Charles Baxter was born in Minneapolis and graduated from Macalester College, in Saint Paul. After completing graduate work in English at the State University of New York at Buffalo, he taught for several years at Wayne State University in Detroit. In 1989, he moved to the Department of English at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor and its MFA program. He now teaches at the University of Minnesota.

Baxter is the author of 4 novels, 4 collections of short stories, 3 collections of poems, a collection of essays on fiction and is the editor of other works. You can read his story “Gershwin’s Second Prelude” on Fictionaut.

Q (Meg Pokrass): What is your feeling about mentoring? Did you have a mentor or mentors for writing at any point?

The only real mentoring I had came from older teachers whose examples suggested to me that some kind of a writing life would be possible for me. Mentors should be good readers who can honestly tell you what’s good and not-so-good about your work and (most importantly) can tell you WHY, in detail.

What happens when a story isn’t happening, when something isn’t flowing? How do you overcome it?

If a subject isn’t working for me, I’ll try another subject. The subject has to create its energy and has to give the writer him/herself energy, too. You can’t force a subject, and if it bores you, it’ll bore everybody else.

What beguiles you now, in this time in book culture and its evolution alongside technology?

What’s exciting about the present time is that screen culture is in a pitched battle with book culture; there are all kind of people who want to kill off books, who really want them dead. It’s frightening to watch.

Who are your favorites in writing? Who do you return to time and time again for inspiration?

Katherine Anne Porter, Chekhov, William Maxwell, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Paula Fox, Kawabata, Montaigne, many of course, many others.

What’s in the works?

A new book of stories, out in January:  Gryphon: New and Selected Stories.

What are the most common mistakes new writers make?

The most common mistake new writers make is one of vanity: they want to show off what they can do. They don’t realize that what has been blazing in their minds does not necessarily make it to the page.

The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday — and over the holidays, every Saturday — Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is the editor-at-large for BLIP Magazine, and her stories and poems have been published widely. She blogs at

  1. Marcus Speh

    very interesting – thanks for sharing. it’s so true what charles says about the “vanity” mistake of new writers. however, i think there’s a paradox, unless i’m still too ‘new’ myself to look sufficiently ahead: the gap between the image in the writer’s mind and what’s on the page is not just a matter of skill. or is it? even if joyce said “there’s nothing i can’t do with words” (or something like it), there’s a gap between what’s inside us and what we can express. and its width is proportional to our hunger to express it. put differently: as our ability to express ourselves and everything around us grows, so grow we and everything around us, or more strongly. the issue then becomes one of acceptance, not of training. i’m just riffing here, but thanks for playing the tune.

  1. 1 Links: Closing the Books | Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes

    […] forthcoming omnibus collection of short stories, Gryphon, which comes out next month. He answers a few questions at Fictionaut. (via) And at Lapham’s Quarterly, he considers P.T. Barnum‘s […]

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