This weeks Author Spotlight focuses on Lee Stoops, fellow Antioch Alum and fellow fiction editor at The Citron Review. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him for some time now, and you’ll recognize his name as my guest blogger for the last few weeks on The Unforgettable Image. It’s a genuine pleasure to feature Lee Stoops.
LS: If I hadn’t gone through puberty, I’m convinced I’d have become a dinosaur. It’s cool, though, because I can pretend to be one with my son, and it’s almost the same thing. My daughter, who has just started walking, loves to follow us around growling. My wife sometimes jumps in, but mostly she just laughs. She’s a terrific audience. When I’m not defending the nest, I work as an electrical engineer and teach creative writing to college students. Of course, I write, too. That’s what it’s all about, right? I still have the books I was writing in grade school. Back then it was science fiction and horror. Today, it’s science fiction and horror thickly veiled as literary fiction.
AG: Why did you decide to become a writer?
LS: What’s the cliché here? I didn’t choose writing, writing chose me? A better question might be: How many times have I decided to become a writer? The most significant time I made the decision was Christmas morning of 2009. I’d been back and forth about pursuing writing, pursuing further education, pursuing teaching writing and making room for it on my list of “real” priorities for years. But that Christmas morning, while everyone else napped following opening presents and gorging on cinnamon rolls and eggnog, my father and I talked about the importance of career modeling for our children. I’d almost died the month before, and we were both in the mindset of mortality and how to make the most of whatever time we actually have. He’ll never regret being self-employed and having been around for my brother and me while we grew up. But, he’s always wondered if his work was what he was meant to do. I’d joined his small engineering firm two years before this particular Christmas, and he could tell I was struggling with the idea of making that a career. He told me that morning he wanted me to do what I wanted to do, not so much so I’d be happier, but so that my children would know it’s important to commit to things that bring you joy and increase your chances of making a difference in the lives of other people. I’m still engineering, but I’m also teaching and writing every day. It’s a path, and I’m committed to it, and my son, now old enough to know he loves stories, loves that I’m a storyteller first. I want him to have the same confidence to go after whatever he wants to love.
AG: What is the one piece of writing advice you wish you’d had at the beginning of your career.
LS: That’s easy. I did an interview with Alan Heathcock a while back. My final question to him was “If you were only able to share one piece of advice with other emerging writers, what would it be?” His answer then is my answer now: “Don’t be afraid to take yourself seriously.” I’m still trying to take this to heart. I’m certain there is no other path to originality.
AG: What are you currently working on? Any special projects?
LS: Mostly short stories right now. I spend a lot of time outside in my stories – and I like to give nature unconventional character roles. I also have half of a draft of a novel about evolution and conspiracy collecting all kinds of notes and anxiety. When I strand myself somewhere in fiction, I’ll turn to essays. I had a lot of fun growing up in the wildernesses of Idaho and the Eastern Sierras of California, so I’m trying to write some of those stories before my children are old enough that I start mixing my stories up with theirs.
AG: What do you have coming out next? What do your fans have to look forward to?
LS: I have stories currently in review with several dozen journals. If those all get rejected, I’ll keep sending them out until they find homes. I have a story about two boys burying a secret in the woods I hope is next to land somewhere. I’m also developing an interview series with my son I hope to host on my website. He’s not quite four, but his insights on imagination and story are unprecedented, unfiltered, and unfouled by the ruination of perspective. In other words, I want to think like he does.
AG: How can my readers find out more about you and your work?
LS: I’m on Twitter (@leestoops), but haven’t figured it out yet, so, they can follow me as I occasionally bumble around over there. I keep my website updated with book reviews, essays, and stories published as well. www.leestoops.com And, Facebook. There are a few of us. I’m not the one with pictures of animals made of sand, but maybe they’d want to be friends with him, too. He’s much more interesting.
Lee Stoops grew up building forts, disappearing into wilderness, and telling stories around campfires. With an MFA from Antioch University, he writes and teaches in the Rocky Mountains of south central Idaho. His work has appeared in Bartleby Snopes, Writer’s Digest, Annotation Nation, The Provo Orem Word, and other places.
I love that he said “how many times did I choose to be a writer?” Often, we have to make that choice each morning we wake up. Most of us still cling to our “day jobs” as a necessity, and it’s easy to not write. It’s easy to be an electrical engineer one day, a writer the next, and vice versa. Each day, we must choose to be a writer, and then stick to that decision.
Great advice from Alan Heathcock: “Never be afraid to take yourself seriously.” How easily do we get discouraged? Often, we don’t take ourselves seriously. We don’t think of ourselves as “writers,” but as whatever our day job is. When we take ourselves seriously, our work benefits.
Fantastic answers, Lee. Thanks for your wisdom on the Unforgettable Image and for your insights offered to us here.
Until next week, may we all imagine like four-year-olds.