Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest today, Dr. William H. Coles. Dr. Coles is a former ophthalmic surgeon who specialized in ocular trauma. He is the author of Story in Literary Fiction: A Manual for Writer, Literary Story as an Art Form: A Text for Writers, Facing Grace with Gloria and Other Stories, The Necklace and Other Stories, The Spirit of Want, The Surgeon’s Wife, Guardian of Deceit, Illustrated Short Fiction of William H. Coles:2000-2016, and McDowell: A Novel.
He has attended workshops
with John Biguenet, Noel Polk, David Bottoms, Michael Ray, Tom Jenks,
Dianne Benedict, Anne Wood, Ben George, Holly MacArthur, Otonne
Ricci, and others. He created the Website, Story in Literary Fiction
with resources for writers.
His poetry has appeared in the Chattahoochee Review and Miscellany. For eight years he reviewed poetry for the Journal of the American Medical Association and won the Callenwolde Prize (Atlanta) for best poem (”Unwed Girl”). He was finalist (short story) in the William Faulkner Creative Writing (2007) Competition short listed the novel (2007), previously, placed five times as a semi-finalist for novel (2004-2010), and a finalist (2006) for short story. He won both first and second place in the Sandhills Writers’ Competition 2006.
In 2008, seven stories placed as finalists in the Faulkner Competition, one as three equivalent winners. He was a finalist in the 2010 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. In 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, eighteen of his stories received awards. He also wrote scripts and presented editorials and weekly radio segments on jazz for the NPR affiliate WBFO.
Norm: Good day William and thanks once again for participating in our interview.
William: Hello, Norm. Pleasure to be with you. I’m impressed with what you do and honored to be here.
Norm: How does it happen that someone who is a former ophthalmic surgeon comes to write fiction?
William: I’ve always been interested in literature and the arts. My profession has been in academics as a scientist and a surgeon and a chairman of a department where I educated medical students, resident, and fellows.
I wrote scientific papers, textbooks, grants, lectures, but scientific writing doesn’t necessarily translate to fiction writing.
I’d always been interested in story as an art form, and twenty-two years ago I started to learn the art of fiction with the goal of writing short stories and novels.
Norm: What do you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) so far in your writing career?
William: Six novels; collection of thirty-seven short stories, a novella, and two graphic novels; thirty-seven published essays on creative writing, twenty-seven published interviews on the art of writing fiction with editors, a Pulitzer Prize winner, teachers, authors; creation of s, a WEBSITE for writers with > 3 million visitors; a PODCAST of readings of my work (45 episodes), creation of a online art gallery with illustrations of my fiction by nine nationally recognized artists; publishing a blog and a newsletter.
Norm: What would you like to accomplish as an author that you have not?
William: Application and award of international prizes for fiction.
Norm: What did you find most useful in learning to write? What was least useful or most destructive?
William: 1) Learning craft. Life experiences. 2) Thinking that writing literary fiction is easy.
Norm: What do you believe defines a character?
William: In literary fiction, characters are imagined and created, not remembered and described. (Of course, author experience is an important source of ideas for characterization.)
Characters are best created by action scenes. Narration is secondary. Characters in literary fiction drive plot, a plot that is character-based; they have emotional arcs; and they change in some way with the progression of the story. Characters are most effective when developed in-scene with minimal backstory.
Literary characters are best when created without authorial intrusion (the literature-of-self), and they are unique, dynamic, memorable and capable of change in who they are.
Norm: What do you think most characterizes your writing?
William: Style, strong characterization, addressing theme through fiction with action rather than telling, solid plots, stimulation of thinking about things forgotten or never known.
Norm: What advice can you give aspiring writers that you wished you had received, or that you wished you would have listened to?
William: Don’t depend on workshops as a major source of your development, especially workshops where manuscripts are critiqued by fellow students.
Define the fiction you want to produce then learn by analyzing how writers you respect achieve their results.
But don’t imitate. Develop use of your imagination. Analyze books on writing by greats such as Woolf (Common Reader), Tolstoy (What is Art?), Aristotle (I), Wayne C. Booth (The Rhetoric of Fiction and The Rhetoric of Irony), Brooks and Warren (Understanding Fiction), Brownstein (Strategies of Drama), Forster (Aspects of the Novel), Gardner (The Art of Fiction), Nabokov (Lectures on Literature), Nims (Western Wind), and so many others. Check out STORYIN LITERARYFICTION.COMSTORYIN LITERARYFICTION.COM
Norm: How many times in your writing career have you experienced rejection? How did they shape you?
William: All the time. Hundreds. Rejections hurt, especially when I think they’re unfair.
Norm: What were your goals and intentions in writing McDowell, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
William: I wanted, as with all my writing, to write a story that engages, entertains, and enlightens. I exceeded what I might have expected.
Norm: How did you go about creating the character of McDowell? Is he based on someone you know or knew?
William: I’ve known thousands of surgeons and I was on the Board of Regents for the American College of Surgeons, but McDowell is my own character, created for an effective literary fiction story.
Norm: Did the characters in McDowell come first or the story?
William: I really have no idea.
Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing McDowell and what did you enjoy most about writing this book?
William: Writing novels is hard and McDowell was no different than my five other novels. I love to tell stories.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and McDowell?
William: Website, Story in Literary Fiction
Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, Smashwords, SILF SHOP
William: A new novel, workshop, newsletter, website, promoting McDowell.
Norm: What question do you wish that someone would ask about McDowell, but nobody has?
William: What makes McDowell a literary novel and how was it constructed?
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors