Our last entry from an author of the 2011 Spring Edition of Amoskeag is Marco Bisaccia. Marco discusses his thoughts and ideas on writing and specifically his short fiction piece, “Walking.”
Marco Bisaccia is a Massachusetts native and has spent most of his life there. He has worked in several fields, including politics and education – as a high school English teacher. He did some time in the UMass Amherst MFA program before moving to teaching. In the past he has written newspaper feature pieces and articles on education. While fiction writing is not a full-time occupation at the moment, he continues to work toward a collection of short stories. Insofar as New Hampshire connections go, he is working to finalize a story rooted in a 1988 presidential primary campaign he worked on in the Granite State.
Amoskeag: Your work, “Walking,” was featured in the 2011 Spring edition of Amoskeag. Tell us a little about the story behind this piece. How did it come about?
Marco Bisaccia: Well, the short answer is that I don’t know for sure, but I know a few things from the story’s history. I needed to complete a piece for a UMass fiction workshop class and was blocked – and a bit desperate. So I sat with my pen until something happened – the something that still escapes me. The events of the piece are not mine or those of anyone I know, so I think this story is particularly open to whatever interpretation the reader will make of it. Certain scenes and items certainly come from my adolescent and young adult days. Playing poker with friends, for example. I’m not sure why the style came out so spare (aside from influences like Raymond Carver) but perhaps it had to do with the process of eking something out of a dry well.
Amoskeag: How and why did it take this final form? What were the changes and drafts it went through?
Marco Bisaccia: The odd thing is that “Walking” changed very, very little from the original draft – a level of revision I’ll likely never see again. I wrote the draft in two sittings, and it never varied much at all from 1500 words. I workshopped the piece at UMass and returned to it several times, making a few – very few – word changes and edits. One was to change the title, which was originally “Franklin.” Strange as it might seem, “Walking” never went through any major changes. It just never seemed that additional content or revision would improve the story. By the time I submitted it to Amoskeag I had long stopped rereading it and considered it absolutely finished… which made it embarrassing when I discovered a few grammatical errors in my manuscript.
Amoskeag: Why do you write? What made you want to pursue writing professionally?
Marco Bisaccia: I write because I have so many stories – in every sense of the word – bouncing around my skull, and have an almost visceral drive to express them. I was a voracious reader as a kid and grew into an excellent writer, but somehow never became an English major. After college, as I worked at a few things for a living and little more, I started transforming my internal narratives into short stories. I’ve stayed with that genre because it works for me; while I yearn to write a novel I haven’t found one in me yet. I want to write for a living because, for one, it beats the hell out of anything else I can think of, and it’s work that is entirely in my control (except for that publishing thing). No one submits raw material and directions to an artist. It’s all up to me.
Amoskeag: What tips and suggestions would you give to aspiring writers?
Marco Bisaccia: Every writer has his or her own way of doing it, but I’ll share some of my approach and perspective. I’m one of those writers who has to force himself to sit down and do it; I have to fight my inclination to put other things first and imagine great, irresistible ideas will pop into my head – and drive me to my desk. Sit down and write; starting is the hardest part, but just start with something; then one sentence leads to another – and the fiction brain starts working. Some say writing fiction is 90 percent perspiration and ten percent inspiration. That may be extreme but I agree with the point. Revising several times is critical; it is a major part of writing. Revising many times improves a story until it’s ready for others’ eyes, at which point I ask a few trusted readers to beat up the story. Good readers start with the effect you are trying to achieve, then critique from that perspective. It may be hard to take tough comments, but we need people to speak honestly; loving compliments help little. Many writers let a piece rest a while once it reaches a certain point. I generally know when I’m too close to a story, when it’s no longer fresh and I’ve lost critical perspective. I’ve put aside stories for weeks, months, even years. A story dropped in frustration can turn out to be good material a month or year later. It may need final work, or be the basis for an entirely new take. Don’t throw anything away. And find what works for you.
As for idiosyncrasies, I write by hand first. Then at some point I start typing, so I’m already doing a first edit. There’s something about pushing a pen across paper for the first draft; it’s largely about avoiding what many writers like: the ability to easily move, change and cut words, sentences and paragraphs. That’s too much self editing for me. It cripples the flow of ideas; I want to lay down the essence of a story as it first appears in my mind, then start shaping it in stage two. I also amend manually on each hard copy. Keeping hard copies of drafts/versions guards against computer loss (or deletion!). Never continuously overwrite the same file.
Amoskeag: What are you currently working on?
Marco Bisaccia: Several short stories. I jump back and forth as I get new ideas for these tales bouncing around my head. I am trying to write fiction with more humor; I want a lighter feel, a more relaxed tone. But it’s not coming easily; I keep rereading drafts and finding that they have less levity than “Walking,” which is hardly a knee-slapper. Right now I’m working on my well-aged and revamped New Hampshire saga; a story set on a fictionalized island in Maine and in a fictional town in New England; and one about a repressed, forlorn woman – told by her. The jury is out on whether I can really write in a woman’s voice, and as for getting humor into that one… Two of my current pieces are already at least twice as long as “Walking.” And I am writing this very second, though I like to think of this as nonfiction.