Beth Staples is on the creative writing faculty at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where she is Associate Editor for Lookout Books and the literary journal Ecotone. She joined the UNCW faculty from The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University, where she managed the literary journal Hayden's Ferry Review. She has taught classes at UNCW, ASU, conferences, and other community organizations in editing, publishing, fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry.
At the North Carolina Writers' Network 2013 Fall Conference, Beth will sit on the "Brilliant at Breakfast Panel Discussion: 'How to Work with a Publisher (So They Want to Work with You)'". She will also serve as one of the critiquers for the Critique Service, which provides writers with in-depth literary critique of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry with a seasoned writer or editor. A one-on-one, thirty-minute review session will be scheduled for registrants wishing to participate in the Critique Service.
What are you reading right now?
I'm always reading a bunch. Right now—A.M. Holmes' new novel, May We Be Forgiven. Twyla Tharp's wonderful book on creativity called The Creative Habit. Lots of submissions for Ecotone (UNCW's literary magazine), and literary magazines from all over, looking for new writers to solicit.
If you could have a torrid but guilt-free affair with a fictional character, who would it be?
Ignatius J. Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces is the first character that came to mind, strangely. But I'm going to go with it. I'd like to live in his fantastic and creative and lazy and hilarious world for a day or a weekend. I think he's one of the most memorable characters in literature, and I'd like to have met him. You know, platonically, but still with his brand of passion and enthusiasm. I'd like to have him show me around New Orleans.
What aspect of craft do you feel you handle especially well, or is especially important to you?
I spend a lot of time thinking about point-of-view in fiction, how it affects every decision a writer makes in a story, how manipulating it and playing with it can affect a reader's perception of character and profoundly control a story's tension and mystery. Since we're all stuck in our own heads, a writer's ability to move around perception-wise in fiction is an incredibly powerful tool, and to me endlessly fascinating.
Any memorable rejections?
I try to forget them, honestly. There's no point in dwelling on them. Writers, often being sensitive people, spend too much time doubting themselves. Anything that inspires doubt should be tossed aside as quickly as possible, right?
Do you own an electronic reading device?
I have an iPad, but I don't read books on it. I'm not against electronic devices, I'm just not good at reading on them. Yet?
What’s one thing that bugs you more than anything else when you see it in a piece of writing?
That's a tough one. I have an irrational (okay, and sometimes rational) dislike of the word "aspect."
Do you steal pens from hotels?
Oh, to afford a night in a hotel in addition to my own writing utensils!
If you could be a different author, living or dead, who would you be?
Vladimir Nabokov, who writes with the most amazingly eloquent confidence, and who spoke and wrote in many languages, which I wish I could do. Or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose imagination astonishes me. Or A.M. Holmes, who writes about American ennui and exuberance in a way I find both heartbreaking and hilarious. I cheated, but this question is impossible.
Do you write to discover, or do you write point-to-point (for example, from an outline)?
To discover, but sometimes I have an end-point or future-point in mind. Sometimes I write to discover something isn't working. Mostly, I write to try to keep writing.
The Cape Fear Coast is a hotbed for the film industry. In your opinion, what has been the best book-to-screen adaptation?
The Ice Storm by Rick Moody. I like that movie as much as the book.
What was the worst?
I'm not sure, but I can say there are movies I refuse to see because I love the books way too much and I don't want that love to be corrupted. I have not seen Cloud Atlas or Love in the Time of Cholera because those books to me are perfect, and I like the way they live in my head.
What’s one piece of advice no one gave you when you were starting out, that you wished they had?
I'm going to write a quote here. It's from Lookout Book's latest memoir, River Bend Chronicle, by Ben Miller. I wrote it down and keep it next to my desk and say it to myself over and over. I can honestly say that it's changed me, and the best writing advice I've ever encountered. Here goes: "It was better to show up at seven and stumble than not to show up for fear of stumbling. Because if you were to make anything of yourself, if anything even mildly good was ever to work out, you must—usually in isolation and under duress—find a way to take yourself seriously when few others did. That ambition alone could add fertile layers to an existence, and generate answers out of almost nothing."
Please fill in the blank: I have read __ of the Harry Potter books.
Three and a half.
Registration is now open for the North Carolina Writers' Network 2013 Fall Conference, November 15-17, at the Holiday Inn Resort in Wrightsville Beach.