A conversation with Nate House
What books and/or authors have had the most influence on your writing?
I was really fortunate to have great professors, both as an undergraduate and graduate student at Temple University. They had the most influence because they looked at my writing and then told me what to read. They suggested people like John Hawkes, Patricia Highsmith, and J.M. Coetzee. I also got to know some visiting writers who were really instrumental: R.M. Berry and Carole Maso.
How do you decide when a piece you’ve written is “finished” enough to publish?
That is a really good question and I’m still not really sure. I write a rough draft. I edit it about five or six times. I send it out. Often, it gets rejected multiple times. I then revise some more, send it out again and repeat the process until a work finds a home. I was in the process of rewriting Float for the 23rd time when it got picked up. Sometimes I think these stories and novels are never really finished. They always have the potential to become better or something else. A “finished” novel to me looks like Madame Bovary. I haven’t read anything close to the perfection of that book yet.
What would you consider to be a productive day of work, and do you have a writing routine?
I like to get up really early, around five or six. I meditate for ten minutes while the coffee is brewing. I check a bunch of worthless websites. Then I start writing. I stop when I feel like I’m not being productive—usually after an hour or two. The problem, of course, is time. Things get in the way of the routine, some good, some bad. Bad=work. Good=surfing, fishing, family, friends.
What part of your writing process do you most enjoy?
The first draft. Waking up to a blank page. The endless possibilities of what could be created. That’s the best part, because when you go back and read what you’ve written you’re like, “Holy shit! I have a ton of work to do on this.” That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy revision. I just like first drafts better.
Your newest novel, Float, which won the Frances Israel Award for fiction. How did you react when you heard that it had won?
The novel came out in 2011, which was great. The award came from Temple for best manuscript in the Creative Writing program—that was back in 2003. The award was great and I managed to get a couple agents to pick it up and try to sell it to the big houses, but ultimately we had no takers. I then started sending it to smaller publishers and Aqueous Books picked it up.
Do you have a favorite chapter or section of the novel? If so, what is it and why?
I really like the first chapter of the second part because I think this is where the narrator starts to realize just what it is he has become. I also like it because I worked on the second part with Alan Singer, a great writer and mentor who acted like a drill sergeant in getting me to get through that first chapter. We worked on it for at least a month. But that first chapter of the second part set the tone and point of view for the rest of the novel.
What else are you working on, and where can readers go to find more of your work?
Right now I’m working on a novel about a one armed murderer in Philadelphia. I live in Philadelphia and really love it here, but there is a dark side to this city and that is what the novel explores. I manage to get a short story published a year and a couple of newspaper columns. I have a website where I announce upcoming publications and post lots of pictures of birds, fish and pretty sunsets.
Finally, what advice would you give yourself when you first started writing?
I got the chance to go back to Temple and speak to one of my former professor’s classes about writing. A student asked a similar question. My answer was to listen. And read. As a younger writer I didn’t understand why I wasn’t getting published and why my work wasn’t getting any better. It turns out that I wasn’t really paying attention to what my professors, readers and editors were telling me. I would also say that you should treat writing like any other job. I was fortunate to have been given a really strong work ethic by my parents. I took that work ethic to jobs in restaurants, cleaning floors, landscaping, whatever. Sometimes we think of writing as this divine act where words just flow from muses and inspiration. That might be true for some lucky writers, but for me writing is a job; it’s hard work. Fortunately, it’s the kind of work that I like and doesn’t ruin your knees by 40.