Saturday, March 6, 2010

Good Rule of Thumb for All Writers: “Always Be Brilliant”

Interview with Stephen Markley, author of Publish This Book

Literary Writers Network (LWN) member and author of Publish This Book—a soon-to-be-released memoir about life and love (and everything in between) and the unending struggle to find your true self in it all—Stephen Markley, shares with us his outlook on writing and offers insights into what it takes to be successful. Stephen came to LWN in 2007, soon after moving to Chicago, where he began writing Publish This Book and passing chapters through the LWN writing group for critique. He eventually obtained representation and landed a book deal before the entire project could be work-shopped, but several members promptly critiqued the remaining chapters (nearly the whole second half of the book) outside of the group to help Stephen prepare his memoir for his publisher.

Anne Unger for LWN: So how does it feel to have your first book published just a few years out of college?

Stephen Markley: There’s really no other word for it except “badass.” I’m well aware that writers work their entire lives to get a book into print, and to have leapt over so many hurdles so quickly really has me on a high. It opens up so many doors that were previously locked.

LWN: Publish This Book is part trendy, part intellectual, do you remember how you came up with the book idea?

SM: Desperation mostly. I really had no idea how I was going to achieve this dream of mine but also knew it was all I wanted, and I would be after it until I dropped dead or went insane. I mostly used Publish This Book as a side project while I worked on other things, but then everything started to fall into place.

LWN: What do you hope to leave your readers with or what do you hope they’ll learn from reading Publish This Book?

SM: I have no idea. I think that’s the great thing about “literature.” It’s not just what the writer puts on the page, but also what the reader brings to it. Already, I’ve heard wildly differing opinions of people’s favorite parts. Mostly, I just want people to enjoy it—to laugh where appropriate and think about the larger stuff when they have time.

LWN: It’s easy (and important) for writers to become absorbed in the story they are writing, living with it, feeding it, tending to it, often making it challenging to nurture and maintain most relationships. How do you find that balance in your life while writing?

SM: My problem is I absolutely care about writing more than anything else in my life, and I do sometimes think that has a negative effect on relationships. I’ve thought about it a lot since I got the book contract, but I really do prioritize writing above everything else. I’m sure that’s going to leave me lonely, cynical and miserable at some point, but for now it’s awesome.

LWN: Are you working on another book-length piece? What can we hope to see next from you?

SM: My goal starting out was to be a fiction writer, and that’s where I’m headed next. What I’m working on right now is really weird and might be a Hindenberg-style disaster of a sophomore effort. But then again, you only live once.

LWN: When and where do you like to write? In other words, do you have a writing schedule or a specific place that inspires you, or can you write anywhere, anytime? Any unusual writing rituals?

SM: I hear writers talk about their rituals, but I’ve never really bought into any of that. It is an anywhere, anytime kind of thing for me. A couple of times when I was driving around out west and sleeping in my car at rest stops, I even wrote then. I do like to write late at night—just stay up until four in morning with my laptop, and that’s how I finished Publish This Book--but my day job has made that a tough thing for the last couple of years.

LWN: Any hard or fast rules you adhere to when writing?

SM: Always be brilliant.

LWN: Do you read your work aloud to get it ready for publication?

SM: No. I probably should, but I have a bunch of roommates who would likely use something like that to denigrate my masculinity.

LWN: What are you reading right now? Do you find that you read more or less while writing?

SM: I read all the time no matter what. The only way you can be a writer is just to read non-stop. I try to keep my reading material as varied as possible, and I have a nerdy little system to keep that chugging along. Right now I’m kind of into theoretical physics, which sounds bizarre but is related to the aforementioned weird project. I went back to read Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time.” It’s a total trip, and it’s possible I’m not understanding any of it.

LWN: What advice can you share with young writers?

SM: This is one of those questions that necessitates a bullshit answer because there really is no magic advice. My situation is so anomalous that there is really no lesson to be drawn. My favorite advice ever comes from Conan O’Brien on the last night he hosted the Tonight Show. He said: Work hard and be kind. I think that’s pretty awesome.

Want to hear more from Stephen?

Be sure to join LWN for a special literary engagement with Stephen Markley on Friday, March 26, 2010, 7-9pm, at The Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. He will read from his newly released memoir Publish This Book, and sign your very own copy following a brief Q&A. The reading is free and copies of the book will be available for purchase.

If you simply cannot wait until March 26th to get your copy and meet Stephen, please join him next Thursday, March 11, for the official release of the book at McFadden’s, 1206 N. State Parkway, Chicago, from 8pm-12am. Stephen will read from his memoir from 8-9pm; an all-you-can-drink special will be offered at $15 per person. To avoid paying a cover charge at the door, mention that you are attending Stephen’s release party. Visit for more details.

If you live out of town, but want to get your hands on the book, you can order it through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.