Interview with May ’18 Craft on Draft Contest Winner: David Schiffer

On Tuesday, October 16th, 2018 at 7PM, Craft on Draft, a reading series developed by Grub Street’s Novel Incubator alumni, presents A Writer’s Voice – How to Develop Yours and Your Character’s Voice at Trident Booksellers & Cafe, 338 Newbury St. Boston, MA. We invite all to attend this lively night of craft discussion as authors Stephanie Gayle (Idyll Hands), Brendan Mathews (The World of Tomorrow), and Belle Brett (Gina in the Floating World) examine the role of voice in the novel.

At our last Craft on Draft event on May 1st, 2018, authors Jeanne Blasberg, Rachel Kadish, and Mira T. Lee discussed their work as we presented  GETTING EMOTIONAL:  WRITING ABOUT FEELINGS WITHOUT THE MELODRAMA. The evening’s writing contest winner, David Schiffer, a current Novel Incubator student, agreed to answer a few questions for Dead Darlings. David Schiffer was born in Portland, Maine. He reports that he is finally at work on his first novel.

The piece you entered creates significant tension although the character is stationary, staring at dots on the floor. Can you talk about your thought process and how this scene developed?

This was one of those moments that writers treasure, where I tapped into another channel and the scene practically wrote itself. I recalled a moment from my past, where I received some bad news on a sofa, and it just took off from there. I tightened it up after but most of it remains. It’s why I write, for the two hours a year that this happens.

Is the scene part of a larger work? Are you working on this in Novel Incubator?

Yes, as of this morning, it is the opening scene of a novel that I am workshopping in the Incubator. By the time this is published it will probably be cut again.

How did writing start for you? What work would you do if you weren’t a writer?

I wrote my first short story in second grade about a galaxy made entirely out of mustard. It’s my best piece because I wasn’t “a writer” yet and just wanted everyone to know how great mustard is. If I wasn’t writing I’d probably go back to having a more reasonable life and job and writing in my journal how much I wanted to be a writer.

What writers/books have influenced/inspired you? Three favorites?

I’d say Cormac McCarthy for his pacing and the consistency of his brutal but moral universe, Don DeLillo for his visionary, incandescent prose, and Denis Johnson because he is the best at describing that liminal spiritual space between dreams and waking life that many writers and addicts find themselves inhabiting. Also, John Williams’ Stoner and Philip Roth’s Sabbath’s Theatre have special places in my heart.

What will you do when you finish Novel Incubator?

Do everything in my power to write a novel good enough to be published. And whether I succeed or not, have another spiritual crisis that I’ll have to write about.

Winning Entry

Dean remembered lowering his head and finding the black dots on the wood laminate floor compelling. They were part of some design, in the center of every few panels. It seemed critical to find a geometrical significance to their patterning. He couldn’t look up. Not when mom started wailing and asked him to say something. Not when Erica ran down the hall to their bedroom and slammed the door. There was a powerful magnet keeping his head down. It seemed to enter him because he felt his mouth twisting, his cheeks getting hot. The ancient animal sounds coming out of mom fused with this gravitational force, squeezing his forehead. Avalanches of poisoned water wanted to release and wash over his eyeballs. His eyelids began closing but he still wanted to count the dots. So Dean made a decision and in that decision, became a certain kind of man. He said no. He would not feel whatever was happening, not yet. He would not give in to collapse. He took a deep breath, sucking and forcing this tumult somewhere into a part of his mind that had depth enough to hold it. Then he dammed it shut. And just like that, the number of dots didn’t matter anymore and he could lift his head. The chaos had disappeared from his mind, leaving behind the radiance of an Arkansas wheat field after the sun has punctured a tornadic sky. When the final winds died down, Dean found his feet.

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