Curtis Smith at Rosemont College Writers' Retreat with Carla Spataro

Curtis Smith at Rosemont College Writers' Retreat with Carla Spataro



so welcome everyone to Tuesday's writers and readers series here at the Rosemont writers retreat for June 2019 I'm very thrilled to have back once again this year Curtis Smith Curtis Smith speaking of which has published over 100 stories and essays his work has been cited or included in the best American short stories the best American mystery stories best American spiritual writing the best short fictions and the WW Norton Anthology of new micros he was he has worked with independent publishers to put out 5 story collections four novels two essay collections and one work of creative nonfiction but he really needs to do is work a little bit harder that's what I think it's a little sad that your soul yeah that your output is so small so anyway I'm kidding of course please welcome Curtis Smith so I'm asking people weird questions is this go around and you can you know you've heard them yesterday so you have a little bit of time to prepare you should go first yep frequently you do yeah no so I'm ready okay all right so first question is courtesy of a grant clauser who was the poetry person this weekend and he asked his students to create their own coat of arms so I'm asking you the same question usually coat of arms includes a place an animal and a tool okay I forgot I was trying to remember all three by numbering a couple so the animal would be an old dog because I like old dogs okay because they get to sleep a lot and they're loyal and so you aspire to be an old dog well yeah I'm looking forward to that day when I can nap in the morning and in the afternoon you know aim high yeah tool would probably have to be a phone because I would need to call someone instead of me doing something myself I was to wake you up from your nap yeah don't don't wake me up from my nap just because most of my home projects go awry and about half of them I end up calling someone anyway so I'm not the most handy gotcha and what was the place you know I love the woods I'd love to be outside I love to be on a path I love the mountains so I go with that okay so like maybe a tree with a little windy path path with a tree sure some rocks and roots yeah so do you have any authors that you would fanboy over I met Richard Ford last year and I was totally tongue-tied uh yeah I think people you you know them through the page and seeing them in person is different yeah and oftentimes you get a little bad boyish there you know Vonnegut I would feel that way about sure like who wouldn't feel that way I know I know Margaret Atwood you know so what's the last book you read yeah I'm reading the French Lieutenant's woman oh wow okay um but I'm a super slow reader hmm like last summer I read Grapes of Wrath and literally it took me like all summer because I only read a couple pages at a time is it Steinbeck in its 400 pages long yeah yeah but I know I need to put it down and I need to think about it and I need to like a lot of times I'll reread like the same page again oh how did he do that I'm not the most it's hard to get to the end sometimes yeah but I do a lot of reading I do a lot of interviews with authors so I do a reading of current stuff I just read a bunch of of Anne Sexton get back into her poems I teach a class where I have to like reread certain pieces of literature right so I read a lot of that you know this past semester right okay I know the answer to this question already but I'm gonna ask it plant a planter plotter or Pancer planner yeah I shared this with my group yesterday that my process and you know I tried I'm trying new things now it's like right now instead of a story collection I'm writing a novella collection I'm trying to plan out like a why a thing just for something new so I thought oh I'll try pantsing and it just deteriorated in the planning right away but for me you know it's not really a regimented thing like I find a lot of creativity mm-hmm in that planning process oftentimes when I imagine a character they're 2-dimensional mm-hmm and through that like I'll take months to plan a novel and I have to see it all the way through and through that I see I see the emotional depths of my characters I understand our motivations a little more and I also do it because and it frees me up to to really focus on the language when I write so I'm a really sentence heavy person I think my style is very you know sentence oriented and oftentimes when I write I can only write three or four sentences at a time and then I got to get up and like rub my head because I'm thinking it so it allows me to separate the thought of what's happening with like the art of what it sounds like or age and that's just what works for me you know I'm not pushing that on anyone else but I do like to share it and allow people to steal so do you have a go to craft book I've used the Stephen King book on writing and I'm not a huge Stephen King fan but to hear him talk about writing and to read that book it's really a good nuts and bolts sort of thing when it might you know when I first started writing John Gardner the art of fiction was a big one for me that helped me a lot but outside of that I don't do too many craft walks to be honest so I'm looking forward to hearing your read I'm sure everyone else is too so turn it over turn it over to you okay rain stung Eli's face the horns whale crowded his thoughts the tavern sign creaked upon its hinges Eli clutched his coats collar tight to his neck his athletes gait expedient economical across the lot the taverns lit windows neon and rippling puddles the door the car that had pulled into the lot was open a light shone on an empty interior a young woman peered through the cracked windshield of the other car she ran to Eli her shoes splashed through the puddles she clutched his arm her grip strong he's hurt a balding man inside the other car a hand to his forehead blood between his fingers Eli tugged the handle the door is stubborn at first then opening with a groan Eli crouched he smelled gas or thought he did he reached across and slid the key from the ignition the horn continued to Blair are you okay the man considered Eli the blood on his palm splintered light upon his face the woman sobbed the rain had mad at her hair blonde strands clung to her forehead I'm sorry she sod I'm so sorry Eli touched the man shoulder can you move we'll go inside and get some help he turned to tell the woman to call the police words cut short by Mark who now stood by his side Eli thought of gasps blood I told you to wait is he okay the boy's hood a halo around his face the bleeding man set foot upon the macadam Eli helped him up in the man's body a feeble current a child's strength Marc held the hem of his father's coat a gust blew the hood from the boy's head the man listed an e line nudged him in the right direction the crunch of glass beneath their shoes rain mixed with blood a pink stream coloring the man's face where was my airbag the man touched his gash they reached the entrance steps a patch of light and awning shielding them from the rain Marc ran ahead and opened the door imagine the tavern inside a stormy night a hunkering down no one looking for trouble a muted football game on the TV a college far away TV like captured in half-filled whiskey bottles on the bar overlapping circles rings left by wet glasses murmurs quiet laughter enter a man who just left minutes before his face now bloodied a child a sobbing woman calling the police the bar was long in the narrow space funnel of attention to the group gathered just inside the door Eli guided the injured man to chair what happened the people asked what can we do the waitress then the bartender looked out the door and studied the damage novice caregivers rush forward well-intentioned a wealth of tipsy opinions a man and a woman debated the treatment for shock the back bar mirror doubled the commotion the jukebox switched from one country song to another at the bars end a doorway an entrance to the taverns restaurant Elie spoke to the bartender the man two days to provide details the woman inconsolable behind the bar Elie washed his hands blood on his jacket scuff the owner sat with the man towels pressed against the wound a gash smaller than Eli had expected still the blood flowed Elie step from the bar his son no longer by the bleeding man's side in Elie a skip like the hum of hydroplaning tires he scanned the bar the faces of strangers then he spotted marked by the corners neglected video game the boy rose onto tiptoes and tested the joystick the screen blinked Elie placed a hand on the boy's shoulder together they passed the entrance to the adjoining room Elie glanced in tables and booths huddled conversations waitresses laden with plates the clinking of silverware the scent of grilled meat he heard her first unmistakable not the words but the tone the responding twinge in his sinew she was not loud indeed beneath the bars jukebox and agitated voices she could barely be heard still he heard Eli all six two of him the princess her voice the pea he followed the sound to a corner booth her black hair frizz by rain the oak color turtleneck he bought her last Christmas she reached across the tabletop a man's hands met hers his face hidden by the booths high back the din fell away the music gone the voices gone even hers Eli stood alone so alone he could barely move his next step bound to send him tumbling a betrayal of Earth in his place upon it poison in the air dust in his lungs basketball had been his sport but in high school he played JV football his temperament too timid one minute to crazed another the proper balance lacking on the field he been laid out a concussion busted ribs this pain was different this pain erupted it from within a shattering borne from knowledge the boy he thought the boy his son's small hand lost in his eli wove through the crowd the boy rubbernecked a final peak as they passed the bleeding man outside rain the cunning wind eli shoes sloshed through the lots puddles ripples and the wetness found his feet his heart hurled against his ribs his breath a series of flimsy clouds tattered by the drops the damaged cars remained where he'd found them the stuck horn bleeded the pulse of hazard lights multiplied in the shattered windshield dad Mark asked sirens in the distance Eve I heard of the boy into the car dad not now his choked words forced him back into a moment that was not theirs alone he breathed greedy and wild fighting a dryland suffocation he started the car in circle to the Lots rear there his wife's car he stopped rolled down the window in the distance a sirens wail beside her car the van belonging to the electrician who'd rewired their house last spring dad Eli punched the gas his tires spun a valley of volley of gravel the sound of rubber over water the song of their millimeters thin lifting from the earth his window down cool air and stinging drops in a quarter mile the police cruiser speeding the opposite way strobes blazing the bloody shine captured in Eli's car within a mile and ambulance Eli gun the engine he embraced the elements of physics the speeds pull on his body the winds how they crossed the creek bridge in the darkness the rising waters a current destined to have its way dad he couldn't answer the mechanics of speech and breathing incompatible then the lights of their small town streets he knew by name their neighborhood playground marks school home Eli had no thought beyond his return but as he pulled to the curb he was overcome by emptiness he cut the engine rein drummed the roof a sycamore leaf fell onto the windshield the brown stalks of summer flowers in the garden the ragged hedge he should cut before winter the dining room lights shone in the dark rectangles of white and within glimpses of the walls he painted last year the color Kate had picked and then didn't like in his heart sting of exile a disconnection from all that was warm and familiar and good dad inside Eli said hand in hand they sprinted to the front door the grass soggy the key jabbed at the lock the door swung back and they hurried into the foyer Marc kicked off his boots do you think the man with the cut is okay Eli paced cold drops down his neck shivers across his skin his fingers traced appliances and countertops a testing of what was real he wandered room to room floor to floor all of it known all of it the most tangible aspect of himself the things he gathered and hauled home he had the receipts the owner's manuals all of it now twisted all of it a lie are you going to take off your coat dad he shepherded the boy to the living room he gave him a juice box a handful of pretzels more commandeered the remote a few clicks and the boy returned to his favorite video a squirrel in the Leafs a hawk swooped talons spread Eli tried to sit but he couldn't his shoes squeaked over the hardwood he clenched his teeth he banged his fist against his chest rage coiled in his gut in his muscles and joints he struck his chest again harder this time the pain distant in his brain heat and static he retreated to his bedroom the rain louder here the roof overhead he locked the door on the bed the clothes she changed out of jeans a blouse there was a mirror the one he looked into every morning a different man waiting now Eli stared into his breathing settled Here I am he thought Here I am his fury a burning star a fire at the center of a cold universe in the closet he stepped over the comforters and sweaters waiting to be pulled out for winter his hands searched the top shelf shoeboxes tumbled around him a melting heap of boxes and lids of sandals and pumps and flats then the shoebox unlike the others he lifted the lid peel back the brown paper the revolver swaddled like a babe in a crib the box slid from his fingers here was the sole possession left him by his derelict father a gesture that had stumbled into prophecy in the back of a dresser drawer three bullets waited in the faded cardboard box the bullets slid into the chambers a snug and perfect embrace a picture on the dresser a framed moment him Kate and Mark smiling on a beach eli slapped a cylinder into place he rested the gun against his cheek the metal slid over his wet skin how stupid he'd been his trust a clown's disguised as his wife spread her legs for another man the doorknob twisted his worked reflection in the dot in the knobs metal dad watch your show mark the knob jiggled again dad Eli closed his eyes please watch your show son can I come in dad another test of the knob where's mom he buried the gun in the back of the sock drawer and opened the door Mark remained outside the doorframe around him the hallway dark in his eyes confusion a calculating of what was and wasn't important in his eyes the hurt of a boy witnessing his father unhinge an echo of the child Eli had been Eli knelt a graceless fall pain radiated from his knees he embraced the boy a hug too tight the smell of him in Eli remembered how he leaned over the his crib the baby sent unlike any other now the tears sobs he couldn't swallow back another betrayal a breaking deep inside an echo in the foyer a jiggle of a key in the front door lock mark pushed himself away he studied his father as if he'd been speaking a new language mom mark cried bounding down the stairs Eli lingered on each step the scene coming to him a frame at a time Kate hung her coat in the foyer and kicked off her boots mark Rodeo hugging her waist another step she offered a smile her smile had been his miracle his refuge a final step he'd known her sad history before their first kiss he pursued her with opened eyes he followed his heart that compass of fools he may true the day dreamers roll he'd harbored since childhood the rescuer the peacemaker the suitor of wounds daydreams he was a dupe a boy in a boy in a man's body he stepped down say good night to your mother mark Kate fluffed her wet hair kinky black strands branched across her shoulders it's kind of early Eli the boy clung to her legs he studied his father to bed mark now Kate stroked her son's shoulder really Eli he hasn't even had his snack he's had his snack Eli grasped the boy's arm he tried not to be rough mom and dad need to talk and you need to go to your room you don't need to go to bed but you need to be upstairs with your door shut no arguing no coming down mark climbed a few steps then turned back up Eli said when his door shut Kaye turned to Eli what's gotten into you he snatched her wrist slender the feel of bone easy to snap he jerked her palm upward him punched her sweater sleeve past her elbow Christ Eli Kate wriggled Eli responded with a tug that buckled her knees the shock and her eyes pleased him he squeezed harder and ran his fingers over her forearms hairless skin the scars narrow ridges of long her veins had faded he grabbed her other wrist her pulse throbbed against his fingers he repeated the inspection and let go what the you lie Marc appeared at the top of the stairs mom he changed into his pajamas a clinging fit his thinness exposed the bottoms already too short the cuffs high above his bony ankles I'm scared I'll be up in a second hon Kate said her eyes fixed upon Eli Eli spoke barely a whisper tell your mother what we saw tonight the boy descended another stair an accident on the way home from the store dad pulled over to help it was outside a restaurant but I don't know its name I think mom knows where it is go to bed Marc she said her voice as watery as the curb sides current I like to pick elements and pick details that serve not just to paint the picture but have some other resonance within the piece because like you know I could pick anything to describe a scene but I and often that comes in revision is is picking what's better here would it be this thing and even if it just plants a seed maybe it's a color maybe I'm just gonna pick sharp objects you know and that's how I think what's kind of like the major motif here I had a story about a the main thing was a swimming pool and so I went back after I was done and I made everything blue and I don't know if anyone noticed but maybe it's some level they did so I think when a writer picks details he has this huge wide array of things to pick from and I think you it comes to me later usually what I want to pick and I want to pick the things that will do more than just say that one thing but kind of paint a bigger picture what's changed in my writing life is my first couple books were like novels and story collections and then I started writing like nonfiction and there's a real clear division in my work where nonfiction came in because in nonfiction I kind of discovered this different voice which is more like my voice which is more like I don't say a ton of stuff I'm kind of quiet for the most part and so it's kind of this more reserved voice and I think that comes out stylistically and in here and I think you can might might and I like that voice and so my my fiction changed as a result of writing nonfiction and I got into nonfiction because of a totally weird like random thing and and maybe some advice I would give my younger self is that you know it's not all about fiction it's not all about whatever you know try poetry try nonfiction and you'll be opened up and discover new things so doing that that weird thing that got me into nonfiction was was a real you know God sent for me so I was open to that opportunity so maybe be open to opportunities will be another thing

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