Michael Credico’s debut short story collection, Heartland Calamitous, was published at possibly the most unfortunate time possible. The book was released in early 2020, and he had a wonderful public reading in San Antonio in connection with the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference… then the pandemic struck.
Michael had to cancel all the public events in celebration of the book, and Zoom hadn’t caught on yet. The book, which was Longlisted for the 2021 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Story Story Collection and the 2021 Story Prize, did not get the fanfare and celebration it so richly deserved.
Even so, this did not deter Michael in any way from continuing his writing, and, he has, in fact, been working on a novel. He mentioned in our conversation that he never wrote as a child or in high school; was not one of those who dreamed of being a writer. His interests leaned more toward “the arts, music, and punk bands.” When he discovered that his artistic talent, in his words, wasn’t “up to snuff,” he started to take an interest in English in college. However, his earlier interests still inform his work as he said that he looks at writing as an art, much like collage or mixed media.
Michael said he didn’t read much as a child as he was more drawn to listening to music, especially jazz since his father was a jazz drummer. As such, his writing influences came much later and included (from middle school to high school) Jack Kerouac, Samuel Beckett, William Gass, John Hawkes, and especially Oscar Wilde. Michael heard Wilde’s story “The Selfish Giant” performed out loud on a Canadian radio station over Christmas one year, and the author’s work would go on to have a huge influence on him.
Michael attributes his affinity for short stories to his developing as a writer when he was older. Discovering his abilities and love of writing during college in an academic setting, he says short stories “can be a very academic form.” Michael shared that his writing doesn’t necessarily start with an idea, but he rather enjoys experimenting “in a collage way” piling “images and descriptions” on top of each other to then make the story into a “whole object.” He admits this process can take a long time but also pleasantly contributes to “how strange the form can be.” His process, he said, “lends itself to imagination and innovation.”
When asked about juggling writing with holding a full-time job at Cleveland Public Library, Michael shared that most writers have to work full-time. However, outside of his daytime job, he tends to write very early, often waking at 5:00 am. That way he can write and then let ideas “gestate and bloom throughout the day.” He described his writing as being “in conversation with life and the world around me.” One of the writers Michael likes to quote to respond to people when they say “I wish I had enough time to write a book” is Amber Sparks who has said that if she can find time to write with a three-year-old then anyone can find the time if they want to. Writers make time to write!
When asked what the most difficult part of the writing process is, Michael mentioned being close to finishing his novel which involved him “scaling up word counts” (a sentiment echoed by Abby Vandiver). Michael had to force himself to scale up from 100 words/day to 1,000 to 2,000 words/day for a full year until it became a habit. He believes in getting the 140,000-word first draft (about 400 pages) out as quickly as possible. In his case, it took about four months, then a couple years to “whittle it down” into a “good, solid object.” “The hardest part is setting down and doing it!” Michael tries not to think about the audience when he’s writing but instead holds himself up to his own high standards. What’s important is if he keeps himself happy. Even so, no matter how satisfied he is when completing the writing, once a work is published and out in the world, one tends to see all the edits one could make and gets disappointed by it! However, you eventually have to let the work live its own life, and the satisfaction returns and you move onto the next work. When asked how he knows when he’s done, Michael said he goes back to Padgett Powell’s thoughts on supportable and insupportable ideas: “I have not ever written a story per se or had that in mind. I’ve sat down and written with a more or less supportable or insupportable idea or thing to say and it ends. When it’s not 200 pages, people want to call it a story. I guess they’re entitled to do that. In my view, if it were a supportable idea, it would have gone 200 pages, and it didn’t.” Michael said that you “take an idea as far as you can take it; you exhaust the idea and move on.”
Michael found, like most writers, that his life didn’t change that much once he was published. One change that writers can experience is the “weird sense of desperation to publish… the urge to get things out… the pressure to submit things anywhere.” Michael shared that he didn’t feel pressure to submit his work but rather pressure to produce: “When writing becomes a part of life, I can’t imagine I won’t write.”
Being most interested in the short story form, Michael shared that several books that he both enjoys and recommends for people who want to read (or write) in that form are the anthologies edited by Ben Marcus — The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories and New American Stories — as well as William Gass’s In the Heart of the Country with its quintessential Midwestern voice.
In talking about National Novel Writing Month, Michael said that writing with other people – or knowing other people are participating – “gives you some bravery.” Michael also graciously shared a list of recommended titles and online resources he uses in his own workshops to inspire brave, aspiring writers during NaNoWriMo or anytime they find that writing has become a part of their own life:
Books on Writing
- Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative – Jane Alison
- The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot – Charles Baxter
- Bringing the Devil to his Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life – Charles Baxter
- Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction – Charles Baxter
- Refuse to Be Done: How to Write and Rewrite a Novel in Three Drafts – Matt Bell (forthcoming, March 2022)
- Essays One – Lydia Davis
- Finding a Form – William H. Gass
- Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need – Blake Snyder
- Steering the Craft : A Twenty-first Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story – Ursula K. Le Guin
- Writer’s Digest Grammar Desk Reference: The Definitive Source for Clear and Correct Writing – Garielle Lutz
- Craft in the Real World – Matthew Salesses
- The Paris Review periodically free Art of Fiction archives: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/redux/
- Catapult’s Don’t Write Alone: https://catapult.co/dont-write-alone
- “The Sentence is a Lonely Place” – Garielle Lutz https://believermag.com/the-sentence-is-a-lonely-place/
- Matt Bell’s Craft Substack: https://mattbell.substack.com/
- Jami Attenberg’s Craft Talk Substack: https://1000wordsofsummer.substack.com/
- “The Gordon Lish Notes” from Tetman Callis: https://www.tetmancallis.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/The-Gordon-Lish-Notes.pdf
- Denis Johnson’s Collected Writing Advice: https://www.openculture.com/2021/02/the-69-pages-of-writing-advice-denis-johnson.html
- “The Cricket Sings with its Knees” by Noy Holland https://electricliterature.com/the-cricket-sings-with-its-knees-on-writing-fiction/
- “That Crafty Feeling” – Zadie Smith https://believermag.com/that-crafty-feeling/