Courtesy of Len Vlahos
Writing careers are notoriously difficult to get into, but Len Vlahos author of Life in a Fishbowl, Scar Girl, and The Scar Boys has advice to help get your work published. Vlahos is coming to the Rocky Media Center Wednesday, February 15, during periods 3 & 4, to talk to the students about his newest book Life in a Fishbowl.
1. What kind of steps would someone take to get into a writing career?
The best book on writing I’ve ever read is Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s part memoir about his time as a writer, and part manifesto on how to be a good writer. In it, he gives two pieces of advice that I think are crucial for any aspiring writer: 1) Read every day. To be a writer, you really need to love reading, too. And don’t just read, but read outside your comfort zone. If you want to write sci-fi/fantasy, don’t just read sci-fi/fantasy; read other genres, read non-fiction. And, 2) write every day. Okay, maybe not seven-days-a-week-every-day, but at least several times a week. The more you write, the better you get at it. It’s like going to the gym. You get a kind of mental muscle memory that makes it easier and more fluid. And, yeah, read Stephen King’s book!
2. What did you do to become to a successful writer?
I read everyday and I wrote everyday. I also studied what other writers did, paying attention to how they plied their craft.
3. What do you think prepared you in high school for the writing business?
I had two wonderful English teachers that I credit with making me a writer. Ms. Bernhardt, my tenth grade English teacher, gave me a tremendous amount of encouragement based on two writing assignments — a one-act play about two Christmas trees on the side of the road dying and talking to one another (a comedy); and Sesame Street 2020, in which Bert and Ernie are an old gay couple living together, Oscar The Grouch is a drug addict, and The Count is teaching kids to count by putting bullets in a gun. Remember, this was 1980, so it was a very different time. Another teacher might have criticized me; Ms. Bernhardt pushed me forward. The other teacher was Mr. Sturdeyvant, my English teacher in senior year, who introduced me Shakespeare’s sonnets. That taught me a lot about timing, meter, and lyricism. (It also helped that I played music and had been writing songs since I was thirteen.)
4. When was your first book published? What did you struggle with to get their?
My first book, The Scar Boys, was published in January of 2014. That book was based on experiences I had playing in a band when I was in my teens and early twenties. It was a story I tried to write and tell for twenty years, but that kept coming out as autobiography. It wasn’t until I realized I didn’t want to tell my own story, that I wanted to tell a story about the power of music to heal, that I found my protagonist. So while aspiring writers will often hear “write what you know,” they should also be thinking about what it is they want to say, if that makes sense.
5. What advice would you give to someone that didn’t think they’d be able to get a piece of theirs published?
Stick with it, and be willing to hear and adapt to criticism you get from friends and peers. More than anything, writing is about perseverance. You will encounter a lot of rejection along the way, but you can’t give up. And, it’s important to know that your writing can always be better… it’s never as good as you think it is. Listen to what others are telling you, and edit and rewrite. But don’t try so hard to make it perfect that you never share it. The perfect is the enemy of the good.
6. What will you be talking about to students when you come to Rocky?
I’m going to talk about my new book, Life in a Fishbowl — where the story comes from, how the book got written, and what I hope students will take away from it. We’ll also have time for a Q&A where we can talk about writing and the writing process.