Street Talk

Jeffrey Condran

Jeffrey Condran is the author of the story collection, A Fingerprint Repeated.  His debut novel, Prague Summer, will be published by Counterpoint in August 2014.  His fiction has appeared in journals such as The Kenyon Review, The Missouri Review, and Epoch, and has been awarded the 2010 William Peden Prize and Pushcart Prize nominations.  He is an Assistant Professor of English at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and the Co-founder of Braddock Avenue Books.

Writing Process Blog Tour


I was incredibly pleased to be asked by University of Pittsburgh writing instructor, Robert Yune, to participate in this Writing Process Blog Tour!

What am I working on?

"Prague Summer" book cover For the last year I’ve been working on final edits of my forthcoming novel, Prague Summer.  I’ve been lucky and have always had wonderful experiences working with editors.  This experience with Counterpoint, though, was by far the most comprehensive: there was my editor, Jack Shoemaker, but also copyeditors and production editors, all of whom worked hard to produce a beautiful book.  I read an essay once about James Joyce making handwritten changes on the manuscript of Ulysses right until the morning the novel was scheduled to go into production.  I wasn’t that obsessive, but the push and pull that goes on between convention and authorial style was fascinating.

When I finished Prague Summer and the book was out of my hands, I found I didn’t know what to do with myself.  What had been the focus of my literary life was gone, and sooner than I thought possible, I wanted to be writing something again.  I wasn’t ready to start another novel and so returned to stories.  It was so wonderful to be to finish something in months (or even weeks) rather than in years.  Still, I didn’t know if I was writing a story collection or not.  In some ways, I still don’t.  Fortunately, I don’t feel in any hurry to see.

Most recently, however, I’ve been working on essays.  One is a longer piece about reading aloud being an act of love and the other is about the literary benefits of being a flâneur—this second essay will be part of series of short essays (I’m the Guest Editor) that will appear on PANK Magazine’s website in August.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

As I began to travel more and to meet immigrants to the United States, I became interested in the impact of globalization on the human condition, particularly on the making of identity.  I attended a talk with Aleksandar Hemon where he described old style immigration to—generally—be a thing of the past.  Because of technology and the ease of international travel, one need not ever permanently leave one country nor completely assimilate into a new one.  Instead, we can become almost global citizens, shifting our allegiances as our interests or needs dictate.  I think this is an important change, and one that opens up new issues in our relationships with each other and how we deal with life’s problems.  These ideas are a big part of what my novel, Prague Summer, attempts to dramatize.

Why do I write what I do?

I write fiction because I love what novels especially can do.  Partly, I’m thinking about Milan Kundera’s idea from The Art of the Novel, “A novel should do what only the novel can do,” but also of the effect that reading deeply into a novel can have on a person’s mind and feelings.  In novels we meet characters at the most important moment of their lives, and we’re with them for every action, every thought of that drama.  Depending on how fast we read, we spend days, weeks, perhaps even months with them in this deeply intimate way.  I might argue that we are closer to these characters—and know them better—than any other person in our lives.  And, I think, in a world in which technology has (despite its rhetoric) driven a wedge into peoples’ relationships, this kind of intimacy and connection is invaluable.

How does my writing process work?

I nearly always begin writing with some kind of inspiration text.  I’m leading a life now that is pretty much consumed by books—writing, editing and publishing (through Braddock Avenue Books), and teaching them—and so find that I “read” the world, the actual world, through the lens of books.  Usually there are multiple inspiration texts for a project.  For Prague Summer, there were a handful: Richard Ford’s, The Sportswriter, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (of course), Henry Miller’s, Tropic of Cancer, Arturo Perez-Reverte’s, The Club Dumas, and Carlos Luis Zafon’s, The Shadow of the Wind. Once these inspiration books orient me tonally to the project, I begin.

When it comes to the actual writing, I seem to be at odds with conventional wisdom.  Most creative writing teachers, including myself, believe that you should slam down a “shitty first draft”—thanks, Anne Lamott—and then ruthlessly revise.  I want very much to do this, but never seem to.  Instead, I craft very slowly, writing only a single page or even half a page per day.  This, however, follows a different piece of Lamott’s advice: “1-inch picture frames.”  The idea is to avoid being overwhelmed by providing yourself with a small and achievable task.  This is how I work.  There is a scene in a film I like called Ronin where this sort of underworld “fixer” played by the French actor, Michael Lonsdale, has a hobby of painting miniature soldiers.  He sits at his comfortable desk in the quiet evenings, work lamp and magnifying glass trained on the little soldiers, and his careful brushstrokes filling in the color of their uniforms and weapons and flags.  This is how I like to think of myself.  Of course, the revision bit remains regardless…

Next week the Writing Process blog tour continues with Michael Gerhard Martin, author of the forthcoming story collection, Easiest If I Had A Gun.