Monday, October 22, 2018

TBR: How to Sit by Tyrese Coleman

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 

Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

How to Sit is a collection of essays and stories meant to represent a memoir or memory based writing. It is meant to confuse the line between fiction and nonfiction, while examining elements of my life and identity.

Which piece did you most enjoy writing? Why? And, which piece gave you the most trouble, and why?

I really enjoyed writing “Thoughts on My DNA Results.” It’s my favorite piece in the collection because it is the one I had the most fun writing. I embraced my speaking voice and syntax completely. I went outside my comfort zone with structure, even including footnotes. I kind of just threw up my hands and decided I was going to go for something I felt was completely new and different. It’s the first time I ever explored speculative essay writing. This is where I am speculating on possible facts based on the information in front of me. For an essay on ancestry from someone whose ancestors were slaves, really the only thing you can do is speculate. And I had a lot of fun thinking about all the different stories my ancestors could’ve been a part of.

“How to Mourn” was the most difficult to write. It is was the most technically difficult because I wanted to play with point of view. Ultimately, it’s a craft essay wrapped up in the story about my grandmother’s death told in first person, but through third person. It’s complicated to say the least, but deceptively not hard to read and that took a lot of work. But, it is also one of my favorites and the essay that received a notable in Best American Essays.

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

Well…I think the highs and lows for me came in trying to conceptualize what this book would be and look like. Early on, I had this thought that I wanted to a chapbook that was flash creative nonfiction novella. That changed when I wasn’t getting any traction or bites. I was speaking to my friends Donald Quist and LaKiesha Carr and they asked me why I was so married to the idea of a chapbook and if I had enough pieces for a full length collection. They were the ones who encouraged me to go back to the drawing board, put the fiction and the nonfiction together and see what happens. This all coincides with learning about other collections that combine fiction and nonfiction. I had no idea that that could be a thing. After that, I submitted to a few open calls with independent presses because I knew that something genre-less with no defined bookstore shelf would be interesting to agents or big publishers. Luckily, I found Mason Jar.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Actually, something you told me, Leslie*, which was to write the stories that scare you the most. I really took this advice to heart when drafting the pieces in this collection. But, my question for you is, when those stories see the light of day, are we allowed to hide?

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

Almost all of these pieces started off as memoir, or an attempt to write about a real life situation that happened to me. What surprised me were those instances where I realized that the way this happened in real life is pretty boring. I was surprised by those moments where I felt I needed to jazz it up and turn it into fiction because you always think that your life is much more interesting than it really is. And maybe at that time, that moment is full of emotion and tension, but later on when you are trying to reenact it on the page, its dull and “so what.” I wasn’t expecting that to happen as often as it did.

How do you approach revision?

I am a slow writer. I have no idea how people churn out think pieces or write so quickly about the news. 800 words can take me a month to write. This is because I edit as I go along. I revise what I’ve written before every time I pick up a piece of writing I’ve started. It is hard for me to do a quick and dirty draft. So, when I revise, my hope is that the piece is as close to what I want it to be as possible. That isn’t always the case. When I need to do a heavy revision, sometimes I start off by rewriting the entire piece. It helps to find holes or problems I did not see before.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book?

Nope. However, if you want to bring ME some food, I will eat it. I am more of a heater-upper than chef.



READ AN EXCERPT, “How to Sit”:

*Blushing! And always pleased to see former students leap forward so beautifully, sparked by something I have said.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.