I’ve heard that public speaking is the number one fear of most people. That’s understandable, as there are a lot of things that could go wrong, once you’re up there behind the microphone. Unbeknownst to you, there could be a squid on your head, which certainly would not present you in a flattering light to your audience. Or, four thousand gigawatts of electricity could suddenly arc through the microphone into your braces, lighting you up for all the galaxy to see. And, of course, there’s that recent United Nations study about how rabid woodchucks are inexplicably drawn to people standing near microphones. Anyway, with these somber thoughts in mind, let us welcome Isaac Sweeney to the site. He will have a lot to say, I’m sure about these things, or other unrelated things.
Hi, Isaac. Thanks for taking the time to stop by. Before we chat about your books, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born in the Richmond, Va., area, and I went to high school in Mechanicsville, Va., just outside of Richmond. In high school (Lee Davis High – Go Confederates!), I met Melanie, who was/is a year older than me. We dated and fell in love and she moved a couple hours away after she graduated, to go to James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. We embarked on a long-distance relationship, then I transfered to JMU. I’m not too prideful to admit that I followed her there. Sure, it’s a good school, but it was love that led me to JMU. We both graduated eventually, got married eventually, and had to start real life. I went back to school and have a master’s degree in English, and she is a probation officer in Harrisonburg.
Love is a great thing, isn’t it? Arguably, it’s probably the most powerful force in the universe. Dark matter energy, gravity, and love. Er, okay. I’ll stop now before Hallmark offers me a job. So, where did you two finally end up?
We now live just a few miles away from Harrisonburg and JMU. We have a small house, a great son, four awesome dogs, three sweet cats, and an ornery bunny. I don’t know a lot of writers who make a lot of money. I happen to be one of them who doesn’t. For some reason, my wife has always been there, supporting me. I don’t know why. We’ve been married for nine years now, and she’s the strongest person I know. I sure have put her through a lot, but she’s always been there for me, sacrificing her own dreams so I could chase mine. To be honest, I feel guilty about it. I’ve made a recent vow to write a little less and try to find more regular work so she can excel more. Writing has been great for me, and the dream of being a “successful” writer is one I will not be able to fully let go, but when these dreams start suffocating the dreams of those I love the most, it’s time to back off a little.
In all seriousness, you just nailed one of the most painful and profound truths of marriage: dying to self in order to love your spouse. That’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. You’re a good man, Isaac. Anyway, back to writing. What got you started with stories in the first place?
I’m not sure. I remember I always liked to make stuff up. In the third grade, we did a lot of creative activities. Mr. Vaughn was my teacher and he encouraged me to be creative. One assignment, in particular, was creating a radio show, like they used to have before TV. A friend and I did this wacky show; superman was in it is all I can remember. But I remember doing it and feeling that rush, that natural high, that comes with creativity. In the eighth grade, I was given an assignment to write a short fiction story. I think I was hooked from there. I’ve always loved music, especially lyrics, and I think that had a lot to do with me getting into writing. I used to write songs (just lyrics) when I was in high school. That later turned to poetry (which was pretty awful) and it blossomed into all sorts of writing.
I have a lot of poetry that will never see the light of day. Thank God. So, obviously, after all that, you got into writing books. Can you tell us about those?
I have four ebooks out and I’m the publisher of another ebook by Alex Kudera (a novella called The Betrayal of Times of Peace and Prosperity). My most recent work of fiction is Against Her Fading Hour, a collection of three heart-wrenching short stories, all from women’s perspectives. My only books of nonfiction is a collection of essays that got me fired, Students Losing Out: four essays on adjunct labor in higher education.
Ouch. I guess you put your pen where your mouth is with that one. Higher education is…hmm. Don’t get me started. Suffice it to say, if I had put the money I paid for grad school in the stock market instead of that master’s degree, I’d have retired by now. Anyway, back to books. Are there any books or authors who had a lot of influence on you?
I write a lot of short stories and poems, and frankly, I don’t know if I can narrow this list down to three books, stories, or poems. I will give you three influential authors though: Billy Collins (love his humor), Flannery O’Connor (dark, weird, and great), and Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Wow!).
O’Connor is superb. She and Walker Percy, another Southern, are in my top five favorites list of American writers. Er, I’m afraid I haven’t read Collins or Marquez (hangs head in shame). Okay, moving along! You used to teach writing yourself, didn’t you? Do you have any advice for writers?
When I taught, I used to have a few sayings for my students. One of my favorites is not mine, but William Strunk’s. He says, “Vigorous writing is concise.” One that is mine is, “Grammar. They’re not rules; they’re tools.” And then another one of mine, “Don’t fit in. Stand out. And if something pisses you off, write about it.”
So where you do find inspiration? You’ve obviously written a lot. How do you keep on with it?
I write for therapeutic reasons more than anything. I’m most productive when I’m stressed. Like now. I don’t have a “real” job and I don’t have a lot of money. But I write better. I also find inspiration from what I call “the zone.” It’s when things are going great between mind and paper, and you almost can’t stop the flow of awesome ideas. It’s the best drug.
Definitely. And it doesn’t shrivel your brain cells or cost a hundred bucks a gram. That’s a plus. At this point in your life, what do you hope to achieve with your writing?
It would be nice to say that I want to write the great American novel or something. But really, I want to be a “successful” writer. I want to make a living, or a substantial portion of it, off of my writing. Maybe I have to write great to do that. I would like to think so, I guess. If I’m going to get there, though, I’ll need to pick a more popular genre. People just don’t read short stories much, though I think e-readers will change that.
That’s certainly up in the air. The whole e-reader experience is still new, so it’s pretty difficult to predict what it’s going to do to reading habits in the long run. I hope you’re right about short stories, as I enjoy writing them as well. Anyway, speaking of the long run, what would you like to be known for when you exit Planet Earth?
Sounds cheesy, but before anything to do with writing, I would like to be known as a good father and a good husband. Then I imagine conversations going like this:
Have you heard of Isaac Sweeney?
You know. The guy who wrote (enter title here).
Oh yeah! That was good.
I thought so too. Hey, I heard he was a good father and husband.
I had heard that too.
That’s not cheesy. The good father and good husband part is up at the top of my list as well. I’d really like to get those two right. May we all! Before we exit (no, not the Grand Exit), is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks for stopping by, Isaac. Best wishes to you and to your writing.
Isaac Sweeney can be visited online at his website. His books can be purchased on Amazon and Smashwords. He has a new book of short stories out called Evolvement. Also, he runs an ebook publishing company called Gone Dog Press.