A conversation with writer Anthony Grooms by Kathy Holzapfel
Anthony Grooms is an award winning writer, teacher, and poet. The former Macon State College professor is the author of “Ice Poems,” the short story collection “Trouble No More” and the novel “Bombingham.” A two-time Lillian Smith Prize winner and co-founder of the Georgia Writers’ Association, Tony is a Fulbright Fellow and Professor of Creative Writing at Kennesaw State University. His books have been twice selected to the All Georgia Reads list.
ABOUT ANTHONY…AS PROFESSOR:
KH: You teach creative writing and you’re a multi-publisher author. Which one is more challenging – and why?
AG: Each has its own set of challenges, but perhaps teaching is the more challenging since it requires trying to enter the realm of the student’s imagination as a way to help him or her improve. It is also very time consuming and impinges heavily on my writing discipline. But I enjoy teaching. It is a part of how I define myself as a writer.
KH: A writer’s creative process is deeply personal. But the audience – readers – have expectations. How do you teach aspiring writers established literary conventions that don’t inhibit originality?
AG: I emphasize that tradition is a part of creation. In order to respond to, or even rebel against, tradition, the writer must first understand it. After that, I allow students to discover on their own—always guiding them—but allowing for failures and successes, many of which lead them to a deeper understanding of how to use or not to use tradition.
KH: How do you shut off the “professor” part of your psyche for your personal writing endeavors? I imagine you with one voice chirping in your left ear, and a totally different voice in your right ear.
AG: The problem for me is often how do I turn on the professor! In fact, I’ve been writing and teaching for such a long time that the two roles seem fairly integrated—at least in terms of my personality. In the classroom, I want to be seen as a writer who teaches—I profess—or at least hope I do—many of the ideas and energies that I want to apply when I am at my desk.
All of my writing groups turn into drinking groups—so I really like writing groups.
ABOUT ANTHONY…AS AUTHOR:
KH: Describe your creative process for book length projects. Do you complete an outline before drafting prose? Where does research fit it?
AG: I never do outlines. Rather, I focus on characters and conflicts and try to work out what happens when the characters I imagine meet certain challenges. My drafts are generally messy and my progress is often slow—but it is an exploration. I bush whack my way toward a destination. It can get frustrating, but I feel it is a more engaged and honest process for me than an outlining. Research is an ongoing aspect of my process. Thank God for Google and Wiki—no don’t thank God for them; they are distracting! In essence everything can provide detail for a novel, so I am constantly reading, listening, observing for helpful details.
KG: What’s your revision process? Do you make multiple passes through a manuscript?
AG: Yes. And when I think it’s perfect—I consult the services of a real editor.
KG: Does anyone read your work in progress? Are you in any writing or critique groups? What are your thoughts – pro or con – on critique groups?
AG: All of my writing groups turn into drinking groups—so I really like writing groups. In fact, I have a few carefully selected early readers and I usually find them helpful. Critique groups can be inspiring—or they can be destructive. It depends on the make-up of the group and its agenda. Outside of the classroom, I advise students to form carefully selected—and small—groups. As writers mature in their craft, the groups may become less useful as critique groups, and more useful as networking groups.
KG: You also write poetry and short stories. When inspiration hits, do you know right away whether the piece will be long or short, or does it change up some times?
AG: Oddly enough, I do have a sense of genre when I get an idea. Largely it depends on the scope of the idea—a succinctly made observation or a question about social interactions. Once, however, a poem expanded into a novel manuscript of several hundred pages. Both the poem and the manuscript are in the attic.
KH: What new writing projects are keeping you awake at night?
AG: It is not writing that keeps me awake at night. I tend to write in the late morning or early afternoon. I am working on a couple of different things—I never seem short on ideas—just on time to write them. I am well into a novel draft about a black American Vietnam deserter in Sweden. I am sketching out science fiction short shorts and thinking about a SF novel; I have two manuscripts circulating. Now, that does keep me awake at night! Fussing about publishers!—but, finally, all I can do is to write. Because that’s what I do.