Today I’m delighted to welcome Erika Dreifus, a New York City author whose recent short story collection, Quiet Americans (Last Light Studio), is a 2012 Sophie Brody Medal Honor Title for outstanding Jewish literature.
Erika lives in New York City, where she holds a full-time, writing-intensive administrative job at The City University of New York. A contributing editor for The Writer magazine and for Fiction Writers Review, Erika publishes The Practicing Writer, a free monthly newsletter for poets, fictionists, and writers of creative nonfiction. Her website is a rich and inviting resource for writers.
1. Erika, you switched from the freelancing/adjuncting route (as did I) to a Monday – Friday, 9-5 gig. For many writers, adjuncting and/or freelancing seem to be the default day jobs. Why the switch?
1A. First, Aine, I just want to thank you for inviting me to your blog and for asking such wonderful questions.
After completing my MFA, I’d hoped to obtain a tenure-track college or university position teaching creative writing. I didn’t appreciate at the time how difficult it would be to get hired for that kind of job without having at least one published book to my credit. Freelancing and adjuncting helped support me while I pursued that elusive publishing goal.
But after a few years without a book deal, the instability of life as a freelancer and adjunct began to be too much. Plus, I was contemplating a move from the Boston area to New York, and I knew that if it had been hard to manage as a freelancer/adjunct in Boston, it would likely be even more difficult to do so in New York. It just seemed to be time to try something else—something with the stability (and health insurance!) of a Monday-Friday, 9-5 office job.
2. In terms of your writing life, do you find one type of work setting (adjuncting) better or worse than the other (9-5).
2A. I’m not sure I have a clear perspective on this right now. I have definitely grown as a writer since returning to a 9-5 job in ways I didn’t anticipate back when I was contemplating the move. For instance, I wasn’t writing poetry at all in my freelancing/adjuncting days. But that’s related to something else I’ve noticed: I seem to find it more difficult now to become immersed in longer-form projects. Because so much of my writing occurs in short bursts of time, I seem to be writing in shorter forms much more than I did in the past. The thoughts and images I want to write about are somehow more intense and urgent, and they seem to find expression best in compressed forms.
3. I am excited to read that you write fiction, poetry and non-fiction. Are there times when you are more drawn to one genre than the other? Do certain topics lend themselves to certain genres for you?
3A. Well, in a sense, this is tied to what I mentioned just above. But it’s interesting to me how certain topics seem to recur regardless of the genre. For instance, the experiences of my paternal grandparents—German Jews who immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s—and my perceptions of this family legacy have made their way into my short stories, poems, and essays.
4. Tell us some more about your short fiction collection, Quiet Americans. I’d love to hear about the joys and challenges of making single stories into a complete collection. We can assume that it’s not just a random placement of stories within the ms.? And how do you and the publisher decide which stories get to make the final cut for the collection?
4A. The stories are grounded in the theme that I’ve just mentioned—the experiences of German-Jewish refugees in the United States and their descendants. As for the processes of selecting and sequencing the stories: All of that unfolded over time.
My case may be a little different, because my publisher initially expressed interest in my work as a collection. That is to say, he was aware that I had published a number of stories in literary journals and magazines, and he knew from his own experience how difficult it can be to get a collection published. He wondered if I had a collection already prepared that he might consider taking on. And since I had already spent so many years shaping (and re-shaping) the collection, and benefited from the advice of a couple of agents who’d been interested in it, the collection already had a structure and logic that my publisher appreciated. He was (and remains!) wonderfully supportive.
5. I think my readers would also love to hear about your publishing process. In this changing publishing environment, can you speak to the advantages (or not) of the independent, literary press?
5A. Quiet Americans owns its existence as a published collection to this new environment and to the possibilities now afforded to independent, literary presses. No question. So that is one significant advantage!
Obviously, it would be nice if every independent publisher had the resources and contacts of the larger houses. It would simply be easier to reach readers that way. But again, independent presses are now an increasingly viable option and ensuring that additional works of quality have a fighting chance in the literary marketplace. I see so much benefit in that, for authors and for readers.
6. What are your top 3 tips for transitioning or balancing between your day job and your writing life?
6A. Well, I’m frankly more interested in other people’s tips! But, for what they’re worth, here are mine:
- Get up early! Seriously, there are only so many hours in the day. I always feel better if I’ve managed to get some writing done before I leave for the day job.
- Get some exercise. After spending 40 hours each week at one desk, it isn’t always easy to settle in to start working at another one. Even a quick walk around the neighborhood will help. I also find that exercise helps “jog” my mind; it’s not uncommon for me to solve a writing problem or come up with a new idea while I’m walking or running.
- Keep reading. Reading helps us stay inspired and keeps us learning. Even if you can squeeze in only a few pages before bed, make sure you get a daily dose of reading.
Thank you, Erika, for your thoughtful answers.
What about you, gentle reader (and writer)? Have you switched between adjunct teaching, freelancing or office-based positions? What blends or blended best with your creative writing life?