In this issue, SFWP intern Teresa Staiano interviews author Brad Windhauser, whose story “Hope” was published by SFWP in 2013, and whose novel The Intersection was recently released from Black Rose Writing. Originally from Southern California, Brad lives in Philadelphia. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte and is an Associate Professor (Teaching/Instruction) of writing at Temple University.
SFWP: Your second novel, The Intersection, came out in September. It touches upon many topics, some of which are community and gentrification. Can you tell us about The Intersection, how you got your inspiration to write it, and how its content is relevant in today’s society?
Brad Windhauser: In 2003, I bought a house in a gentrifying neighborhood in Philadelphia—Graduate Hospital, specifically. As a new neighbor, I met a lot of friendly people—many of whom had been living there for decades. They welcomed me with open arms. Some neighbors, however, were less than pleasant. Apparently, they felt my presence, as a white person in a predominantly black neighborhood, was a threat. While driving to the Laundromat one day, I was about to make a right hand turn when a bicyclist blew past me on the right side. Although I didn’t hit him, the near-incident gave me an idea: what would happen if a white driver hit a black bicyclist? What would that do to racial and gentrification tensions in this neighborhood? I started free writing that day.
Part of what attracted me to this idea of a story—and the various characters who populate it—is how relevant it is to so many communities across the country. I wanted to examine this issue from as many points of view as I could. I wasn’t out to tell people how to fix this issue but I did want to provide a clearer picture of the issue in order to generate more conversation about this important topic.
SFWP: Although you are originally from Southern California and went to school in Charlotte, The Intersection and your first novel, Regret, are set in Philadelphia, where you currently live and work. What characteristics about Philadelphia did you take into consideration when choosing the setting for your writing? What does Philadelphia mean to you and how did you incorporate that into this novel?
BW: Before I moved to Philly in 2000 for grad school—I have a Masters in English from Rutgers-Camden—I had never been to the area. After I spent a month backpacking in Europe after college, I developed a hunger for a certain type of city—particularly ones with rich histories and walkable, urban settings. San Diego, though a great town, lacked this. I visited Boston in the late ’90s and finally got a taste of this type of New England city. I was hooked by the energy, by how close everything was. There’s something to be said for building your life in an area that can be managed within a few miles of city blocks. So, I had originally planned to go to school in Boston but I got accepted here in Philly. When I walked up the subway steps into Philly for the first time, I felt that same energy. Philly instantly felt like home—there’s a pride in this city that feels unique. Not to say that other cities don’t have pride (they certainly do); rather, this city has a certain grit as well as welcoming attitude. I’ve always felt that—even if sports fans from other cities will vehemently disagree [smile]. In my work I’ve tried to capture a sense of that spirit. This city has also been very good to me and I would like to think that my work pays tribute to it.
SFWP: Being a writer can be quite unrewarding at times, considering the patience and persistence it takes to get published. How long, in your experience, does it usually take to have a story or novel ready for submission? What are your methods when it comes to editing, rewriting, and rereading your work, and what have you learned from this process? In addition to all of the work it takes to have a finished product, you still have to encounter the chance of your work not getting accepted. How do you overcome the frustration of getting rejected, and what advice would you give another writer experiencing this?
BW: I think this is likely the most difficult question an author faces: when is the work done? Every story is different. I’ve had stories that began with a very clear idea of my characters and what was at the heart of the story—these came together quickly, like a month and a half (my story “Fight or Flight,” published last year in Jonathan, happened this quickly). That’s not the norm for me, though. Usually, I get an idea for a character or a situation for a character to be in, and I don’t know where to go with it. Over the course of a few months, I’ll keep plugging away until I figure out who this person is, what they care about and what tests them, and then, finally the story emerges. This has taken a year, sometimes two. If I read it and I feel like the character grows and the scenes are engaging, it’s ready to submit.
As far as engaging with the process, I have a few methods. If I feel I have a clear enough idea to complete the first draft, I hold off on editing until I’m done. Then, after a week or so, I’ll return to a piece (hopefully with fresh eyes) and begin cutting, moving, and developing the draft. However, if I’m stuck at a scene, I’ll put it away for a week or so and then edit that scene. This fine tuning can sometimes help me see where this should go—what’s really behind that particular gesture that intrigued me in the first place, for example? I’ve found both to work well for me. The Intersection went through several drafts until I figured out how to get everything to come together. With a longer work like a novel, I have to wait longer stretches. If I don’t, I find I’m still editing the work into what I think it should be rather than what it could be. Editing and revising this way has always forced me to focus on the potential in a work, which might be drastically different than my original thoughts on a story. I’ve learned that a work will teach and show you what it’s about—you have to learn to listen.
Rejection is a HUGE part of being a writer—it will happen FAR more often than acceptance. The cliché advice is that you have to develop thick skin. The other side of that is that you have to listen to the rejection—sometimes being turned away means that a work is simply not ready and you need to go back to it—even if you think it’s done. Other times you simply submitted the work to the wrong outlet. Eventually, someone will publish your work. That’s the best thing to remember. Find that outlet by reading what journals publish. Do they publish work like yours? The other advice I would give is to develop patience and keep writing.
SFWP: As a student, I am always being told to read read read. That the more literature I read, the better my writing will become. As a reviewer yourself, how would you say reading submissions effects your writing? Is there any specific style, language, or structure that you have become more or less fond of from reading the work of others? What would you say is the most common error you notice other authors making while you are reading that you try to avoid when writing yourself?
BW: All writers should read—and read broadly, in several different genres as well. More importantly, when you read as a writer you begin to notice technique. When I review, I’m looking for technique. I gravitate—and have the most to say—about story collections and literary novels. These are the types of books I read most often for pleasure—I read about 55 books a year. The only style I really avoid—and I would never review—is a work written in stream of consciousness. As art, this style has its place; as a reader, I find it too difficult to follow, and so I would not be fair to this type of book in a review. Otherwise, I enjoy books that are grounded in the everyday. I like learning about people, especially ones I would not typically encounter in my day-to-day life. Darraj’s A Curious Land: Stories from Home is a good example of this type of book.
As far as common errors, I don’t know how common of an issue this is but from time to time I read a book that feels like it still needed a polish, as if the author didn’t read the work out loud to feel the prose coming out of his or her mouth—you catch a lot of things this way.
SFWP: In addition to your two novels, many published short stories, and your reviews of other novels, you also have two blogs, “The Bible Project Blog,” and “5Writers.” Can you tell us a little about both of those blogs and how blog writing differs from writing short stories and novels? (Which do you prefer? Or do you like them all equally?) What would you say was your main purpose/ goal to achieve for each blog and what have you gotten out of writing them?
BW: Writers began in a conversation with 4 of my grad school friends—we wanted to create a space to talk about writing and also pool our efforts to maximize our exposure as individual writers. The blog form—which I was new to in 2012 when we began the site—did challenge me to be more concise with langue and pay closer attention to structure and hooks at the beginning. Useful tools for any writer. I feel like we’ve built a nice audience through our efforts.
The Bible Blog grew out of a challenge for myself to read the Bible, which I had never done. I also thought this made for a cool idea for a writing (and blog) project. That lasted 2 and a half years, and although I’m not contributing new posts, the project is still live. I found the discipline of posting a certain amount of times each month—and of a certain length—to be good training for writing. Although I was a bit drained by the end [smile]. If nothing else, I got a deeper appreciation for this very important work of literature.
Overall, both blog experiences got me out of my fiction rut and compelled me to flex different writer muscles. My new novel shows the benefits of this, to a degree—I became more concise when the content warranted it.
SFWP: What are your tour plans for The Intersection? And are you currently working on a new project?
BW: Thus far I’m appearing at two different book festivals (in Collingswood and Baltimore), a writer’s conference in Pittsburgh, and hopefully a few readings in the Philly area, as well as DC and New York. I’m starting local—places I can drive—focusing on cities touched by gentrification. This will hopefully give me a good foundation to build on in the Spring when I broaden my target cities for promotion/readings.
Next up: I have a draft of my third novel completed. It’s set in the late ’90s in a San Diego restaurant. I wanted to have a little fun (more than my previous work has reflected) and still provide some commentary on my generation. I hope to get back to the draft in order to figure out what kind of shape it’s in before I proceed. And, as always, I have a number of short stories in various states that need attention.
Many thanks to Brad Windhauser for taking the time to speak with us! You can find out more about him at his website bradwindhauser.com and on Twitter @VirgoWriter. Purchase The Intersection online here.
Teresa Staiano was born and raised in Smithtown, New York, and is presently a junior studying English at SUNY Binghamton. After graduation, she plans to attend graduate school where she will continue to pursue a career in the literature field.