Hey Authors, today we will feature an author and professor of fiction and American Literature. Come hear his tips!
SP: Thanks for joining us! Please tell us about yourself.
My name is Jim Schaap, although you’ll find me at Amazon under James Calvin Schaap. I mark my genesis as a writer from reading a novelist from the region where I lived then (and still do) named Frederick Manfred. When I read a novel of his (he’s an acquired taste, believe me), I thought it would be a joy to be able to write stories, because he made it clear that I didn’t have to be from New York or even some kind of literary family or sophisticated tribe. All of that happened when I was a freshman in college.
SP: Can you tell us about your writing?
My first book was a collection of stories I found in local histories, then reshaped into fiction, stories I thought too good to be forgotten. I suppose I’ve always sort of hung around history, even though I’ve never been a historian or taught history. I’ve written quite a number of books actually, none of which ever made much money.
My second to last book, Up the Hill, a collection of what amount to folk tales, was published ONLY online. My next project is to get that out in a real book. My biography of Diet Eman, Things We Couldn’t Say, was featured a couple of weeks ago in Christianity Today, even though the book was published two decades ago!!! Interesting, and encouraging.
SP: How long have you been teaching creative writing?
I started teaching right after my undergraduate years, taught high school English for four years, got an M.A., and eventually (1985) a Ph.D. When I retired two years ago, I’d taught for 40 years, like the Israelites in the desert. I taught writing and (especially) American literature.
SP: As a creative writing teacher you must have seen a lot of talent. When do you recognize promise in a writer?
Talent is a prerequisite to writing but not as important as industry. I think writing is, for all of us, a matter of finding a voice, finding what separates you from other writers, not what makes you like another. I’ve always admired Sherwood Anderson, for instance, but I really couldn’t write what he does. What I have to believe is that even though I’m not him or any of a hundred of others, my own voice rises out from being the best writer I can be. Flannery 0’Connor famously said, once upon a time, we can choose what we write about, but we can’t choose what we write well. I’ve had tons of talented writers, but those who end up writing tend to be those who are most dedicated to what can be a difficult task.
SP: What are some common mistakes young writers make?
I suppose I would like to answer that on two sides of a paradox. First, that they don’t write about what they know—they try to write too much like someone they admire or else about subjects that they know little about. On the other hand, they don’t allow their imagination to work. One can err on the other side of that ledger as well. One of the things I had to learn myself was that basing too much in a novel, for instance, on what actually happened, hurts where your writing can go because the truth can be far too confining. Not writing what you know can be disastrous; writing only what you know is very limiting.
SP: What are you working on now? (can you share a blurb?)
Just now published (right before Christmas) is an odd little collection of meditations on the life of Mother Teresa, Reading Mother Teresa: a Calvinist looks lovingly at the “little bride of Christ.’ Just this moment, just fifteen minutes ago, in fact, I finished the second draft—actually the fourth or fifth draft—of a novel I’m titling “Oh, Child.” Will it go somewhere? I certainly hope so, but publication these days is more and more difficult.
SP: Where can we learn more about you?
A ton of my books are still available on Amazon. You can also find me on my blog: siouxlander.blogspot.com and I teach writing courses for the Glen Writers Group. Check out our classes here: Glen Online Courses
SP: Our resident writer, Nova, enjoyed your fiction course several years back, and vouches for your keen insight for young writers. Can you share some of that writing wisdom with us now?
Probably goes without saying, but if you want to write you have to trust yourself and your voice, have to trust that what you’re saying is worth saying and that someone out there might actually like to read it. It’s a kind of egotism, I guess, although arrogance will get you nowhere, methinks, as a writer. But you have to believe that you have something to say and that you can say it well enough to be communicated. Trust yourself, I guess—wasn’t that Socrates’?
SP: Thank you Dr. James Calvin Schaap!