Today, we have an opportunity to talk to Christopher Acker. Christopher has written the book, Things Happen.
First, let me thank you for joining me. I appreciate you giving me your links and I want to share those with our readers.
His new collection of contemporary short stories, Things Happen, will be available on Amazon on November 15, 2021, the day this blog posts. Congratulation on that accomplishment!
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am a husband, father of two wonderful girls (Violet and Emily), and clinical social worker living in Bridgewater, New Jersey. I’ve been writing fiction for nearly twenty years.
"My ears are always scanning for story ideas."
Clinic social work - that can be a heavy career path. I was a clinic director once upon a time. I bet writing is a nice release and destressor. When did you begin writing?
I first discovered my love for writing during my sophomore year at Rutgers University. I was taking a class called “The Short Story” and our professor had us read Raymond Carver’s “I Could See the Smallest Things.” The story is only six pages long but it changed my life. I had read minimalist stories before (e.g. Hemingway) but the way Carver created so much drama with zero plot to get in the way was like seeing a stupendous magic trick. And I just had to learn the secret!
Where do you get your inspiration, information, and ideas for books?
“Inspiration” usually hits me when I least expect it. Sometimes it’s a news article I stumble across. Other times, it’s a small detail (like a flattened Dunkin’ Donuts bag) that makes me think of a story. I’ve even written a story after a friend muttered something random that I thought would make for an excellent line of dialogue.
In other words, my ears are always scanning for story ideas.
"Better yet, read your work aloud. The ears can find areas that need improvement that the eyes have trouble seeing."
What advice would you give someone who wants to be a writer?
My advice is twofold. First, write. Naturally, the more you do something, the more you get better at it. You learn from your mistakes. You can pick up things just by the act of writing more and more.
My second bit of advice is edit. This is a no-brainer. All of my first drafts are complete garbage. But with each round of editing, the real work takes place. Have a trusted friend give you some feedback during the editing process. Better yet, read your work aloud. The ears can find areas that need improvement that the eyes have trouble seeing.
What is the best advice you have ever been given as a writer?
One of my creating writing professors in college told our class that On Writing Fiction by David Jauss should be on every writer’s bookshelf. She wasn’t kidding! There are too many pearls of wisdom in this book to list here. I go back to it whenever I embark on a new project.
I will have to check it out. I'm currently in Save the Cat but often resist King's book, also titled On Writing. One of the things he discusses is finding a "when" to write. Do you write full-time or around another job? How do you schedule your time to write?
I wish I wrote full-time, but a little thing called bills gets in the way. I work full-time helping homeless Veterans get back on their feet. Between that, taking my girls to soccer games and swim lessons, and exercising to stay healthy, finding a good chunk of time to write is next to impossible. If I get twenty minutes here or there, then I have to take advantage of that. Maybe that’s why I gravitate to writing short stories.
That makes total sense. Keeping track of everything in a long novel can be an immense task. I know if I walk away more than a few days I start getting names and places wrong. Short stories are much tighter. What is your favorite part about writing?
Editing. It is so rewarding seeing a story really take shape.
That is pretty amazing. Most authors loathe that process. But editing is the secret to a quality product. How do you know you are done editing?
Flipping through some of my work and thinking to myself, That’s a damn good story.
Please tell us about your current release.
Things Happen came out of the pandemic, but thankfully, none of the stories are about the coronavirus, quarantining, or social distancing.
The ideas behind the four stories in this collection felt much more substantial than a typical short story. And to be honest, I had no interest in turning any of the ideas into a novel. I was inspired by Stephen King’s Different Seasons and took a crack at the long-form short story.
As I was writing each story, I felt there was a connective tissue that wove through the four tales. Celebrities (in one form or another) make an appearance in each story. They are also loosely based on various things I’ve seen in the news over the past few years (i.e. racial unrest, high school sports run amok, Google Maps re-surveying neighborhoods, and the trial of a kidnapper/rapist).
I also played with my writing much more than I have in the past. Here, I was inspired by T.C. Boyle and Denis Johnson instead of my regular muse, Raymond Carver. It was a blast to be more expansive with my writing. I’m not sure if I will stick with this style moving forward, but it’s always fun to travel outside your comfort zone.
Can you read / provide us with a small exert? (optional – under 200 words)
Here’s the opening paragraph to “Now You See Him, Now You Don’t,” which is the first story from Things Happen.
The first time she spotted the Google Maps car was at Machpelah Cemetery. Dinah didn’t even know what she was looking at. All she could see was the red camera. The rest of the car was obscured behind the row of hedges that formed the cemetery’s perimeter. It looked like a giant red eye, like HAL 9000. The orb wouldn’t stop gawking at her. Strangely, she could feel it record her every move.
Leave me alone, she wanted to tell the giant floating eye. Can’t you see I’m grieving?
Thanks for that share. Most of us are influenced by other writers. Who are your favorite authors?
Raymon Carver, Cormac McCarthy, and Denis Johnson
Any under-appreciated novels you'd promote to our readers?
The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson. I don’t understand how this collection of stories hasn’t caught on as much as Jesus’ Son did. “Doppelganger, Poltergeist” alone is worth the price of admission.
It is easy to pour a lot of money into the craft. Books, marketing, editing, going to press, conferences, and so much more. What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
A French press.
That is excellent, though I am a McDonalds coffee - black - type of guy. Other than fatigue fixed by coffee, what is your writer’s kryptonite?
My guitar. Every time I encounter writer’s block, I want to throw in the towel and futz around with my guitar. It’s such a distraction!
What part of writing and publishing makes you want to throw in the towel?
The worst part of writing for me is the first draft. There is nothing more terrifying than a brilliant white sheet of paper staring back at you.
Other than that, promoting my work has been the most uncomfortable part of the process. Writing is a very quiet, meditative process, which works well for introverts like me. Telling people Come look at my book, although necessary for writers, does not come naturally to me.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Simply, I hope you enjoy my book.
One more time, where can someone go to purchase your book?
Things Happen will be available on Amazon on November 15, 2021.