Click here to read Rudy Koshar’s “Ellipse Disturbed.”
Rudy Koshar is a former Guggenheim Fellow and 2015 Pushcart Prize nominee whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Guernica, Riptide, Corium, Red Fez, Montreal Review, and numerous other magazines. He teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, blogs at rudykoshar.net, and is an invited blogger at Huffington Post.
1. What made you want to become a writer?
An impulse to write was present when I began reading, so I credit it to a child’s natural propensity to imitate. At the age of nine or ten I tried to write a series of mysteries modeled on The Hardy Boys, which I read enthusiastically, often devouring a single book in a day. I still have my first “novel,” which is forty-six yellowed pages of gripping prose. Years later, I decided to teach European history and write scholarly books, which I’ve done for nearly four decades now. But several times in those busy years I tried to put away my research and write fiction. Each time my attempt failed until six years ago, when I turned sixty and realized the future was now. Writing fiction was for me an attempt to find new creative life by returning to an earlier passion. Maybe there is truth to the idea that radical departures are returns to an earlier state.
In his essay “Why I Write,” George Orwell said there were four motives for most writers: sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse (desire to see things as they are and record them), and political purpose (in the broadest sense of wanting to move the world in a particular direction). Combined with my earliest experiences, these motives go a long way in explaining what drew me to writing fiction. Yet none of this touches on what may be the most important thing: the magic of the creative process. One of my greatest joys when I write is to find that several hours (if I’m lucky) have passed as if they never existed. I’ve been in the Now of creation, where past and future almost disappear. Writing has given me the opportunity to disengage from clock-time and live for a while in a realm that must be a little—maybe only a little—like eternity.
2. What is your genre or writing style and has it changed over time?
I don’t write only magical realism, but I have found some of my most inspiring examples among writers in this genre. They include Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ernst Jünger, Mikhail Bulgakov, Ismail Kadare, and China Miéville. Magical realism lends itself to a more politically inspired fiction because it creates an alternative reality within a “real” reality. For me, it’s as if a writer can crack society’s spine, open it, and insert a new, occulted world, a sort of “sleeper cell” of mystery and strangeness and sheer dread. This is very different than fantasy or science fiction, in which an alternative reality exists alongside the world we live in, as it were. In that sense, magical realism is much more subversive, again speaking generically, than these other genres—though I’m sure there are many writers who would disagree.
3. What has helped you the most in the writing pursuit?
Years of work as a research historian taught me that writing most often necessitates a schedule. Inspiration is essential, of course, but no amount of inspiration substitutes for sitting down every day, staring at the blank page, and having the courage, or lack of good sense, to begin. I’ve had to learn and re-learn that beginning is key. I’m often too cautious about having a general idea for an entire story; it’s necessary at times to live on the edge and start with a character or scene and see where it takes you.
I’ve also enrolled in two writing classes, one at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, where I was in a weeklong seminar; and another longer seminar here in Madison, where we have the Madison Writers’ Studio, expertly directed by Susanna Daniel and Michelle Wildgen. At the Writers’ Studio, I met a number of other good writers, and we formed a writer’s group for more than a year after the formal class ended. That was very good for my productivity, especially because my teaching and professorial commitments often give me an excuse not to write fiction. Each month, I had to have something ready for the group. The writer’s group has now dissolved—busy people going their separate ways—but I still have projects I’m working on that I started while meeting with the group.
4. How would you describe your writing practice?
I work at home in a lovely study with two walls covered floor to ceiling in books. The books stare down at me and ask me what I’ve accomplished that day! When I’m in a good writing mode, I try to write one thousand words of quality text at a minimum each day, and usually I can go well beyond that. Then I write as much as possible, saving a bit to help me jumpstart my work for the next morning. As for when I write, it’s usually early in the morning, between 6 and 11, but from time to time later in the afternoon is productive as well. Here too there’s an element of mystery as to what works, and I find it’s unwise to be too rigid about schedules. I’ll write seven days a week if something compels me and I have a decent rhythm going. If all else fails, I resort to my trusty Moleskin notebooks, which I use as much as possible to write down ideas, observations, ramblings. They’ve saved me from writer’s desperation a number of times.
5. What are you writing now?
Aside from lots of letters of recommendation for graduate students and lectures, I have four novels, in various states of completion and revision. I’ve been actively seeking agents and/or publishers for two of them in the past year. One is a psychological drama about a historical re-enactor who loses the ability to distinguish between past and present. The other is historical fiction situated in Berlin just before Hitler comes to power in 1933. In addition I have seven or eight short stories circulating at various literary magazines and several others in construction and deconstruction. I’m a bit frustrated at the moment because I’m doing more revision than new writing, so I’ll have to fix that soon.
6. Where can someone find out more about your work?