March 1, 2011KR Conversations

Theodore Wheeler

Theodore Wheeler’s fiction has appeared in Best New American Voices, Boulevard, and Flatmancrooked, among other journals. He recently served a residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and is a senior fiction reader for Prairie Schooner. He blogs at The Uninitiated.  His story  “How to Die Young in a Nebraska Winter” is featured in the Spring ’11 issue of KR.

KR: What’s one book, contemporary or otherwise, that you wish you had written?
TW: Junot Diaz’ The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is one that’s probably on many people’s lists from the last couple years. The way he writes about bodies is just great, plus the language, how he works in citations seamlessly, the stuff about comics. All of it is awesome. I was jealous the whole time reading that book. The same thing with The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon and Netherland by Joseph O’Neill, to sneak a couple more fantastic contemporary novels in there.

KR: Have classroom experiences (as a teacher, as a student) figured largely in your development as a writer?
TW: I’m not a teacher, but bringing creative work to the classroom was a very important experience for me as a student. Those people were my first real audience, and to get feedback from them was a necessarily humbling experience. A lot of beginning writers seem to have the idea that they will be able to trick the people who read their work, but the workshop can help debunk this erroneous notion. It’s a good thing to know that there are smart, engaged readers out there in the world. Gimmicks and tricks won’t work, but good writing will. In these ways, classmates can help show you where to focus your energy, and what kinds of expectations readers bring to a story.

KR: What advice would you give yourself five years ago?
TW: For a variety of reasons, I was pretty concerned with putting up barriers between my life as a writer and my life in general. I didn’t think it was really possible to be a successful writer while doing things like getting married, or raising kids, or having a full-time job. I held on to the idea that it was one life or the other, which just isn’t true. My advice, then, would be to not worry about it so much. Live your life and make the best of what happens. With a wife and a daughter and a job, I still manage to fit in 2-4 hours of writing most every day. It takes a lot of discipline and hard work, but it’s worth it. My writing has allowed me to do a lot of cool things, like publishing and traveling to different parts of the continent, but I doubt these things would have as much meaning if I didn’t have my family to share them with. Even more than that, my work is informed so much by my experiences as a husband, father, and reporter, that I can’t imagine what my fiction would look like without them.

KR: Of all the things you could be doing, why do you write?
TW: I’ve spent a lot of time finding the path of least resistance, especially early in life, figuring out how to get the most gain from the least work. Yet, in writing, I’m drawn to the hard work parts of it. I don’t want to make it any easier; I want to reach a story’s potential on its own terms. This seems meaningful. If you love tackling the minutia of any job, the things that would bore most people to tears, then it’s probably a good sign that you’re in the right profession.