Common wisdom, usually isn't. But there's an awful lot of talk going around that short stories are the hardest to sell. Only that doesn't make sense. What could be better suited to digital reading? Lots of choices, no long-term commitment. And of course, some of the world's best writers are known for their short stories. And yet, the prejudice in favor of novels continues. So we wanted to know why Frank Tavares chose short stories. (Yes, it's true, he is working on a novel and a first chapter is included in The Man Who Built Boxes.)
Here's what he had to say:
Writing has been a part of my entire professional life. For most of those years the majority of my writing was very specific and not fiction. It was client-based. Advertising. Marketing. Proposals. Academic essays. All things with a very specific goal and audience, and often with a measurable outcome attached.
I did start writing fiction very early. I have fragments of creative prose and poetry in my personal archives going back into my high school years, and earlier. But I didn't pursue an actual "fiction" project until the 90s. I got tired of hearing myself complain about "wanting to be a writer" and challenged myself to just do it. So I started my first novel manuscript. While I was completing those last chapters, I began work on a second novel. As I finished that one, I started a third, then a fourth. None of these were published, but I continued sharpening my skills. Along the line, I began writing short stories to fill in the gaps. Not just the gaps between the longer form projects, but as an escape route from those projects when I felt stuck, or overwhelmed. I've always made sure I've had multiple writing projects going so I could switch back and forth among them.
When I started to publish the shorts, it gave me the affirmation and motivation to persevere. As I continue with my fiction writing, I realize that I'm in a very different place from where I was when I first had the courage to jump off that cliff.
One of my mentors, the late Leo Connellan, former Connecticut State Poet Laureate taught me two very important things. First, believe in my writing. The second thing was, "Writers, Frank. Writers write." I don't manage to write every day, but often when I'm reluctant to drag myself out of bed early in the morning, I repeat it quietly, so as not to disturb my wife.
For me, I've learned over the years, that there's no magic, no muse, only occasional inspiration. The key is to just get your sorry butt out of the sack and do it. Very powerful.
Frank Tavares's book is available on Amazon in paperback and ebook.
Photo: © Frederick Rosenberg/Portofino Sept 13
The Man Who Built Boxes and other stories by Frank Tavares is now available in paperback and ebook on Amazon.The book is also featured on Ask David -- a great place to help get the word out about your book. You can read part of an interview with Frank there. Here is some of the rest of what Frank had to say about writing the stories in the book.
• How did you come up with the title?
The title is from one of the stories where the lead character metaphorically and literally puts himself in a box. It seemed the right one for this collection. All of the stories have aspects of characters boxing themselves in.
The title story actually started with a doodle. I was in a meeting, and caught myself repeating doodles of little three-dimensional boxes with different shapes and complexities. I wondered what it would be like to actually build some of these. What if I idled away time actually creating these little, wooden, smooth boxes with perfect edges, and finishes, and hidden hinges? Well, I didn't have the time or talent to do that, so I created a character who did. And I just followed along.
• Why did you choose this cover?
I struggled to explain to Alan Pranke the designer how I thought these stories related to one another. I don't think I was particularly articulate. And I gave him examples of other covers I was attracted to. I even sent him images from a sculptor who worked in wood creating interesting geometrical shapes. Alan presented me with several designs that came at the theme from different directions. One in particular jumped out at me. And several versions later, it evolved into what became the cover.
• What was the hardest part of writing your book?
When I started on this project, I thought, "Hey, how hard can this be? All of the stories are written, and most have been published." I had no idea how many little decisions would have to be made along the way—starting with which stories to include, which to exclude, the order of the stories, how they flowed from one to another. And that was before we even thought about the title, or the font, or the type of visual breaks that would separate sections of the stories. Even the names of the characters had to be reconsidered. I changed some names from their originals because there were similarities among several of the stories. I realized I was fonder of some names than others. It was a real learning experience.
• Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned most from each of the characters. It's an old saw about characters taking an author to places he or she didn't expect. And it's true. In every single one of these stories I was surprised as it unfolded. Yes, of course, in many cases I knew the arc of the tale—how it began and how it would end. But in many others, I just started and tried to keep up.
That's something I really love about writing fiction. I do not know where my characters will lead me. My personal challenge is to be open enough to follow them and trust my own writing. Leo Connellan, the late Poet Laureate of the State of Connecticut was one of my mentors. Leo often reminded me that I shouldn't let others opinions influence me while a story was unfolding. I should not change something because I thought a reader might find a character too unfriendly, or threatening, or silly. I needed to just write.
That's taken me a long time to master, and I still don't own it—just to write. But when I think of it like that, it rather strips down the process. When I start to overthink a character's motivation or personality I usually get stuck. After the fact, the secret is re-writing. I can smooth the edges, change the details, fix problems. The most important thing I've learned across all of these stories is to try and trust my own writing.
Facing the end of summer will be a little easier this year when you’re caught up in a great book. Bacon Press Books will be releasing our next title, The Man Who Built Boxes and other stories by Frank Tavares, at the end of August. This is a debut collection by an already accomplished story teller.
Advanced review: 'This is a writer you'll want to know . . ."
“Too often, life stuns us with nuances and a mix of emotions that need time and patience to digest. Frank Tavares’ greatest gift is in delivering all of these layers and textures in a single pass, and doing so with a beautiful taste of humor to make it all palatable. The stories contained in The Man Who Built Boxes run the whole gamut from painful to absurd to pure joy and comedy, but they never depart from the complexity of real life. Tavares never betrays what it means to be human in today’s world, nor does he ignore how difficult it is to remain humane in the face of life’s trials. This is a writer you’ll want to know, writing a life you’ll be happy you’ve lived in for a while.” Jack B. Bedell, author of Bone-Hollow, True: New & Selected Poems and Director of Louisiana Literature Press
Book credits: edited by Lorraine Fico-White, Magnifico Manuscripts; cover design by Alan M. Pranke, AMP13 Graphic Design; interior lay-out by Lorie De Worken, Mind the Margins.
Look for it on Amazon. You’ll be so caught up in the cast of unusual characters, you won’t even notice when the temperatures drop and the leaves start to turn.
It's all about voice
An author's voice is what makes characters come alive. Makes dialogue ring true. It's the sounds and rhythms that draw you, the reader, in and it's the pacing and phrasing that keep you reading. It's details and diction.Hard enough in a novel that runs several hundred pages-- even harder in a collection of short stories where each story demands its own voice. Some call it style, but the trick is to make the style seem so natural, each story couldn't have been written any other way.
What's that got to do with our next title? Frank Tavares has been called "The Most Heard Voice" in Public Radio because for years, NPR listeners have heard Frank Tavares dozens of times each day. He's the "Support for NPR" guy. He knows how to use his resonant voice to reel off a list of funders and make it sound easy. Natural.
The Man Who Built Boxes and other stories by Frank Tavares is being published this week. You'll have a chance to see how wonderfully well Frank uses his author's voice in the 12 stories and one chapter of a novel.
Until then you can listen to an interview with Frank about his announcer's voice.
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