When he’s not writing, he spends time with his wife, walks his dog, and teaches college classes online. For more information on Greg’s writing, visit his website.