Sam Oches is the managing editor and cofounder of Scrutiny, as well as the editorial director of a restaurant news media company. He is working on his first novel.
1. What made you want to become a writer?
I’ve always loved the written word, which probably started with my love for reading as a kid. Eventually it just seemed like something I should try to do myself. When I was in third grade, I wrote a short story about a killer lady bug (my childhood home used to get invaded by them every summer), and my teacher read it to the whole class. I loved the feeling I got in creating something as my own and sharing it with others.
When I was a teenager, though, the type of writing I did shifted into journalism. My parents had subscriptions to several newspapers and magazines, and I read all of them cover to cover. I loved the news, and I loved the structure of journalism and the way it held the power to tell the stories of others. I went to college at Ohio University to study journalism, and eventually fell in love with the idea of writing creative nonfiction, which gave me the ability to combine the artistic nature of storytelling with the powerful communication of journalism.
Of course, the harsh realities of graduating into the recession prevented me from pursuing creative nonfiction professionally. Instead, I ended up becoming an editor of a restaurant business magazine, which I grew to really love, particularly the ability to tell the stories of the people in the industry. I’ve even been able to work my creativity into a lot of my stories in that capacity. But I was hungry to get back into creative storytelling.
Enter my return to fiction writing. After a few stumbled attempts to start a now-defunct novel, I took a class through a local writing nonprofit that was taught by a well-known published author. It was in that class that I learned to love fiction writing again; it was in that class that I started by now-nearly-finished first novel; and it was in that class that I met several of the members of my writing group.
2. What is your genre or writing style and has it changed over time?
I guess you would call it literary fiction, but I’ve been influenced by a little bit of everything, and find that everything from absurdism to magical realism finds its way into my work. Not surprisingly, I tend to soak up the styles of my favorite writers, who include Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon, Marilynne Robinson, and Thomas Wolf, among many, many others.
Having grown up in Appalachian Ohio, I find that those roots also influence my style a lot. I love the idea of telling the stories of those whose stories rarely get told, and in an authentic way; this is especially important when it comes to writing about Appalachia, which is so often misunderstood and misrepresented in pop culture. I’m currently enjoying Ron Rash’s work, as he really grasps the sensibilities of writing about Appalachia without it sounding cliche.
3. What has helped you the most in the writing pursuit?
Having a writing group, hands down. It’s been my own personal MFA. My writing group has been together now for four years, and I’ve learned on the fly what it means to write fiction from fellow group members. Having other people critique your work to your face is enormously terrifying, but also humbling and educational. It forces you out of the bubble of your own little writing world, which (shocker!) is necessary if you want to advance your writing at all, both personally and professionally.
My advice to other writers is to find a writing group immediately. If you can’t find one, start one. If you don’t know any other writers, take a class or poke around online until you find a community you can tap into.
4. How would you describe your writing practice?
I would describe it as a little crazy, but efficient. I wake up at 5 a.m. most weekday mornings to write my fiction. As a full-time journalist, I find that my brain power for creative writing is zilch after 5 p.m., so the only time I can really commit to writing creatively is the early morning between 5 and 7 a.m. The first few weeks doing this were brutal, but once it became routine, I found that it wasn’t such a big deal. I set the goal of writing at least 300 words every day (not a ton but I’m not a very fast writer, plus I edit as I go) and it’s helped me to methodically whittle away at my first novel and about a dozen short stories that I’ve written.
5. What are you writing now?
I’m finishing my first novel, called “Mountain Man.” It’s taken me four years to write, but has been enormously fulfilling, and an incredible education as I’ve figured out along the way what it means to write something so substantial. I’ve also got several short stories under my belt, one currently published at Scrutiny Journal, which I co-edit with Justin Meckes. Hopefully others will be published soon too!
6. Where can someone find out more about your work?
My first published short story is live on Scrutiny. That’s the extent of it, for now, but once I wrap this novel and start focusing on getting it and more of my short stories published, I hope to have more of an online presence to get my name out there. In the meantime, I share my restaurant stories at my twitter handle, @SamQSR.