About Charles Souby:
Charles Souby is an author and improv actor based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In November 2014, his short story, “The Durschlag Twins” appeared in the Saturday Evening Post online. He has had assorted poems published by Five Poetry Magazine, The Opening Line, Bohemia and The California Quarterly Review. He has recently completed a screenplay rendition of his widely praised first novel, Winifred. His latest novel, A Shot of Malaria, will be published on April 1, 2015.
What inspires you to write?
I’m inspired by life’s ironies and contradictions. I find human relations and our relationship with the environment fascinating. The inner battle between our instinctual agenda and our desire to be in harmony with the world is incredibly complex on so many levels; spiritually, psychologically, politically and socially. The inability to sit in peace, the endless search outside ourselves for a magic “thing” or event that will bring happiness offers a rich source of fiction and poetry.
Tell us about your writing process.
I have to say, honestly, my writing process defies all probabilities. Often while I’m writing, I become overwhelmed by a sense of failure – that my story is going nowhere. When I reach that point, I have to push myself to simply finish a paragraph or two and then quit. However, there is always an inner compulsion that drives me back to a story or poem, and I often discover that my favorite works were the ones I strung together piecemeal but which create an incredible picture that I never imagined during their creation.
While working on a first draft – other than scanning the work for clumsiness – I wait until the project is finished before I fully appraise it for editing. Once the initial draft is complete, I go back and review it for clarity and color, and to make sure that sentence structures are clean and comprehensible.
Ideally, the next step is to show the piece to people I trust. This is especially important, because I will often discover the essence of my stories and poems through the eyes of another writer. I don’t always agree with the suggestions I get – everybody has their own preferences and prejudices – but I can get a fairly good idea of what needs to be cut or expanded upon in a story or poem by listening to feedback.
What advice would you give other writers?
Keep writing. Don’t judge – write. What seems stupid as you write it may be rich with meaning and interest a day or two later.
The second suggestion I can offer is to develop a thick skin. Immediately. The most important aspect of the writing process – after putting it on paper – is to get an outside perspective of the work. I love the saying, “write for yourself, edit for others.” You can’t truly edit for others unless you’re open to listening to what they read or see in your work. A description or idea that seems clear to the author may be unfathomable to the reader. There’s no point in writing if it lacks meaning to anybody else, unless it’s a private journal.
Probably the most significant development I’ve done outside writing itself, has been improv acting where I have regularly been thrown into situations where there is no turning back. Among the sayings in improv is “there’s no such thing as a bad first offer [idea]” and “say yes, and…”
In order to succeed creatively I have had to make it a habit to risk failure, and not judge my work (particularly the process of my work) until it is finished. Some of the best improv work I have been involved with started with horrid trepidation and an almost certainty that everything was going to fall on its face, only to have a beautiful story unfold from out of nowhere as we (the actors) allowed the present moment in to guide us. There is nothing so exhilarating than to ride on a creative wave and let it take you to its destination.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
Over the course of a year, I sent many hundreds of queries out to agents using a variety of techniques (some recommended by agents themselves) to get them interested in looking at my book, but got no positive responses. I think in the end, only three or four agents even requested the first ten pages of my manuscript. I ultimately realized that the mainstream publishing industry was akin to the lottery and that the economics of contemporary literature is such that publishers will probably never even have access to great works based on a variety of random criteria. The decisions no longer have anything to do with the quality of the work or even its subject matter. This was reinforced at three Writer’s Digest conferences I attended wherein the main theme was DIY publishing and marketing. According to most of the presenters, even if a writer lands a contract with a traditional publisher, the companies spend little money or effort on marketing books. They rely mostly upon their reputation in order to get books into the hands of reviewers and bookstores. It leaves little motivation to seek them out.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
The publishing industry is obviously going through a huge upheaval due to the onset of online and eBook sales. Right now, traditionalists in the industry are at a loss to keep up with the market as they struggle to discern who’s who and what’s “marketable.” In many ways they (especially agents) have become like the film industry where they constantly chase trends instead of simply judging the merit of a given work. They are relentlessly plagued by whether or not an idea will sell.
I am of the Pollyanna belief that work that’s well written and accessible to the average reader has an excellent chance to be successful (at least within its own genre) if marketed and distributed properly. The fact that so much dubious literature has risen to the top is proof that readers still crave the literary experience in many different genres, so obviously, the better the work is, the better it will do commercially.
With the proper avenues of promotion, self-publishing can bypass the trend-chasing of traditional publishers and cut right to the core question, “is this good writing that’s worth someone’s time to read?” If the answer is yes, than probably people will buy and read it.
What genres do you write?: fiction, short story
What formats are your books in?: Both eBook and Print