How did you become a writer?
Once I took the craft seriously, about eight years ago, I think I considered myself a writer, though it would be a while before my first book came out. I went to Syracuse University for an MFA, but I had only written three stories at that point, and I think those years were spent learning how to read as a writer, rather than learning how to write. I had to fail and get rejected hundreds of times before I learned what my strengths are as a writer.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
There are really too many to list. Right now I’m deep into Harold Brodkey’s Stories in an Almost Classical Mode. I’ve read it before and it’s like listening to someone’s thoughts. I’m also finishing A.M. Homes’ May We Be Forgiven, which is hilarious and sad and helping me remember what’s possible in fiction. I didn’t read many of the greats until my late twenties because I spent most of my time playing sports and getting drunk, and so I’ve been blessed to listen to writers like Virginia Wolff, William Faulkner, Saul Bellow, Toni Morrison and John Steinbeck with a different ear than most. The books I have read more than twice are Revolutionary Road, Under the Volcano, and Soul Mountain. George Saunders has been a great teacher and mentor. He’s very disciplined and open to the process of being a writer. He came to the work late, too. If I’m lucky enough to make a career out of writing, I’d like to be able to emulate someone like Neil Young, who writes about whatever he wants, whether it’s strange or intense or historical, whatever—he has no genre. I think I also must have been influenced by listening to men tell stories when I was young. I went to work when I was twelve and so I was around grown men, who basically told filthy, funny and sometimes depressing stories all day long.
When and where do you write?
I have an office I never use, but I like that it’s there, because it looks like someone writes there. Usually I’m on the couch in the living room, very early in the morning, around four or so. I need quiet to write. I can’t hear anything if I don’t have that quiet.
What are you working on now?
I have a few projects going. My problem is sticking with just one thing. I guess that’s a good problem to have.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Not really. I mainly suffer from bad writing, followed by depression, then more bad writing, then a week or so of unpleasant, sleepless nights, until I hear something that is not my own thoughts, something given, and I write that down and agree there must be a reason for this.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
To sit in the chair every day. I remember I heard that and equated it with time and effort and patience. So that’s what I have done. Every day I sit and I write, whether it’s good or bad. Every day I learn what I am capable of.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Be open. Let everything in. Never question the source. Be disciplined. Read widely. Be willing to give a piece of yourself to each story you tell. In the end, there should be nothing left to give.
Patrick Dacey is the author of the story collection We’ve Already Gone This Far and the forthcoming novel, The Outer Cape, both published by Henry Holt and Company. He holds an MFA from Syracuse University and has taught English at several universities in the U.S. and Mexico. He has also worked as a reporter, landscaper, door-to-door salesman, and on the overnight staff at a homeless shelter and detox center. His stories have been featured in The Paris Review, Zoetrope All-Story, Guernica, and Bomb magazine, among other publications.