Interview with Timothy Hurley, author of Shortstack

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My second interview is with the very funny US based writer, Timothy Hurley, author of Shortstack, a collection of humorous short stories.

Take it away, Tim.

Can you tell us about yourself in 100 words? No more and no less.

I grew up on and near navy bases around the country, influenced by my parents’ Midwest roots. I found writing stories and essays to be my choice early on. The short fiction of Twain, Poe, Hemingway and science fiction writers became my guides. My medical career slowed my writing, while I moved about for training and work: San Francisco, Boston, Mayo Clinic. Upon retirement I trained at Gotham Writers Workshop and began writing for publication. The more humorous of these I collected into my first book, Shortstack. My works-in-progress, a second collection and a novella are due out in 2014.

Tell us about your books.

My first book is a collection of humor short stories written in 2012 and 2013. They range from absurdist satire to touching personal essays. Other stories have been published in anthologies: science fiction (“Dead Planet Scrolls”), gothic horror (“Poe’s Black Cats”), and literary magazines (“Waiting on Alma”). My collection, Shortstack, and several of my short stories are available on Amazon.

And what about the authors who inspire you?

Topping the list of master story tellers for me is Mark Twain for his wit and plotting. I very early latched onto O. Henry stories for the same reason. Hemingway’s sparse-word styling had a big impact on me since high school. More recent authors I admire are Dorothy Parker for biting wit,and Joseph Mitchell for characterization, a deceased New York writer who deserves increased recognition.

What are you working on at the moment?

My second collection of short stories, due out in late 2014, will be some of my more serious-minded works and exhibit my range of genre from literary to horror to science fiction. I will also include some creative nonfiction personal essays. One of my short stories decided to turn itself into a novella, Johnny Don’t March, which I hope to have finished by early 2015. I am also working on two memoirs. The first, Thirty Hours with My Father, is the story of my listening to thirty hours of self-recorded autobiography, gifted to me before his death. The other is my remembrance of medical school years.

What has been the highlight of your writing career so far?

I have been writing seriously since 2012, which isn’t a very long career, particularly at my age (70). The highlight has been publication of my first story in an online magazine and then my collection of humor stories in eBook and print-book. When that happened I felt like writing was really my second career, and I was on my way to being more than a hobby writer.

Do you have any words of advice for the budding writers out there?

The brevity of my writing career doesn’t stop me from giving advice. Routine advice is to keep writing, write everyday and read good authors as much as you write. I would add the importance of formal training in creative writing; learn the craft through classes, online study, reading books on writing. Books on screenwriting have helped my fiction writing. The other surprise for me was how slow the writing process is. A rough draft is usually about 20% of the effort and can take a few weeks. But the real writing is the 80% of the work in revision. That’s when the story really reveals itself. By the time one of my stories is ready for publication, it can be weeks or months, and I will have read and revised it twenty or more times.

Describe a typical writing day for you.

I commonly awaken between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. with story stuff rolling in my head. Those early mornings are best for rough draft writing, and I typically will put in two or three hours. When my brain says it’s had enough, I’ll take a walk with my iPod and run errands. Music speaks to my creative self, but not while I’m actually writing, when I like quiet. Paradoxically I can become absorbed in the writing in a coffee house; I have accomplished some good writing there when I start feeling house-bound in my small New York apartment. I also go to the gorgeous main reading room at the New York Public Library. Afternoons are not productive times for rough drafts for me, although I can do good revision work then. The final polishing for grammar and word choice, I seem to be able to do at anytime.

Social media seems to be playing a big part in the success of books these days. What are your thoughts on this and how active are you on various sites?

I know this is the conventional wisdom, and I do participate daily on Google Plus, Facebook, and Twitter. I think this is a good way to reach fellow writers, and I’ve made a number of friends online. I’m less convinced this is a good way to reach the general reading public.

The world is ending and you are about to be blasted off into space – Bruce Willis style – to try and save mankind. You are allowed to take two people with you. Who do you choose?

Bruce Willis and I are too old to save much of anything. Jason Bourne is probably too busy. Yoda would be good at giving advice but not flying the ship. I’ll bet Beevis and Butthead could save the world.

If you could find out the answer to one of life’s mysteries, which one would you choose?

I’d like to know how this Time-Space Continuum thing works. Also Carl Sagan never explained String Theory so I could understand it.

Share a personal fact that no one would ever guess about you.

No one, until now, knew I grow tomato vines twelve feet long, that I can flip my tongue all the way over, or that I make a killer cappuccino.

You are on death row and it’s your final supper. What do you choose?

Definitely I want something that takes the chef a long time to prepare—like those thousand year old Chinese eggs they bury in the ground. And then I’d add something that takes a very long time for me to eat and has many courses. Between courses I’d snack on New York pizza and Indian curry.

What would you do in life if you knew you couldn’t fail?

You mean like climb Mount Everest, or cure cancer, or publish my book? I already know I can’t fail, no matter what I do. My success, however, varies widely.

Describe the most terrifying situation you have ever been in?

Once I was in a restaurant that ran out of spaghetti carbonara. But that terror didn’t last. I substituted tortellini. Walking up the aisle at my wedding was pretty frightening. Oh, wait. The bride walks up the aisle. Hmmm, it could have been the time I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge at its fiftieth anniversary. But that wasn’t scary until later when I learned that the loud clanking noise we heard in the middle was when the bridge nearly collapsed.

Share one quote, or saying, that keeps you going in life.

I love quotes so I’ll share several of my favorites. Mark Twain: “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.” “When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.”  Elbert Hubbard (no relation to L. Ron): “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” Timothy Hurley: “Never run for an elevator. It looks needy.”

What would be the perfect day for you?

Two eggs over medium with dry rye toast and Red Rose tea, and the New York Times with headlines saying no one shot anyone anywhere in the world, and the haves were overcome with the urge to share with the have-nots.

And the cliché question, four guests at your dinner party (dead or alive), who do you choose?

I assume that you don’t mean I’m dead or alive and that the deceased are alive at least during the dinner party. I wouldn’t invite Papa Hemingway, who insists on being the center of attention. I’d love to have Poe if he avoided being morose. I can’t think of a single politician to invite. It goes without saying that Mark Twain would come and I’d place him at the head of the table. I’d consider Ghandi or Mother Teresa, but I’d be afraid they would just bore us with advice to be nice. And, of course, I’d bring my best friend, my wife, so we could talk about the guests while we walk home.

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