clbledsoe200x288CL Bledsoe is the author of two poetry collections, _____(Want/Need) and Anthem. A chapbook, Goodbye to Noise, is available online. A minichap, Texas, was recently published by Mud Luscious Press. A short story collection, Naming the Animals, is forthcoming from Mary Celeste Press. His story, “Leaving the Garden,” was selected as a Notable Story of 2008 for Story South’s Million Writer’s Award. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize 3 times. He is an editor for Ghoti Magazine. He blogs at Murder Your Darlings. Bledsoe has written reviews for The Hollins Critic, The Arkansas Review, American Book Review, The Pedestal Magazine, and elsewhere. You can read CL’s story “Honesty” on Fictionaut.

Q (Meg Pokrass) : As a reader, which writers do you feel closest to?

I feel closest to writers who can see behind the curtain and get at the real tragedies and triumphs of life. Basically, life happens in the living–life isn’t about the vacation to Maui, it’s about sitting at a cubicle for 8 hours a day or trying to catch a moment of peace when the baby’s napping. A good writer can make changing a diaper seem more meaningful and interesting than winning the lottery. Of course, the interesting and meaningful stuff comes from the characters, not the situations. This is why certain stories can have grand political themes, war, adultery, etc., and yet be essentially boring because they lack human interest. This is the problem with many films coming out of Hollywood.

Though setting is less important than character, I am drawn to certain settings and situations. I don’t care about stories of rich people facing inconveniences and overcoming them to again be rich, or stories about 20-somethings and the unfairness of having to get a job, or stories about “New York.” Generally, readability comes from tension. Poverty has a great deal of inherent tension. The struggle to keep ones home, or find a home, and feed oneself and ones family is a lot more interesting to read about to me than who’s fucking whom. I like stories about the single mom working at Wal-Mart, or the guy managing a gas station. These are actually hard stories to find. As for New York, it’s been done. In a similar vein, I hate Southern Writing (with the capital “S”) pretty much for the same reason as I hate New York stories. The bottom line is that they both tend to be lazy. They rely on cultural stereotypes that may have been somewhat accurate in the 50s, but certainly aren’t anymore.

Raymond Carver, of course, was the master of writing short stories about working class characters facing real problems. Amy Hempel, of course. Donald Harington’s novels are brilliant, though he does idealize. He owns it, though.

Nicholson Baker is a great example of a writer who can do a lot with very little. His novels are essentially about almost nothing, plotwise (i.e. going to lunch, or writing an introduction to an anthology) and yet his focus is on human nature. Terry Pratchett would be a good example of the latter. He has created another world with, at times, non-human characters, but they feel and think and react in the most human, recognizable ways. He manages to make an anthropomorphised Death seem human and fallible (he loves kittens…). There are several flash fiction writers I admire, mostly ones I’ve found through editing Ghoti.

At different points, have you had mentors? Do you mentor?

I haven’t really had a mentor. That’s the one thing I really felt I needed, when I was younger, and probably still do. It’s actually one of the reasons I went to grad. school. I’m not really sure why it never happened. I’ve always been very open to suggestions about my writing. I’m also very generous with beer. I just never really developed that relationship with anyone. Maybe I smell bad. In workshops, I would pretty much try anything that was suggested. Not to sound like an ass, but I was usually further along than my classmates, so they couldn’t really mentor me. I was also very serious about writing. I have always worked my ass off, which was not the case with most of my classmates. I did develop close relationships with a handful of writers who were at a similar place as me. In grad. school, what I really found was that the faculty often seemed to treat the students more as competition. I could have really used some advice about writing. What I got was, “This’ll never fly in New York.” Or “If you’re going to send a story out, send it to The New Yorker, because nobody reads anything else” (that was as an undergrad.). I seem to be developing a New York theme here. It’s unintentional.

I don’t think I’ve mentored, though I’ve given lots of advice. Mentoring, to me, means a sustained relationship. I’ve had lots of moments where I’ve mentored, but not long term. I have a couple writer buddies I’m very close with. We share work, ask/offer advice. But we’re equals. I suppose, in a sense, I mentor by publishing Ghoti.

How do you stay creative? What are your tricks to get “unstuck?”

I don’t. I was creative for about 15 minutes in 1987. Unfortunately, I didn’t write anything down, and now it’s gone. Everyone I know is more creative than me. There are squirrels outside my window right now who could write better novels than me, novels about the ghost-scent of acorns in winter, and the smell of squirrel-sex-musk. Hang on, I’m going to write that down.

Whenever I get a decent idea, I write it down. I have probably 20 notebooks full of ideas for stories, novels, songs, screenplays, etc. I’ve been doing that since high school. I go back through them from time to time when I need ideas, though I actually remember most of them. It takes me a long time to really develop an idea for something like a novel. Years. I have to sort of layer it, fold ideas in on other ideas like making a cake batter, until it has enough body to sustain itself. That analogy kind of got away from me…

So, um, stream of consciousness, memory, experience, etc. I stay creative by writing. I write because it’s how I process and how I communicate. If I don’t write, after a certain length of time, I get really depressed and cranky. It’s not something I can control. It’s just something I’ve noticed. Kind of like I’m going through a withdrawal.

Then it’s a question of finding the time to write. I try to set daily goals for myself to force the creativity, but working full-time plus, often, weekends and evenings makes it difficult to produce regularly or at all. Then the question of picking what to write. Refer to need for a mentor above. I just write whatever is on my mind at the time, or whatever seems most doable. Or what I’m asked for. I will take any job offered to me, as a writer. A review that 20 people have passed on? Sure thing. Thanks for the opportunity. An article no one wants? By when do you need it? This really helps me be productive–it gives me deadlines.

As far as actual writing, taking breaks helps. If I’m stuck, I’ll go make some tea or go for a walk. Watching movies doesn’t help, but I do it anyway. I watch a LOT of movies. Going on Facebook or whatever doesn’t help either. During the school year, I wake up around 6 in the morning, write for an hour or so, then go about my day.

I really push myself. I mean, my third book is coming out in a month, and yet I feel like I’m a lazy bum who will never accomplish anything if I don’t write 3000 words today. Even when I do write 3000, I kick myself for it not being 5000.

I read when I can, but see above–it’s difficult to read when you’re reading 3 novels already, that you’re teaching, plus whatever I happen to be reviewing. I review a lot of books. Still, reading helps.

My wife and I try to get out into the world at least once a month. We travel or see a play or do something that isn’t work. All of that feeds the creativity monster.

How has founding/editing the online literary journal Ghoti affected you creatively, if it has?

I founded Ghoti with a group of friends who’ve pretty much all moved on, except Chris Fullerton. We’re the last men standing. Whoop. I wanted to make a journal that published good writing (kind of rare, actually) and that didn’t care about names (also, used to be, kind of rare). Ghoti takes a lot of time and energy. I have very little time, usually. So Ghoti takes time away from my writing. It’s a very thankless job, because even though we might publish 20 people in an issue, we’ve rejected hundreds more. In that sense, it’s a drain. People do sometimes recognize me from Ghoti. It also keeps me reading new work. I’ve discovered a lot of great writing/writers through Ghoti. It helps get me out of my head, so to speak. I don’t know. We’re just kind of back in our corner of the internet, doing our thing. I hope it has helped some people. I hope it continues to do so.

Tell us about your existing collections, and what is new…

I have a short fiction collection coming out in a month or so called Naming the Animals, Mary Celeste Press. I’m excited about it. It has lots of great stories I’ve been working on for a long time. I have a couple poetry collections under my belt, but it will be nice to have some fiction out there.

I have a poetry collection, Riceland, that was sort of picked up, but actually we’re not sure right now, tough economic times, etc. so I’m trying to place it elsewhere. I have a couple other poetry collections I’m trying to place, reworking those. I have a collection of 10-minute plays I’m trying to place. I’m working on a novel tentatively called The Savior about my experiences in a punk band in the 90s in Arkansas. I recently wrapped up a flash fiction series at Troubadour 21. I’m about to start another one. Lots of summer projects. I’d like to write some more short stories. And novels. And poems.

A reading list?

How about what I’ve been reading? This summer, I re-read Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Read it.
Also, Lamb, by Christopher Moore. Meh.
Help! A Bear is Eating Me! by Mykle Hansen. Pretty good.
Ass Goblins of Auschwitz, by Cameron Pierce. Well, the name pretty much says it all.
A Very Bad Wizard: Morality Behind the Curtain. Nine Conversations, by Tamler Sommers. This is a collection of interviews with philosophers. Interesting.
Further Along, Donald Harington’s final novel. Haven’t finished this one yet.
I’m also reading several books I’m reviewing. Soon, I’ll have to start reading the books I’m teaching next year…

The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is an editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and her stories and poems have been published widely. She blogs at

  1. Gloria Mindock

    Hey Cortney-

    This was a great interview! Congratulations!

    Heg Meg, nice job with this interview.

    Take care now-

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