This month we have an interview with published writer, Gint Aras. I met Mister Aras via Facebook, and he gladly volunteered to answer some of my questions.
After reading through this interview, I find that he is down to earth, open minded and philosophical. I found his perspective to be thought provoking, which he shares in the following interview.
Now on to the interview!
Short Bio: Gint Aras (Karolis Gintaras Žukauskas) lives in Oak Park, Illinois with his family. He's a community college instructor, photographer, and has worked as an editor, columnist, interpreter and translator. His prose has appeared in such places as The St. Petersburg Review, Quarterly West, Antique Children, The Good Men Project and others.
- Finding the Moon in Sugar, novel (Infinity, 2009);
- The Fugue, novel (Tortoise Books, 2016)
Current Projects: I’m currently marketing my novel, The Fugue, while working on a book of non-fiction that deals with income inequality and perceptions of ethnic and racial identity.
When did you begin writing?
Before I could. My grandfather told me I used to write him stories long before I knew the alphabet or even had the motor skills to shape letters. I have a vivid memory of sitting on the top stair of the back stairway and “writing” a series of squiggles and lines I called “stories”. I’d bring them to my grandfather and he would “read” them to me. I must be three years old in the memory. I was in grammar school when I knew for certain I wanted to write books —novels— and tell stories. From that time on, there was never anything else that I wanted with as much passion or energy. I still have a 200-page manuscript typed when I was 12 and 13 years old, and I wrote two other manuscripts in high school. Obviously, they’re not fit for public display. But they helped me learn craft and cultivate the necessary patience.
Did you receive any special training or attend a school?
I had a Catholic education. It had its drawbacks, but one strength of that traditional form of schooling was an emphasis on literacy and—at least by comparison to what’s happening in schools today—an effective approach to reading. By that I mean developing historical and cultural context, bringing it to the reading material, and then looking at novels as attempts to affect the reader, even to make it impossible for the reader to think the way s/he used to before reading the book. I did not consider that special training until I started teaching college classes myself, but now I feel enormous gratitude to those teachers. I loved college and got a lot out of it. I was fortunate to have people who taught me to connect the dots, to see how a writer doesn’t study writing to be a writer. A writer studies everything to be a writer, remains mindful of perceptions, learns to listen, to see the interrelations between all subjects, all people. I also have an MFA from Columbia University. I owe so much to that program. It accelerated my development, especially in craft and attention to language, and I learned to trust ideas and judge their value. It really matured me.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I honestly think inspiration is a myth, at best a romantic story. I believe Marcel Proust when he writes, “My destination is no longer a place, rather a new way of seeing.” To gain a story, you need to work at pointing your attention, waking up and seeing. I’m an abuse survivor, and I grew up in an alcoholic community. That experience creates a lot of confusion and doubt. I used to hide in my room and write to escape my reality while I could create a fictitious one where I had complete control. Now I write for a different reason. It’s hard to articulate, but I feel I’m creating characters to express the tragedy we become when we desire control and try to escape. I write to release energy, to share, but also to provoke. I know most people these days want to escape the world we’ve built for ourselves, and they feel trapped because there’s no alternative world, nowhere else to go. Of course, we’re the ones creating it. I’ve learned that my job is to acquire new ways of seeing. So I consume a lot of art. I listen to conversations on the train. I read books written by people outside my culture, outside the languages I speak. I travel. I practice Zen and meditate. When it comes to subject matter or topics, I try to write the thing I would really like to be reading. Words and ideas don’t come in a flash. I also often hear sentences crafting themselves in my mind. I’ll be riding the bus, and I’ll be thinking of an opening line to something,
reworking it in my head. Great writing can happen when all you’re doing is observing what someone else might consider ordinary. So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens. I believe that. It’s more important to say clearly what you see than it is to find inspiration. Another way of saying it: inspiration isn’t lofty. Great writing can be about a common farm tool.
Do you use any special resources when writing? (other books, computer programs, etc)
This is not to undermine the question. I understand it’s about technology, but my process is really decluttered. I have a set of handmade mugs…they were made by pottery students studying at the college where I work. I like to have a cup of strong black coffee and some electronica, trip hop or really flowing classical music playing softly in the background. I like indirect light. I’ll often light incense, and in the winter I’ll have candles. I use paper dictionaries. A lot. I have four different ones in my office at home. They’re old, stained with coffee, dog-eared. I still journal in a bound notebook. And I love using fountain pens.
What is (in your opinion) the most important thing to remember when writing, and why is it so important?
You need to take care of yourself. You need to love and respect yourself, be good to yourself, get exercise, eat well, have good sex, surround yourself with beauty and find some way to support yourself. Writers are fed this narrative that they need to be masochists, endure all this “tough life” crap. People say we need to feel sorry for ourselves because we’ve chosen this writing identity that will never lead to the kinds of riches enjoyed by hedge fund managers or college presidents. If you’re writing, you’re going to be rejected. A lot. I don’t care who you are—rejection takes its toll. It can really get you to stop caring for yourself properly, and then it’ll affect your health. Do something nice for yourself every day.
What is (in your opinion) the most challenging part of writing, and how do you overcome it?
I think the rejection is the hardest. It’s harder to face rejection than the confusion peers have about a writer’s life choices. Rejection is just part of writing, like a mechanic’s greasy hands or a teacher’s anxiety. I don’t know if you overcome it. You either live with it or you stop writing, and you keep writing not because you want to overcome rejection but because you have something to say. In the end, hearing that someone doesn’t want my stories is easier than learning a colleague has been shot, as police do, or to know there’s no cure for someone, as doctors do. Honestly, being a writer is easier than being a teacher, father and husband, and I’m all three. You have to keep things in perspective.
Did you use an agent? (why or why not?)
Not for The Fugue, my most recent novel. The story of how that book got published is long and complicated; people can read about it here if they're interested. I had given up on that book after trying to sell it for years, so I honestly didn’t think any agent wanted it. I have an agent now and I hope to have success with a proposal I’m working on.
Did you use an Editor? If not, what process did you use to edit your work?
The Fugue has had two different publishers in less than four months. Both publishers had their editing process. Everyone needs an editor. You’re not going to be able to clean up your own writing without a second or third set of eyes. And a skilled editor knows the difference between managing a text and polishing it, letting it be itself in the sun. The best ones polish. The worst ones manage. I’m fortunate to have a great editor at Tortoise Books.
How did you get your book published? (self-published, Vanity publishing, Mainstream publisher).
I’m with an indie press, Tortoise Books. They picked up The Fugue after CCLaP (the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography) suffered a setback and let it go. Thankfully, I had been on Tortoise’s radar for a while, and they were able to offer me a deal I’m really happy with. I’m fortunate to have such good people behind me.
Do you handle your own marketing?
I’m very pleased with the staff and resources available at Tortoise. They’re really savvy about marketing. Of course, I do a lot of my own marketing, send out press releases, set up readings, maintain an online presence.
What is your best marketing tip?
Be thankful to the people who are interested in your stuff. Do you have any advice for other writers? Only that it’s important to read a wide variety of books. I think a lot of people end up in echo chambers these days, and you need to take steps to make sure you’re not in one. The best way is to read.
In closing, I would like to thank Gint Aras for taking the time out of his busy schedule to take this interview, his knowledge, experience and insight are truly appreciated. Hoping everyone found it as helpful and informative as I did. I wish him well in his future endeavors.
Until Next time,