Straight Talk on Writing: 20 Conversations with Authors about the Craft

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Peter Seigin

“We writers make lots of
noise about how tough our
business is, but it’s no
harder, really, than being a
nurse’s aid or running a
successful restaurant or
fruit stand. Anyone who
sets out to do anything well
and with integrity is in for a
struggle.”

Peter Selgin is the author of Drowning Lessons (the Flannery O’Connor Awardwinning story collection), Life Goes to the Movies (a novel), and Confessions of a Left-Handed Man (a memoir in essays). His work has appeared in dozens of publications, including Ploughshares and Best American Essays. He is also the author of By Cunning & Craft: Sound Advice and Practical Wisdom for Fiction Writers, and 179 Ways to Save a Novel: Matters of Vital Concern to Fiction Writers.

I had the pleasure of working as the editor for Selgin’s wonderful 179 Ways to Save a Novel—a book that is much more than a collection of ideas for troubleshooting your work in progress (though it has plenty of practical writing advice for fixing your book). Save a Novel doubles as a thoughtful examination of the writing life—not just the writing, but the reading habits and the thought processes of aspiring novelists. Filled withl79 meditations that delve into “matters of vital concern to fiction writers,” the book is an inspiring read from cover to cover (but also easy to dip in out of for quick advice about specific writing concerns). Put simply, it’s one of the best books I’ve had the pleasure of editing.

During our time working together, Selgin was kind enough to take a few moments out of his busy writing and teaching schedule to answer a few questions about the writing life.

—SF


When did you first know
you wanted to be a writer?

I like telling this story. I was in art school at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. As a painter I had great facility, but no depth and not much to say. One day my studio instructor, Professor Blaustein, accused me of being an “artistic illiterate.” Dejected, I returned to my dorm room and switched on my little portable black & white TV to Richard Burton’s face filling the screen, saying something about bergin, “bergin and water.” It was a monologue from the film, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, based on Edward Albee’s play. I watched, mesmerized. The performance was of course very good, but the words were what captured me. The next day I found those same words in print in the Pratt Library. It struck

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