Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Work in progress

Share the earliest/a really early photo you have of yourself with us, and tell us what it means to you personally and – if it does – in terms of your writing.

by Dietrich Kalteis

I don’t have a suitable early photo on hand, but I have a few memories of wanting to be a writer. I loved reading from an early age and the images it created in my mind. And I loved spinning my own stories too. In my early teens I penned a first draft of a novel. I can’t remember much about it, just that I kept its handwritten loose-leaf pages in a shoe box, worked on it after school and on weekends. I finally gave up on it, but the idea of writing a novel stayed with me, and I always thought I’d write one someday.

"Everything is hard before it is easy." — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Growing up, I pursued other ventures, taking time now and then  to pen a short story. At one point I started a draft of another novel, but the spark wasn’t there, and after getting a couple of rejection letters, I gave up on it. Finally, after years of hearing me say I wanted to write someday, my wife finally said, ‘If not now, when?’

"Dwell in possibility." —  Emily Dickinson

Those words stuck with me, and I worked out some story ideas and put pen to paper, drafting some short stories during any spare time I could find, mostly late at night. I got my hands on several books on grammar and brushed up on the proper English I’d learned back in school. I tried different approaches and genres, but what I wrote often ended up in the trash bin. That, or I’d rewrite what I’d written the day before, trying to get it to sound right.

“The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.” — Philip Roth   

It didn’t dawn on me then that the many hours and all those pages that ended up in the scrap bin were important, allowing me to gain the chops and find my voice. Back then I thought I either had the talent or I didn’t. Lucky of me, it wasn’t hard to put time into something that I enjoyed doing. And when I finally felt confident that I had a short story worth submitting, I sent it out, and seeing that first short story in print sure had a way of boosting my confidence, letting me know I was on the right track. The other thing I learned was to not let all that proper grammar get in the way of the rhythm of what I was writing. 

So, I kept on writing short stories and submitting them to various publications. Some of those publications have sadly vanished, but others are still there, and I owe a big thanks to publications like Defenestration, Lowestroft Cronicle, BĂȘte Noire, SN Review, Verdad Magazine, Foundling Review, Poor Mojo's Almanac, Oddville Press and Dew on the Kudzu and several others who published my stories.

One of the shorts I worked on was a piece of dialog between an insurance investigator and a woman who faked a claim, and when I reread it the next day, I thought it had a rhythm to it. It didn’t end up in the scrap bin, and I expanded and merged it with a couple of other ideas. And I had the early stages of Ride the Lightning, and after I worked through a couple of drafts, I submitted it to ECW Press. When I got that letter of acceptance … well, let’s just say not much beats that feeling.

Mostly I write novels now — my sixth is called Poughkeepsie Shuffle, and it will be out in early September, published by ECW Press. I still enjoy writing short stories, and I’m pleased to have one included in the anthology Vancouver Noir. Published by Akashic Books and edited by Sam Wiebe, it’s due out early in November.


Paul D. Marks said...

Dieter, congratulations on Poughkeepsie Shuffle and Vancouver Noir. One of my writing goals was to get into one of the Akashic noirs, which I eventually did. So I'm really happy for you on that, as well as the latest book.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thank you, Paul.

RJ Harlick said...

I think all of us can relate to your exploratory forays into the world of writing. Such a thrilling moment of Eureka when it finally comes together. Good post, Dietrich. And congrats on the new book.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Robin.

Lyda McPherson said...

Your post is such an encouragement to those of us who have a similar shoe box full of bit and pieces. Truly, "if not now, when?" I have just submitted my first short story, my first step to "now." Thank you for the post and congratulations on the new title.

Dietrich Kalteis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thank you, Lyda. All the best with your submission

Lisa Ciarfella said...

Your early journey sounds like mine, only where I'm at now. Gonna keep on submitting, keep on writing and one day soon, I too will be sitting with my first novel. Hopefully soon!

Thanks much for sharing your journey with us. Feels good to know I'm not alone!