Writing from Experience with T.E. Winningham, Tonight's Poetry Workshop, Poet Laureate on Radio Show
New York writer Thomas Winningham III is a part of Flying Ketchup Press's upcoming anthology, Tales From the Deep. His story, James McClintock was a Rational Man, deals with concepts such as drug addiction, identity, and perception.
I want to start with the story you submitted for Tales From the Deep, James McClintock Was a Rational Man. I'm curious about its inspiration and creative origin. How did you conceive the idea?
It's a story that plays with identity, addiction, the sense of a coherent self. Identity and stable self are things that I'm preoccupied with in a lot of short fiction that I work on. There's this reserved person who wants to be more outgoing, or at least has a love object that he wants to gain the attention of. If you suddenly take a drug and become a person that this love object connects with, what do you do? This comes out of a lot of undergraduate bar nights. Are you more "you" when you're trashed and having a great time? Or are you more "you" the next morning?
I start with titles a lot—in this case, the idea of rationality. I think, "If he has a one night stand with this person he wants to have an actual relationship with, what's the rational response to that?" Those were the things I had in mind. That was pretty much the genesis of it.
You said you deal with the concept of identity in a lot of your works. Is that something that's been a staple of your writing since you began writing seriously?
To be honest, this story is pretty much where I began writing seriously. I wrote this story back in 2012 or 2011, when I was first in graduate school. It hadn't found a home until now, so I'm very happy that it's found that in such a fitting place as Tales from the Deep. This sort of set the stage for those ideas. In our current moment, there are a lot of "Be true to yourself" and "Speak your truth" ideas. In some ways, I'm a little skeptical of that. In the way it plays out in this story, if your "true self" is something people don't like or don't respond to, then maybe you'll want to change that.
Over the years, I've gotten much more interested in community and the social dynamics that allow us to interact with one another in mutually supportive ways. A lot of the short fiction I've written has been done in graduate workshops, and a lot of the time you're limited by page count or the number of characters you can introduce. So you end up with a close-knit group of three or four characters to work with. The way that those small group dynamics play out comes through.
I'm surprised to hear that this was your first serious story.
Well, I was already almost thirty when I went to graduate school. This is not some wunderkind situation. I had already had my share of life experiences by the time I was in graduate school.
How would you say that your writing has expanded and built upon this first work?
It's been a series of modulations of voice. If you go through the stories I've published, you can tell who I was reading at the time. It's been a lot of trying on difference voices and perspectives. At what point does one find their own voice? We so highly value the unique voice, the original. For most of graduate school, I was fortunate enough to be able to take a number of fiction workshops while I was at USC. In those workshops, I was kind of building a novel in story. Before graduate school, I was a firefighter, and I was working on a series of stories based on that experience. That just wasn't working, though—every one was a different voice, and it was just a huge mess. So a lot of my progression has been trying to find a stable voice that I'm comfortable with. Oddly enough, I've been trying to build a stable sense of identity for myself as a writer—what my voice is going to sound like.
Final question, if I could tap into a bit of that aforementioned life experience. Do you have any advice or insights unique to you to offer novice writers?
There are a lot of creative writing majors for undergraduates and things like that. For fiction writers, I would encourage them not to major in creative writing. You can take it as a minor and work on the craft, but for writing fiction, you need something to write about. The number of Russian authors who were physicians is astounding. You always have to have some kind of content to fill your pretty sentences with. I would say to follow your interests. I was fortunate enough between undergraduate and graduate school to become a firefighter and paramedic. It gives you a perspective on people, life and death, and stressful situations that I think is both helpful for others and for myself. It gave me something to say.
That ties in to what you were saying about the James McClintock story being related to your personal experiences in graduate school.
Exactly. If you have one really bad night out at the bar, you can wake up the next day, or a year later, and ask, "How can I take that experience and just make it weirder, or amplify some of the most salient points?" Then, once you get into it, a sentence or paragraph drags you off in one direction and you say, "Okay, now I have to deal with this. How do I take that to its conclusion?" That's how I approach things.
T.E. Winningham holds a PhD in literature from the University of Southern California and a BA from the University of Iowa. He has been a finalist for the PRISM International Fiction Prize, and his work has appeared in Fourth Genre, Prick of the Spindle, Anamesa, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Syracuse, NY.
This Tuesday at 6:30 Central online is Y.U.R. Interesting, a Narrative Poetry Workshop
Have you ever wondered how to make a narrative poem and tell your own story in a way that is interesting to yourself and others?
You’re not alone. Most of us poets feel this way. Often we wonder how to make our poetry catch the eye of an editor, or make it seem more magical or more down to earth? Sometimes we are blocked or feel the work isn't interesting enough.
So what really works? We’re going to make it easy and light. We’re going to streamline it, make it workable. In this 90-minute poetry prompt workshop, you will learn three news prompts and encouraging concepts to bright and enliven narrative poetry such as dreamscape, aperture, and magical realism. Even better, we will use poems you bring to the workshop, so you don't have to wonder how the ideas apply to your own work.
Hosted by Polly Alice McCann, this class is fun for beginner and long time poets alike!
The online workshop begins this Tuesday at 6:30 Central. Tickets are $25.
POLLY ALICE MCCANN’s lyrical poetry paints a picture of the narratives of the internal heartland. Poet, curator, artist, editor, speaker. She is a writing professor, founder, and managing editor of Flying Ketchup Press. With a B.A. in Studio Art, and her MFAC in Writing from Hamline University, Polly shows her art internationally. She has been published in US newspapers and magazines, most recently Rattle Magazine. Find Polly’s art at www.thatpollygirl.com She credits much of her creative work due to her research on dreams which won her the 2014 Ernest Hartmann award from Berkeley, CA. She says her favorite thing is to tell stories-- other people's, her own-- maybe yours. Find out more at pollymccann.com
Here for a live interview, new 2021 Poet Laureate of Missouri MaryFrances Wagner with Flying Ketchup Press's Polly Alice McCann will share her perspective on poetry and the regional writing community.
Maryfrances Wagner is Missouri’s sixth Poet Laureate. The program exists to foster the reading and writing of poetry, through public appearances, readings, workshops, and digital and social media. Wagner has published nine collections of her poetry, most recently “The Immigrants’ New Camera” (2018). Other books include “Salvatore’s Daughter,” “Light Subtracts Itself,” “Dioramas,” “Pouf,” “The Silence of Red Glass,” and “Red Silk,” which won the 2000 Thorpe Menn Literary Excellence Award. Her poems have also appeared in dozens of magazines and anthologies. She has co-edited several poetry anthologies and the New Letters Review of Books. In 2020, Ms. Wagner was named the Individual Artist honoree for our Missouri Arts Awards, the state’s highest honor in the arts.
Flying Ketchup Press ® founded in 2018 to champion new and diverse voices in short fiction and poetry. We publish books, anthologies, podcasts, magazines, and contemporary media. Each year, Flying Ketchup Press produces collections of short stories and poetry by select authors, as well as an anthology dedicated to adult and teen readers. Our dream, to share worlds of wonder and delight.
Ketchupedia is an outreach of Flying Ketchup Press ® began in 2020 a