Jerry Gabriel is NILA's newest addition to the fiction faculty. He'll be with us through the semester and teaching at our residency in August. We asked him to answer our five questions for guest faculty. Here are his answers!
1. What's your favorite thing about teaching writers?
I got into teaching because I found that it sparked my own writing in a multitude of ways. It’s just as selfish as that. It helps me to think about how stories are put together, where character comes from, how to both explode and control dialogue. The list is practically infinite. It’s fun for me to think and talk about how a piece of writing works. I also get a lot out of hearing my students’ perspectives and observations on a story, and in seeing how they address particular problems on the page. I wouldn’t presume to have the answer to any particular problem, and so it’s a very rich experience, this dialogue with students about possible ways forward. It’s also, incidentally, a really good way of reminding yourself of the many reasons why the act of writing matters, because you’re surrounded by people who care about it as you do.
2. How would you suggest students approach a writer, agent, or editor they admire?
I think the only way to approach successful professionals is as a peer (as opposed to a supplicant, which is, I think, how one feels early on). By “a peer,” I don’t mean to swagger grandiosely, but to comport yourself as someone who is serious about this endeavor. That’s all. Whether or not the person sees you that way is neither here nor there on some level. More often than not, they will—and will treat you accordingly—because I think the majority of people who walk in the writing world are in it because they care about good writing and they see themselves as members of the greater writing community, and it’s just good manners within that community to treat others with respect.
3. How about a sneak peek of what we can expect to learn from you in your sessions at Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA?
A piece of writing can be understood as a series of problems—that at least is how I see it at various points in my process. How do I reveal this character’s motivation without undercutting her (or my) credibility as the storyteller? How do I find my way to the story I want to tell (in spite of my worst impulses to prattle on about something else)? How do I have a conversation between four characters at once in a crowded room? In my craft talks, I’m interested in engaging in a dialogue about whatever the question at hand is (this August, those questions involve killing characters, over-plotting, and types of dialogue). Again, I don’t presume to have all the answers, but these are things I have identified as “problems” in my own writings—issues I return to, and think about regularly. I want to have a frank conversation about each of them, touching on what I have observed along the way, and hopefully shedding some light on approaches to those problems.
4. Tell us what "literary community" means to you.
I sort of touched on this above, but I think that when you write, you’re essentially committing yourself to being part of a set of communities, the largest being All Writers, the smallest perhaps being those in your writing group, say, or even the loose coalition you form with the other writers in your town; I would say there are many kinds of literary communities that exist between these poles. The internet has of course complicated this notion, too. But these communities, like all communities, are ways for us to connect with each other, to help each other in the ways we can, to learn from each other. Participation in a literary community involves acts large and small; suffice it to say that you have a set of responsibilities, and though no one’s time is infinite, if you can help someone—by reading a story for them, say, and giving them feedback—that’s something you do. You will find others doing the same for you.
5. When not teaching or working at your "day job," you can be found...
My family and I spend a great deal of time outdoors, hiking, swimming, playing. I have three small children—a five year-old and two-year-old twins—and so life is busy, but rich, and everyone likes to explore the natural world, and also, we’ve found, it’s not so loud outside and it’s a good place to get out the ya-yas. We’re going to go camping for the first time with twins this summer—something that has been missing as we have been adjusting the last few years.
BONUS QUESTION: The MFA residency includes a FREE POLAR BEAR PLUNGE in which we all jump into the lovely, refreshing waters of the Puget Sound. On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most likely, how likely are you to participate?
I would say I’m a solid 3 on this question.