By Marcella Prokop
Pittsburgh writer Adam Reger has written a children’s book, a humorous book about pirates and the US Navy, and several articles for Pitt Magazine. He also works as a ghostwriter and an editorial assistant at the American Economic Review. Adam’s story “Woman in the Woods” was published at The Fourth River and can be found here. I spoke with him about the value of experimenting within the craft of writing.
The Fourth River: If there is a process to becoming a writer, what is yours?
Adam Reger: I don’t know if there was a process; I feel like it’s all just fallen into my lap. With the ghostwriting thing, I just placed an ad on Craigslist and somebody contacted me. With Pitt Magazine, it happened that the editor there was someone I went to grad school with.
FR: You worked as Editor-in-Chief for the literary journal Hot Metal Bridge at one point. Was that a valuable experience?
AR: I got a lot out of it. An MFA journal wants to give you the infrastructure where you can take on responsibility. It was great to see the other side of running a literary magazine and to understand rejections, why people weren’t ready to have their stories read by editors, much less published.
FR: Is networking a big part of the publishing industry?
AR: I’m discovering it is. I’ve always been interested in copywriting, and I’m trying to do more with that. I have a couple of books and they recommend calling people out of the blue, but I’ve found that having connections and using them is a faster way of getting anywhere. I’m still trying to branch out and try all kinds of things.
FR: So which lit journals do you read—print and online?
AR: I try to sample as many as I can. That’s way easier to do with online lit magazines, but my list is scattered and incomplete. I subscribe to Hobart, Pear Noir!, Sycamore Review, and McSweeney’s. I’ve always liked what I’ve seen in Electric Literature, A Public Space, and Subtropics. And online, I really like Juked, Pank, Twelve Stories, and Hot Metal Bridge.
FR: Why sample as many as you can?
AR: I feel fine checking on a movie for a half hour, and if it doesn’t catch my attention, I’m okay with putting it aside. Same thing with music, or anything. I have the same approach across all media. Maybe it’s an issue of being selfish with my time.
FR: In a world where all things are now digitized and available online, do you see a demise in the print publication world? Would it matter?
AR: I don’t think it will go away completely. I feel the market for lit magazines is focused on people who like the book as an object. I don’t see [the market] completely going way, but being there for people who like books as art. I think eventually it will be a matter of making different formats available. You can get a journal on your iPad or whatever, or you could get a printed copy delivered.
FR: Your story “Bedroom Tapes,” appearing online in The White Whale Review, melds several different levels of action. To me, it is a story about a man wondering who he might have been had he only acted out his desires. Is that what you were going for?
AR: That’s a good chunk of it. Some of the biographical details about the narrator are from when I was living in Philadelphia after college, so for me, it’s kind of a story about that time in my life and the feeling I had, in retrospect, that I just wasn’t ready to do much of anything. The part where he thinks he would kiss his roommate is just one (fictional) example. That narrator really isn’t ready to deal with the world. I am fond of the part where he considers kissing his roommate because it gives people kind of a handle on the story, like “He wants to act, but he can’t.” And here it’s not that the narrator is secretly gay (although, who knows, I think someone could read it that way), it’s more like he’s not even really formed yet, or he doesn’t know what he wants yet. I think this is a story that you can read different ways, and it doesn’t really give you one of those satisfying “Aha!” moments at the end. I think I sent it to a friend once and said it was “a slow jam.” That still seems pretty accurate.
FR: “Satisfying” is one of those words that has lost meaning because we all use it so much. What does it mean?
AR: If anyone likes the story, then it’s satisfying.
FR: The setting in “Bedroom Tapes” is a character as much as any of the people, and you’ve created a whole atmosphere on several different levels: music, film/visuals, and touch. How did you manage that?
AR: I guess I was working around not having a strong plot. I went through a few drafts with more plot and just kind of gave up and tried to work with what the story had going for it, which was atmosphere and sense of place. I’ve never thought about the atmosphere on different levels thing. (Maybe I shouldn’t admit that.) But I guess I paid attention to the details because I felt like I had to give a potential reader something to compensate for there not being a super-compelling plot. And building the character and providing good sensory details was the best way I could see of doing that.
FR: You’ve written about procrastination, calling it “the Saturday problem.” How do you deal with it, or are you immune?
AR: I’m definitely not immune. The main thing is to acknowledge it, that you are going to want to do other stuff. I hate to think of writing as something I have to get over with, but that’s kind of what I do. On the weekend, I want to get out and run errands or see a movie, so I’ll make myself do my writing in the beginning of the day.
Marcella Prokopholds an MFA degree from Chatham University’s creative writing program. She lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Cover and interview photos by Adelaide Eichman.