Exploring the art of prose


Author: Scott Garson

Author’s Note

I used to worry about choosing just the right projects, not taking on the ones that were un-me. In part, that’s because I was young and Gen X. But in part, it’s less specific. I knew that good writing was magical, as an experience, while you were reading, and I guessed, by plain and faulty logic, that magic had to go into it. You had to be blessed, graced with the right story, as if from above. You couldn’t just pull yourself up to your desk and ask yourself what you should write.

That perspective, naive as it was, found support in interviews I was reading at the time. A writer, in a writer interview, might explain how they were a medium when writing whatever they wrote. It was like magic, a voice delivered into their mind. They mystified the process, in other words. It hadn’t yet occurred to me how mystification works against the whole point of such interviews. You read the interview to learn about writing. What you get: a clear-enough message re: the uselessness of trying to write something good if you haven’t been Chosen.

One other reason I was susceptible to this view: I thought writers had something to say. Their stories were pointed. Somewhat like their expressions in the black-and-white photos on the backs of their books, they were severe. They asked you to face something hard, to deal with it. I had no idea what. But I thought if I chose the right subject, I’d at least have a chance. I could be like a statement guy. A serious picture on the back of a book. Mr. New American Voice.

So yeah, I’ve learned better.

One part of that angle on writing has stayed with me, though: my interest in dreams. Dreams seemed like a decent place to look for mystic connection. Some of my first good stories came from dreams (including my novel-in-hiding, “I Knew Gable Roy Henry,” from my first collection). I learned how to wake myself up, partway, in a dream, or the hazy aftermath, and formulate something I would remember later, after I woke. This wasn’t mystical! This was just me, always looking for stories. In the case of “My Cat Gets Loose in the Steakhouse,” what I formulated was the title. I wrote something close to those words in half-sleep, with sudden bleary Writer Brain, and hoped they’d be there later on.

They were. I drafted quickly, without asking whether the story was me.


SCOTT GARSON is the author of Is That You, John Wayne?—a collection of stories. He lives in central Missouri.