Ben Stroud on Writing, Self-Doubt, and Publishing Dreams

Posted on 25 September 2014

Last week, the Bowling Green State University MFA program welcomed Ben Stroud to campus for a Q&A and reading. Stroud is the author of the story collection Byzantium (Graywolf), which won the 2013 Story Prize Spotlight Award and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Bakeless Fiction Prize and was named a Best Book of the Year by the Kansas City Star, Best Summer Book by the Chicago Tribune and Publisher’s Weekly, and a Best Book of the Month by Amazon.  Currently, Stroud is Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Toledo.

Having the chance to sit down for a small, intimate Q&A session – and then head out to dinner to share a meal – with visiting authors is just one of the perks of this MFA program. And I have to say that I particularly identified with many of Stroud’s comments. He was honest and forthright about the writing and publishing process, from acknowledging the pressure we put on our first books to the reality that publication doesn’t make us happier or better people.

♦  First line of Byzantium (from the title story, one of my favorites): “I was born a disappointment.”

♦  What Kyle Minor said about Stroud’s writing: “His stories provide the reader with transport, and not to the vivid and continuous dream prescribed by John Gardner, but rather to the theater of the pleasures of the joltingly unfamiliar, where the previously obscured dark corners of history get the dignity of a brief moment under the hot lights in the hot room where there is no glass or screen to safely separate the audience from the rough actors.”

And now here’s a peek of some of Stroud’s comments from our Q&A:

On the writing process: Things suck until they don’t.

On writing a story collection: It’s a messy process – I didn’t have a master plan.

Advice he received from a teacher about the ups and downs of a writing career: Anything good that happens? You have two days, but then you go back to feeling like a loser.

On doubt: It doesn’t take long for doubt to creep in. As writers, we all face self-doubt.

On first books: If you publish your first book, it might have been your dream, but nothing’s changed. The first book is so fetishized. Before it’s published, you have high hopes…but you’re stuck being the person you are, being human.

On the MFA: Take risks and chances in the MFA. The hardest time for a writer is post-MFA.

On the expectations writers have for their careers: Things don’t happen the way you want them to, but something even better might happen [eventually]. After years, things come together.

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