In the compact essay, “Rings,” (Issue 2) writer Bill Vernon remembers the childhood trauma associated with ringing pigs on a neighbor’s farm. In his interview, Vernon discusses inspiration, dancing, and contemplating his writing away from a computer.
Bill Vernon served in the United States Marine Corps and has taught college-level English literature. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folkdances. Five Star Mysteries published his novel Old Town in 2005, and his poems, stories, and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies. He plays Uncle Sam in his hometown Dayton, Ohio’s annual festival A World A’Fair.
What inspired you to create this piece? The experience it describes often recurs in my memory because it frightened and shocked me. So I knew it was an important subject.
How would you characterize your creative process as you worked on this piece? (ex: fast and furious, slow brew, fits and starts) As usual, I told the story from the boy’s perspective adding all the details I thought relevant, resulting in a draft 3 to 5 times longer than the final copy’s length. The rest of the writing was slowly editing and revising, chopping to essentials, a process that allowed me to uncover those essentials as I went. That means I was able to tighten the story’s focus.
What writing or other artistic expression has had a profound impact on your writing? Why? My brother John paints. I like beautiful painting, beautiful writing. I dance, an activity which may not be beautiful but involves attempting to do something beautiful in response to beautiful music. All of these art forms somehow suggest my purpose in writing is to create beauty with words.
Where do you create? Tell us about your workspace. I work mostly in front of a computer. I often contemplate my writing while walking and decide on ways to approach what I’m working on. Then I return to the computer.
Who has been influential in your writing/creative work? Why? All of my reading, though diverse, both of effective and ineffective works, suggest options or possibilities in my own writing, both things to emulate and things to avoid.
What do you do to help yourself get over a creative block? I struggle through a particular subject by writing on something else. Let the one I’m having trouble with stew and bubble and slowly it almost always takes form. I break my habits, and the little shock of this change sometimes frees my fingers on the keyboard.
What living writer would you recommend other nonfiction writers read? What titles in particular? Why? I suggest that you especially try the widely heralded nonfiction works of the kind you want to write. Locating your interest specifically, move on to lesser known works of that kind. You learn what does and doesn’t succeed, and this knowledge informs your own work.
How, if at all, does painting and dancing influence your writing or you as a writer? My answer is that both art forms, for one thing, provide subjects. I’ve written a number of times about painting and/or artists, a few times about dancing but not as successfully. To write about dancing and make it interesting is hard to do. Both art forms also, I think, give me a sense of symmetry and balance in both sentences and scenes. The repetition of colors and shapes, of steps and figures, parallels various elements in writing so I have a kind of intuitive sense of when something works and fits in.
What do you think the benefits of contemplating your writing away from a computer are? Contemplation from afar lets me mull over things I’m not sure of or unhappy about with works in progress. There’s a wide range of possibilities in any writing, and abstracted from the page in my mind they allow me to see alternative approaches from what I’ve spent effort and time creating. Sometimes I’ll make notes as I walk or after I return home, but usually I can remember enough of my contemplations to go right to the keyboard and start trying out the new ideas. Often I can’t tell what will work until I try it.
We asked Bill to dip into the “Proust Questionnaire” and select a few fun (less writing-related) questions to answer.This probing set of questions originated as a 19th-century parlor game popularized by contemporaries of Marcel Proust, the French essayist and novelist, who believed that an individual’s answers reveal his or her true nature.
When and where were you happiest? Childhood, in the hills of Ohio, before reaching the age of reason.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? Clichés, and I.
What is your greatest extravagance? Putting in so much time writing I ignore other matters. Writing’s my most rewarding activity but also the most frustrating.
Which talent would you most like to have? To be able to sing or play a musical instrument.
What is your motto? Persist. Keep at it and something good will happen.
This interview was curated by Erika Williams, Proximity‘s Interview Series Coordinator and a creative writing student at Ohio University.