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“Hello and Goodbye.” Stories That Need to Be Told 2018 (Tulip Tree Publishing Carson City, Colorado), 2018, Short Story.
“Off Limits.” Remembered Arts Journal, Spring 2018, Short Story.
“Security System.” Fiction International, Issue 50, November 2017, Short Story.
“In Dreams, Reality.” Fiction Southeast, August 2017, Essay.
“Shutterbug.” Chicago Literati, November, 2016, Short Story.
“Naked Dancing, with Knives, Or, (Not) Writing a First Novel.” The Flexible Persona, Issue 2.20, 2015, Essay.
“Killers.” Alaska Quarterly Review, Vol. 31. No. 1 & 2, Spring and Summer 2014, Short Story.
“American Boy.” Kenyon Review, Vol. XXXIII, Number 3, Summer 2011, Short Story.
Robert Pope has published a novel, Jack’s Universe, as well as a collection of stories, Private Acts. He has also published many stories and personal essays in journals, including The Kenyon Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Fiction International, and anthologies, including Pushcart Prize and Dark Lane Anthology.
As a child in a military family, I grew up, in equal parts of three years each, in Asmara, Eritrea, East Africa; Paris, France; Frankfurt Germany; Virginia and Maryland. My family ended up, at last, in California, and my sister and brothers are still there.
My favorite place is my house in Akron, in Highland Square. I also spend time in coffee shops in the vicinity, including Nervous Dog on Market Street, where I often go to work.
After listening to a talk by Jorge Luis Borges, an Argentine writer completely blind in one eye, nearly blind in the other, I took a book up for him to sign but did not have the nerve to ask. Instead, I told him my name and that I came from Akron. He said, “Akron, where is this Akron?” I felt silly for having said what I did, so I simply told him, “I have always loved your writing.” His bright blue eyes looked into mine—or seemed to—and both his hands grasped mine as he said, “Thank you, thank you.” He died within two years of this experience, and I have always felt grateful that I got to see him.
Many years ago, I would put a period at the end of the last sentence and know the story was finished. Now, there is really no limit to revision, though I have two guideposts. The first is that a draft is every time I think I finished a story, the second that I have gone as far as I can in rewriting when everything I do makes the story worse.
My secret talent pertains to writing and teaching in equal parts: I am good with language and I can show others how to be good with language. Whatever else may be going on, this is the constant. This is a learned talent, to be sure, but it is latent before it is learned. Stories, essays, and poems are made out of language, and your language should serve them as well as possible. There are two elements of language to hold in balance: beauty and effectiveness. You can’t have the first without the second, and sometimes beauty is a product of effectiveness.
I secretly hope someone will bring cookies laced with pot.
I shrug my shoulders. Their challenge has nothing to do with me. It is for them to deal with any way they can. I chose to an MFA program because I could not do otherwise, and I believe in democracy to my bones.
When I began writing, I used a manual typewriter. My whole body entered into typing a manuscript. I made a carbon copy because there were no xerox machines and erased mistakes with a pencil with a hard eraser at one end and a brush at the other. I had my suspicions about electric typewriters until I saw how much quicker I worked and how easily I completed a final draft to send out. I put my story, paperclipped in the left-hand corner, into an 8x12 envelope with my letter and my folded, stamped, self-addressed envelope inside and waited months for it to show up in my actual mailbox accepted or rejected. Simultaneous submissions were a serious faux pas. You all know what came next, and there’s no reason to regret changes. They have already taken over, and I am very good with them. But it is worth noting that I was fine with my manual, and with my electric, and had no wish that writing would be any easier.
I have no limits as to experiment, form, or genre, as long as the story is interesting. I see no reason to put limits on your imagination and no down side to writing your story in any way you can imagine, even if you never send it out for publication. Every bit of attention you give one story benefits every other story, even if you leave it behind. But I also feel that every story dictates its own form—even though the word dictates is wrong. Keep on working on the story until it yields or cracks. Nothing is lost. The best way to learn how to write a good story, or even a great story, is to write one. You can’t do that if you’ve got one foot on the gas and the other on the brake.