How do you describe your art?
How long have you been making it?
I’ve been writing for twenty-eight years, and professionally for twenty-two.
Everyone always wants to know this: where do you get your ideas?
Ideas can come from anywhere or everywhere: from something I see on the street, from an overheard scrap of conversation, from a dream. But coming from and getting are two different things: getting implies that you’re enough aware of them to grab them as they go by. So I focus less on where ideas come from than I do on staying awake so I can take advantage of them as they go by.
How do you know you are on the right track with a new work?
I never do. The only way I can answer this question is to say that I write a new work through to the end and hope for the best. If I can finish writing a novel, set it aside for a couple of months or a year, and read it then and say to myself, “You know, this isn’t too bad,” then I figure I’m on the right track. But not until then.
What do you do to encourage your own creativity?
Read, read, read, and then read. Be aware of the world around me. Then read, read, read, and read some more. Read only the best stuff out there. Throw in some good poems for clarity and conciseness of language.
What is your artistic motto? Or what do you tell yourself when the going gets tough?
What I tell myself is the story about John Steinbeck, who sent a letter to his editor after he finished writing The Grapes of Wrath that read, in part, “This is shit. But it’s the best shit I can write.” Since everything I write is shit, this is encouraging. It encourages me to write the best shit I can.
Give us one final word to describe what you hope people get from your work:
Transcendence. A pipe dream.
Kevin McColley is the author of six novels. Both Praying to a Laughing God and The Other Side were nominated for the National Book Award. Praying to a Laughing God was also a finalist for the Dashiell Hammett Prize for best crime novel published in North America. He is the recipient of both a Bush Artist Fellowship and a fellowship in literature from the McKnight Foundation. He currently lives and writes in northern Minnesota, where he trains his sled dogs. His works are available, as they say, “at a fine bookstore near you,” or at the library.