Red Line
James Stark

James Stark lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest which often serves as the backdrop for his stories.  He retired after thirty two years as a university professor of German and Humanities.  After retirement, he studied fiction writing at the University of Washington. Prior to teaching and earning graduate degrees at the University of Washington, he served in the Armed Forces in Vietnam and in various parts of the US.  His stories are fictional, but he writes what he knows. Several writers have influenced his own writing, to include TC Boyle, Tim O’Brien, Alice Monroe and Anton Chekhov.

Meet The Writer - James Stark

Tell us something about James Stark.
I am retired from teaching language and Humanities at university. I spent time in Europe during the Cold War and heard tales of people crossing borders after the erection of the Berlin Wall. I am a Vietnam veteran. I live in the NW corner of the US which serves often as the backdrop to my stories.

When and why did you start writing stories?
I began writing fiction in earnest after retiring from teaching. I took several writing courses and attended writing conferences. I have been composing fiction since childhood and making up stories for my children as a young parent. Serious ambition to produce fiction came only later in life.

How would you describe your writing style?
My style is eclectic. I like to write with a sparseness of expression. I draw inspiration from the likes of R. Carver, TC Boyle, Tim O’Brien, Alice Monroe and Chekhov. There are a few German writers, such as Brecht and Borchert, Boell whose styles I also admire.

What is your favourite time for writing?
Whenever I can break away and grab a block of time.

Where is your favourite location for writing and why?
In my house, with a window to the back garden, in front of my computer on a hard, straight-back chair that provides support for my back.

What other writing do you do – non-fiction, poetry, etc?
In my past life I wrote academic articles, essays, books and presentations. That is completely behind me.

What is your earliest memory of writing a story?
In school, in the early grades as an optional assignment to doing a report on something we were learning about.

Are you someone who plans their writing in detail or do you just launch into an idea and see where it goes?
A bit of both. For longer pieces, it becomes necessary to have a bit of a plan. For short stories and flash fiction, I start it and watch it grow. The truth is in the revision process.

People say you should only write about what you know. What is your view on this?
For writers who have stories pent up in them that must be made to see the light of day, they are writing what they know; as well they should. As Richard Russo says, after a period of apprenticeship and learning the craft, a writer often seeks, indeed needs, to test waters beyond his/her own experience. Obviously historical fiction and fiction requiring much research steps boldly out of the realm of one’s personal knowledge.

Writing can be a lonely occupation or hobby. What is your advice for coping with this?
I think serious writers tend to gravitate to other serious writers. Writing groups are a sine qua non of any serious attempt to write. I also belong to reading/discussion groups which inform and enhance my own writing.

It’s said that in the future everyone will be published but no one will be read. What is your view on this statement?
Published simply means making public. Good writing, from writers who master the craft, will always be read on whatever technical device and by people who understand and appreciate good writing.

How do you cope when your writing is ignored or rejected?
I am puzzled sometimes that what I have written has not been appreciated. I don’t depend on writing for my daily bread, so it’s not as critical to me to be accepted more than I am. When members of my writing group give me a thumbs up, I feel vindicated, even though the material has been ignored or rejected elsewhere. Rejection is frequently an occasion for more revision which produces much better results.

Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you overcome this?
I might block on a scene or how to build up to a scene, but persevering and writing through after a break or taking it to the group helps get over most hurdles.

Do you have a blog or website? For what reasons do you run these?
I have a website because I was told it was necessary by my group. I can refer people to the stories contained at the website. I don’t seem to capitalize on its full potential. Maybe when my collection gets published…

What do your friends and family think of your writing?
Friends and family have various attitudes about my writing. One is expected to travel at retirement, but I prefer to stay and write. That has caused discord at times with my family. They are happy for me when something gets accepted, and often they send it around to their friends. Then again, everybody is a critic: “Why this ending?” “Character wouldn’t do that in real life,” etc.

Who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their writing?
It’s hard to single out one author as a favourite. As I indicated above, I derive inspiration from a number of writers. I like the male voice and a male conflict as in Hemingway. I like a twist in the tale if it’s prepared for as in TC Boyle. I like the setting and place of Alice Monroe. I like a social message, where possible, as per Brecht.

What has been your proudest moment so far with your writing?
One proud moment was when I got it. That is, I had the epiphany that I somehow came closer to understanding the craft of writing fiction. I have read fiction all my life and taught it much of my life. But those activities in no way prepared me for the more active enterprise of creating a story. One way my epiphany manifested itself was another proud moment when my stories were being accepted and occasionally, even praised.

What do you hope to achieve in the future with your writing?
I would like to have my short story collection published. I would also like to finish the coming of age novel in the 1960s I’m working on. The novel form is a new learning enterprise for me, but exciting.

If you had to give one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?

  1. Take writing courses.
  2. Join a writing group.
  3. Attend writing conferences.
  4. Follow your passion. Write every day, but keep a balanced life.
  5. Listen to the stories rolling around in your head and in your ambient environment.