By Cait Mylchreest
If you’re looking to craft concise, exciting, and grounded short stories, look no further than the incomparable Jim Gavin, a long-time SoCal resident and author of the new short story collection “Middle Men” (Simon & Schuster). His fiction has also appeared in a variety of well-known publications such as The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Zoetrope, Esquire, Slice, The Mississippi Review, and ZYZZYVA. Check out his 5-week class The Real Story: A Short Story Workshop beginning October 19th or his 1-day Short Story Workshop on October 5th.
We were lucky enough to sit down with Jim to find out more about his writing process and why he thinks short stories are so cool!
1.) When did you first know writing was your passion?
I wasn’t precocious as a reader or a writer. At some point in college I stumbled on a copy of The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon. I took it down from a shelf because I liked the title and the cover. I didn’t know anything about Pynchon, but I stood there in the bookstore for about an hour, mesmerized by the way he captured the particular emptiness of a Sunday afternoon in Southern California. That’s when I started to pursue books on my own and my passion for reading led eventually to writing.
2.) What’s your writing process or routine like? How do you deal with writers’ block?
I wish I could say that I have a solid process and set routine, but it’s never worked like that for me. I write at weird hours, night and day, and I usually get the most work done when I’m short on time. Some weeks I’ll do more in an hour than I have in all the days combined. I don’t wait for inspiration. I sit down every day and play around with sentences, revising, trying to write a new sentence or two, but at the same time, if I’m not feeling it, I don’t force myself to write ten pages that I’m going to end up hating. A little every day is the best I can hope for.
3.) You were born right here in Southern California, so Los Angeles always plays a major role in your stories. What’s it like writing about and transforming your childhood home?
For better or worse one of my goals as a writer is to write about Southern California in such a way that all the locals I knew growing up would say, “Yeah, you got it.” I worked at a gas station for a long time and I spent many hours standing around the pumps with my fellow knuckleheads, telling stories about all the people we knew, and in some ways I’m always trying to capture that kind of voice. Los Angeles is a great place to be a writer and I feel lucky that I live here.
4.) What are some of your favorite books that have influenced your work?
Besides Pynchon, I tend to gravitate towards writers who make me laugh. Not ha ha laughs, but deep profound laughter about what it means to be human. I’m always reading Flannery O’Connor and James Joyce. I’m also inspired by a lot of great stuff that’s coming out right now. Writers like Rachel Kushner, Suzanne Rivecca, Sam Lipsyte, and Ben Fountain are doing amazing things and setting the bar very high.
5.) You just published your first short story collection Middle Men. Why do you feel drawn to short stories as opposed to novels?
There’s a particular chill that goes up my spine when I come to the end of a great short story. You sit down and a half hour later the world feels like it has spun off its axis; you see the world a little differently. Gabriel Garcia Marquez said that a novel can win by TKO, but a short story has to win by knockout. That gut punch is what will always draw me to short stories.
6.) What do you consider to be the most important element for a short story? Can you give us a preview of some of the things you will cover in your class?
Clarity. Clarity. Clarity. Over time I’ve found important this is paramount – if a reader is doing work on the first page, you’ve lost them. You want mystery, not confusion, and in class we will talk a lot about the importance of clarity and immediately establishing voice and authority. We will also talk about texture – writing sentences that appeal to the senses and make the reader see and feel the world you are creating.
Thank you so much for that informative interview, Jim! Catch his classes The Real Story: A Short Story Workshop (5 Week) and The Real Story: A Short Story Workshop (1 Day) this Fall at the Pad.