INTERVIEW: Callan Wink

Callan Wink

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CALLAN WINK was born in Michigan in 1984 and now works as a fishing guide on the Yellowstone River in Montana. His work has been published in the New Yorker, Granta, and The Best American Short Stories.

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Your short stories have been likened to the words of Richard Ford, Annie Proulx, Thomas McGuane, Joy Williams and Jim Harrison, butwhich author/s inspired you to pursue a literary career?
I have definitely enjoyed the works of all those listed writers. I’d add Cormac McCarthy, Richard Brautigan, Jeffrey Eugenides. Marilynne Robinson, Alice Munro, Edward P. Jones, and Roald Dahl, to name a few.

Who might you identify as having had an influence/impact on your artistic development? How did they influence your writing and what specifically did you learn?
I think probably the biggest influence on my writing life was made by my parents, specifically their decision to raise me and my sisters in a house full of books with no TV. I was a voracious and indiscriminate reader as kid, a habit my parents encouraged. I firmly believe that if my parents hadn’t structured my childhood this way I’d have never felt the urge to write anything. Over the years I’ve been fortunate to spend time with a number of great writers/teachers. Brad Watson, Rattawut Lapcharoensap, Alyson Hagy, and Adam Johnson especially were all extremely generous with their insight and support.

You have previously mentioned that the characters and locations within Dog Run Moon are loosely inspired by real people and places. What/who else inspires you and your short stories?
Most of the stories I come up with stem from elements of my current life in Montana or my childhood in Northern Michigan. Both of these locations are primarily rural and this reflects in the stories I write. I feel that every story I come up with has a slightly different process of germination. I wish I had a way to standardize/replicate the process but every time one comes together I’m kind of shocked and have no real confidence that I’ll ever be able to do it again.

If you were to seek inspiration from an author or their work, which piece of literature or book/s might you refer to? What specifically about these words inspires you?
I reread Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian at least once a year. I think this book inspires me in number of ways. It features highly stylized prose but never strays too far from narrative  movement. In many ways it is a novel based on movement. Basically, there’s beautiful language but the pages still turn quickly. This blend of artistry and readability is something I strive for.

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Aside from literature, which other artists or art forms might you draw inspiration from? Do you explore artistic expression in any other form?
Although it might still be considered literature, I do often find inspiration in lyrics. Songs by James McMurtry and Townes Van Zandt in particular have inspired me to write stories. It’s not extremely common but sometimes I’ll hear a lyric or song and feel like there’s a great story there, so I flesh it out. Maybe that’s idea theft, I don’t know.

How do you know when an idea is ripe for expansion as a short story? What encourages you to choose one idea above another?
I’m pretty much always scribbling down ideas. It is rare however to have an idea in mind and then write a story that actually embodies that idea. It seems like the idea is a catalyst and then when I start writing often the original spark gets lost in the growing narrative. I used to get frustrated by this but I think it’s a necessary facet of developing stories organically. Most of the time if I adhere too strongly to a specific idea or goal and I end up with something that reads rigidly.

When developing the idea, what elements (theme/location/character/plot) do you focus on? Is one more important than the other or is each story different
I think for the most part every story is different. Again, I wish I had a blueprint, this would be a lot easier. I will say however that rather than focus on specific elements like location plot etc. I tend to be concerned more with overall flow. I realize this is kind of a hazy term but when you come across a story that flows it’s usually pretty recognizable.

I often think in scenes. I’ll get all the scenes I can think of for a story written and then arrange them so that they seem to lead inevitably to one another. It doesn’t always work, but it’s something I shoot for.

Do you start writing as soon as you have an idea for a story or do you prefer to consider and plan before you begin?
I pretty much never plan when it comes to stories. If I get an idea I’ll just start writing and see where it goes. I have a lot of false starts and dead ends. My computer is littered with two page story intros that I’ve abandoned.

In your interview with The New Yorker (September 2011), you stated that following your move to Wyoming you ‘start[ed] thinking of [yourself] as a writer and taking [your] writing seriously.’ Have your writing habits changed, and if so, how?
When I was younger I used to equate writing with that awesome feeling of inspiration and fevered creation. Over the past five or so years I’ve really been writing a lot more and I’ve learned that you can’t really expect to get that feeling. For me, most of the time writing just feels like work, better than a lot of work I’ve done, but work nonetheless. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend some time with some exceptionally successful writers and the single thing they have in common is an extremely strong work ethic.

I get distracted by things, fishing and surfing and women primarily but I really do try to at least think about writing every day, and actually put words on the screen most days.

What is your most common course of progress once you have started writing? Do you write until you have completed a 1st draft or do you regularly re-read and revise?
With short stories it’s easy to reread. Usually every morning before I start writing I’ll reread the whole thing up until the point at which I left off the day before. I think this regular refreshing  allows your subconscious writing mind to form connections and echoes. These are the things that elevate a short story and most of the time I can’t consciously write them in a narrative. Its only when I read what I’ve written that I see the stuff beginning to gel. So, that works for short stories. I’m still trying to figure out how to write a good novel. Rereading the whole thing every morning is not exactly feasible when you start to get into hundreds of pages.

How do you approach and conduct the revision of your work? Do you pay close attention to specific components of the prose, and if so, how do you manage this?
I just reread and go back over and tinker around. I’ve been lucky to have some good readers both in my MFA program and now in the Stegner program at Stanford. I do think that at a certain point you just need to get someone else to look at the thing. One of my goals as a writer is to get more confidant in self editing and revision. It can be tough to recognize what’s good and what’s crap, even in (especially in) your own work.

What impact did your studies at The University of Wyoming have on your development and how did your engagement with other writers – both academics and students – influence your writing?
I think the biggest part was just getting that two years where I was expected to write and produce. People took my writing seriously there, something I hadn’t even really done myself at that point. I felt the need to work hard, basically because they had given me this opportunity and I wanted to get everything I could from it. I’m sure I annoyed the hell out of my teachers there. I was always trying to get their input on my stories, bringing them new revisions etc.

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Your debut collection of short stories Dog Run Moon was incredibly well received and widely acclaimed by critics and the wider literary press. How did you feel upon reading such positive reviews and what did you do to celebrate?
I was obviously very happy. I’d put a lot of effort into the book and it was gratifying to be able to hold it and say ‘I wrote this.’ It’s of course nice to get good reviews, the general understanding though is that critics are less kind to sophomore efforts so it’s best to not let good reviews get to your head.
My friend, the late great Jim Harrison said, when I told him my book was finally coming out, ‘Well don’t expect them to throw you a parade in New York City.’ When it comes down to it, it’s just a short story collection.

How, if at all, has your life changed since the publication of Dog Run Moon?Are there any differences, professionally and/or personally, in your approach to the writing and publication of your next book?
Mostly everything is still the same. I’ve been a little less worried about what to do for money in the winters for the last couple years but other than that I’m still fishing guiding and doing all the same stuff. I will say that having my collection be well received has elevated my desire to publish a good novel. There’s acertain level of stress that comes with expectations but mostly I try not to dwell on it.

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Which of the short stories in Dog Run Moon was the most enjoyable to write and why? Conversely, which was the most difficult and why?
I think the title story, Dog Run Moon came out the easiest, for whatever reason. I did spend time revising of course but the bulk of the story came out in a couple days and remained relatively unchanged. It’s nice when that happens. The story Exotics, came fairly quickly but then over revision I ended up completely rewriting over half of it, with many subsequent edits. That one was fairly painful. It seems that each one comes to life in its own way.

In your 2015 interview with The New Yorker you stated that you found writing short stories ‘fun’ and were working on a piece about ‘some free-living hippies working on a pot farm in Colorado’. Is this story finished and available to read?
I did complete a draft of that story and was moderately happy with how it turned out. It currently resides, along with many others, on my computer. It may find a home someday.

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You mentioned that you were working on a ‘couple of longer pieces’ and some short stories which you wanted to gather in to ‘some sort of collection’. What can your fans look forward to reading next?
I have enough stories for another collection currently. As well as several novel attempts in various stages of completion. Most days I try to work on the novel. Sometimes I take a break and write a story. My goal is to get a decent novel out in the near future.

Between short stories and longer pieces/novels,do you prefer to work in either form? What are the differences of each, beyond mere length, and how does this affect your writing methods?
I think short stories come a little easier to me. Novel writing requires more ability to hold narrative force and tension throughout long middle sections. Short stories are much more about beginnings and endings and these are the areas I like the most. That being said, I definitely read more novels than short story collections but I think both forms present their own difficulties and pleasures—for readers and writers.

What is the best advice you have received regarding your writing and/or literary ambitions, and what advice would you offer our readers and other aspiring writers?
Two things. First, regarding writing specifically, Isak Dineson said something along the lines of,

“Write a little each day, without hope, without despair.”

I’ve always thought that this was good advice. Regarding publishing and literary ambitions, my writing teacher Rattawut Lapcharoensap advised me not to worry too much about publishing because if you do good enough work people will find you. In the end it comes down to the quality of the work and that should be your primary concern as a writer.

What are you presently reading and which authors would you recommend?
Recently I’ve read and enjoyed, Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez, Miss Jane by Brad Watson, Barbarian Days by William Finnegan, Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson and The Nix by Nathan Hill. I’d highly recommend any and all of these books.

Dog Run Moon was published by Granta Books on 3rd March 2016.

You can purchase a copy of Dog Run Moon from Barnes & NobleFoylesThe Book Depository, or Waterstones.

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To discover more about Granta Books click here

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Interview by Ross Jeffery

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