Hello. I am Randal Eldon Greene, bookworm and logophile. I graduated from the University of South Dakota in 2011 with a degree in English and Anthropology. I’ve had short stories and other writings appear in 34thParallel, as|peers, Monkeybicycle, Unbroken Journal, NPR online, and elsewhere. My first book is about a linguist, a lake monster, and the looming shadow of death. It’s titled Descriptions of Heaven and was published late November 2016 by Harvard Square Editions. It’s a short, dense book.
When and why did you start writing?
Well, my first piece of meritorious writing was a short story about a mailman penguin. It earned me an award for young authors when I was in first grade. That corrupted my sensibilities I suppose and placed me firmly on the path toward authorship. Later, I took writing poetry seriously during my junior high and high school years. During my college years, I became more practised at fiction, which is good, considering that I intended to write novels in the future.
What inspires your writing?
The truck drivers and their weathered faces. The trees’ grey bark in the ghostly winter light. Ex-girlfriends. Strange little stories from strangers I meet. Grumpy dogs roaming the streets of small cities. Dying grandmothers. Former rock bands I sang for.
How would you define creativity?
My creativity is like that of a sculptor’s. I am not putting pieces together so much as scraping away the fine lines of experience and imagination to find the stories buried within.
Do you have any writing rituals to get you in the mood for writing?
Coffee. Black and strong.
If you could, what would you go back and tell yourself as a writer starting out?
Don’t put off writing for anyone else. If they love you, they’ll want you to write.
What do you believe make for great writing?
Images and ideas make for great writing. Page turners and plot twists are fine and dandy, but there’s nothing great in that other than mastery of a technique. Great writing makes me think as much as it makes me feel. And there’s something odd and mysterious about great writing that commercial fiction cannot match.
Which writers have influenced your writing?
Joyce Carol Oates, Don DeLillo, Virginia Woolf, László Krasznahorkai, Donald Barthelme, and many others have influenced my writing or at least some of my work.
How do you measure success as a writer?
There’s two types of writerly success: personal and professional. For the first, it’s sitting down at the goddamn desk and writing. You do that, then you’re successful. Professional success is measured by the number of publications and performances of your work—accolades in general.
There’s also something called monetary success, but that has nothing to do with being a writer. That’s the realm of “marketer” which is an entirely different hat. It’s a hat some writers have to wear sometimes, and if a writer’s lucky, they never have to put it on or have to put it on only rarely.
Have you ever hated something you wrote?
If I hate it, I don’t write it. I can’t write something I hate because it won’t make it past my brain and into my pen. Regret, now that’s another thing. Hate, no.
What’s your biggest fear as a writer?
Don’t all authors share the fear that everyone will find out they’re a fraud? While a fleeting fear, there’s always this nagging suspicion that I simply can’t do it again, can’t make the words flow like that even once more. So much of what I do as a writer feels supernatural that it’s easy to think I can’t tap that kind of ability again. Yet I and so many others do it day after day. Getting over the fear is as easy as writing, but it’s a tough, that large quotidian slice of time between writing sessions.
What traits do you feel make a great writer?
A great writer must have both the ability to dream and motivation to make their dreams come true. Mostly though, I think it’s the latter.
Describe your latest book to our readers
Descriptions of Heaven is lyrical literary fiction. It’s a story written in poetic prose. The book explores morbidity, death and dying. It is told from the perspective of Robert, a linguist. His wife, Natalia, is dying of incurable cancer. They and their son Jesse try to come to terms with the inevitable end of her life, each in their own way. Jesse becomes obsessed with the supposed lake monster. Robert looks to the trees and clouds and wields heavy words to tell his story. Natalia paints. But the world around them is dying of drought, even as their little corner of the globe gets rain. A lament for what is already lost and what is yet to be lost, Descriptions of Heaven leaves only one question to be asked: What’s next?
What would you like readers to take away from your writing?
A sense that they’ve just read something special—a small fragment of a larger world which, like a mirror, reflects our own life in a jagged way that reveals as much as it distorts.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Don’t waste all your energy world-building and creating intricate backstories. You have to stop and actually write the story at some point.
Short stories themselves—especially when you’re first starting out—can be excellent tools for honing specific parts of writing that you struggle with. Scene building, dialogue, description, action…anything, really, can be practised through crafting short fiction.
Can you give our audience a writing prompt to help get them writing?
Sure. Write two different scenes. Make both of them a little weird, uncanny. Surreal. Set them in different places, with different people (if there are people). Give yourself twenty minutes to write both. Okay. Got them written? Great. Now write a third scene where you put the two together somehow. Try not to write the initial two with the third scene in mind. It will challenge you, trying to fuse those creative connections. The ending scene may or may not work. The point is to exercise your creative muscle.
What’s next for you?
by Randal Eldon Greene
A linguist, a lake monster, and the looming shadow of death—news of an unknown creature in the New Bedford Lake coincides with news that Natalia’s cancer has returned.
On the shores of the lake in a strange house with many secret doors, Robert and his family must face the fact that Natalia is dying, and there is no hope this time. But they continue on; their son plays by the lakeside, Natalia paints, Robert writes, and all the while the air is thick with dust from a worldwide drought that threatens to come down and coat their little corner of green.
A lament for what is already lost and what is yet to be lost, Descriptions of Heaven leaves only one question to be asked: What’s next?