North Texas Daily

Q&A with former student and author Colin Winnette

Q&A with former student and author Colin Winnette

March 20
08:13 2013

H. Drew Blackburn

Senior Staff Writer

Former UNT student Colin Winnette has seen a mild degree of success in the literary world. The 28-year-old Denton native and San Francisco dwelling Winnette is the author of three books: “Revelation”, “Animal Collection”, and the forthcoming “Fondly,” which will be released in August. Winnette’s work has also been published in “American Short Fiction” and “The Believer.”

The North Texas Daily spoke with Winnette about writing and his upcoming book.

When did you first start writing and what made you begin to take it seriously?

“My parents are still unearthing cute little short stories I wrote in crayon at some indeterminable age, and there’s a painting that predates even the crayoned stories, for which I dictated the action while my teacher wrote the story in the margins. Something about an angry storm getting back at the mountains for being too still by going all splashy and gray on them. I think it’s fair to say I’ve always had the impulse. That actually seems pretty common. Kids love to tell stories. My parents were incredibly supportive, so, to be honest, I guess I’ve always thought I was pretty okay at it.

As far as what caused me to take it seriously, that’s more difficult to answer. The definition of taking it seriously, for me, would be developing a practice. Discipline. Allotting scheduled time for work, even when I don’t feel like it. These are elements I’m still tinkering with, though. My life has changed a lot over the last decade. My working schedule looks pretty different now than it did last winter, last summer, last spring, and on and on.”

What is your current day job?

“I work as a copywriter for a children’s hospital in Stanford and I sell books at the Booksmith in San Francisco.”

How often do you write, what is the process like for you?

“The goal is to write every day. The amount fluctuates depending on time, but I used to shoot for 1,000 words a day, minimum. It also depends on whether or not I’m working on a particular project or just sort of spinning the wheels between projects. Right now I’m sort of drowning in work and wedding preparations and trips, so I’ve been waking up early and writing as much as I can before the house wakes up and the day gets going. It used to be much more difficult. I used to resist sitting still for extended periods of time. I’ve found that exercise helps this. If I’m pretty active when I’m not writing, it’s easier to sit still for a while and just work.”

Do you know what you’re going to write before you begin typing away?

“I normally don’t. If I think of something ahead of time, it’s usually altered pretty severely in the attempt to get it down. So I’ve learned not to cling to things anymore. Just let them do what they want and follow the energy they produce. Also, I get restless quickly, so I’m never like, ‘I’m going to craft all of this back story to get to the part that matters.’ I just start with what matters and keep writing to find out why. 99 percent of my edits are cuts. I’ve found that you actually really rarely need to flesh things out. It’s often the stronger fix to keep trimming until only the essential stuff remains, along with a whole lot of room for the reader to just breathe and be.”

How were your days in Denton and at UNT?

“I love Denton. It’s my hometown and home to some of the best people on the planet. It can feel small and cage-like after a while, but I still visit every few months. It’s a small pocket of the world where creativity is supported by the community at large and people are for the most part nice and decent folk. I couldn’t speak highly enough of Denton, though leaving really did enhance my outlook on it. By 18, I was pretty ready to get out.

“As for UNT, I was only there for a semester taking graduate classes for no credit, but I met some really incredible people there. Corey Marks [faculty member in the English department] was a solid teacher of mine in that he was intelligent and seemed to genuinely care about student work and about poetry in general. Still, I’m not totally sure I jived well with the institution as a whole, at least personally. It’s a pretty old-guard type of place, and it’s got its more obvious allegiances fiction and poetry-wise. I’m glad I spent a little time there, but not more than that, and I’m sure if the school could speak it would say something similar about me. Or it would say, ‘who?’

“That said, the students seem to have a lot of control over some of the more important aspects of the program and that’s great. UNT students helped us fund some pretty incredible events at Tex Gallery, an art gallery I was involved with in Denton. The readings and talks students planned were on average pretty outstanding. I’m grateful for all of that.”

Have you had any challenges?

In every part of everything, yes. On a personal level, they’re major. In a global, general, human sense, I’m fortunate. Or, I’m grateful anyway, even for the difficult stuff. I’ve got my health and I’m marrying my favorite person in the world and I’m able to do most of the things I’d like to do, so the bad stuff feels kind of good in the sense that I’ve wound up here. I’ve worked hard, and I still do, but a lot of it still feels kind of random and fortunate.

Your book “Fondly” is comprised of two novellas, slated to release later this year. What inspired those works and what should the reader expect?

“They’re bizarre stories, for sure, but hopefully funny and moving and something a little different. They cover a lot of ground, so it’s hard to summarize them and still be brief. I’ll say as much as one is a novella in stories in which two sisters are cast in a variety of roles – Shel Silverstein, an olive at the bottom of a martini, trans-oceanic swimmers, just to name a few – and the other is the story of a single Texas bloodline spanning an indeterminable length of time. They’re violent and dark, but hopeful and largely concerned with family and what, if anything, binds us together in the end.”

Who are your influences?

“They’re all over the map. Proust sort of changed everything for me, same with Ben Marcus, and same with Beckett. Joyce a little bit, but he lost me. I still love him, but I don’t go back to it as much. Sebald. I’m influenced a lot by contemporary writers, too. Sasha Fletcher, Amelia Gray, Jen Gann, everything I write these days has a touch of them in there somewhere. The list goes on and on, but those are the first bunch that come to mind.”

Lastly, do you have any advice for aspiring authors at UNT?

“Keep writing. Make it as good as possible. Know that you’ll get better, no matter how awful you are or how great you think you are. Also, stay active in the community. Be supportive. There aren’t a lot of writers and readers out there, so the ones you’ve got at your side are invaluable. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn’t do, including me right now. Everyone’s as clueless as you are, whether or not they know it, and the best ones are still trying things out, which is what you should be doing. When someone lays down a hard and fast rule, question it, test it for yourself. Don’t give up. Push yourself. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”

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