As someone who has juggled a career along with writing in multiple genres, C. Dale Young has been a source of inspiration for me, not just for his writing (which is superb) but also for his commitment to his craft. Hope you enjoy the interview.
– Martin Ott
Who has been a major influence on your writing?
Although this is a common question, it is also an incredibly difficult one to answer. I suspect my response, if asked about literary influences, would change daily, if not hourly. I will answer this from a slightly different perspective, answer it without the “influence” part.
After my first year of graduate school, I felt as if I were not cut out to be a writer. I felt discouraged and decided to quit. A teacher of mine, the poet Donald Justice, told me to just keep going. He told me he felt I understood what made a poem a poem. To say this encouragement was huge at the time would be an understatement. And again, in my last semester of graduate school, when I worried that I would never write poems again once I started medical school, it was Don who told me: “You always find time to do the things you want to do.” That statement is one I have carried with me ever since. It gave me permission to become a doctor and to keep on writing. So, I would say Don has been a pivotal presence for me, one without whom I am not sure I would be writing today.
Can you give us insight into your creative process?
With poems, I tend to come up with the last line first. I sometimes carry it around for months. Eventually I come up with a first line. The mystery of writing the poem for me is connecting the A to the Z. I draft fairly quickly. I might spend two or three hours getting down a draft. In revision, it could take months or years for me to get the poem to the point where I would send it out to a magazine or journal.
With fiction, I never have any idea how it ends. I come up with a sentence. I toy around with it until I am sure it isn’t a line for a poem. And then, I just rush headlong into it. I bang it out. And then, as with poems, it could take months to years for me to get the story ready for publication.
How has your profession as a physician impacted your own writing?
Medicine takes up 50-60 hours or more of my time each week. It means I have to always work to be a writer. I have to make time to read, time to draft, time to revise. I do so early in the morning before work, on weekends or days off. I always feel the urgency of time or, better yet, the lack of time.
What is the best advice you can give to a writer finding her/his voice and subject matter?
Don’t worry. You already have a voice. All you need is to become comfortable with the tools to let that voice be heard. So read, read widely. Don’t be wed to any draft. Remember that revision means re vision, to look again. No one else on this earth has your exact life and experience. So, spend your time worrying about something other than “your voice.” It comes whether you like it or not.
How has your work as a magazine editor and teacher impacted your creative process?
I edited poetry for the New England Review for 19 years. It taught me not to take rejection seriously. It also taught me that publishing is not writing. So what if someone rejects your poem or story. Send it out again. Editors do not owe us anything because we send work unsolicited. Being an editor taught me to have thicker skin, to not be rude as a writer. I might think my poem is the next great ode, but chances are it isn’t. As for my actual creative process, neither editing nor teaching has much impacted it other than limiting my time. Writing is, after all, a solitary act.
As a writer who engages with other writers and readers in a blog and on Facebook, what advice can you give about the role of social media in a writer’s development?
Social media can be great for helping one feel s/he is part of a community. But it can also be a huge distraction. People love controversy within social media. There are the fights and the always present bullying. Will social media help one develop as a writer? I doubt it. Can it help you find like-minded souls? Yes. Can those like-minded souls introduce you to things and books that might change your life? Yes. But do you need social media to develop as a writer? No.
What are you currently working on?
I finished a linked collection of stories last year. I wanted to write one more story about the main character’s mother. But I quickly realized it was something larger than a short story. So, I am writing a novel. It is in a sense a prequel to the linked collection of stories. It deals with the three generations of this family that precede the main character in the linked story collection. At this point, I have written about 60,000 words (roughly 265 pages of manuscript). I feel I am about 70% done. I am just banging it out, typos and all. Once I have the whole draft down, the real work will begin.
Have you read anything recently that really got you excited?
Rick Barot’s Chord, his recently published collection of poems, is truly magnificent. I have already read it twice. I also recently re-read Peter Cameron’s Coral Glynn and marveled at his economy of language and the ways in which he can manipulate image across an entire novel. I have also been re-reading some of Eudora Welty’s stories. My God, she is just so sickeningly good.
Can you share an example of overcoming adversity to keep your writing dream alive?
Writing means everything to me. I could give up many things in my life, but I cannot imagine not writing. With that said, writing is a privilege. One writes when one can. I don’t believe in overcoming adversity as a writer, but I am biased, terribly biased. I watch people work to overcome cancer every day. That is adversity. Writers, myself included, love to wallow in the misery of this slight or that slight. But that isn’t really writing any way. That is the business of writing. When you are deep in the process of drafting, when time stops and you are outside of time absorbed in getting the words down, in getting the words right, that is writing. And that is an incredible thing. The rest of it is all business. I have overcome many adversities in my life, but none related to writing. Maybe I am the lesser for that.
What is something about you that writers and readers may not know?
Just before starting college, I was in a terrible auto accident. I broke my neck. It is surprising enough I am alive. It is surprising enough I can walk. I was originally told I might not walk again. But I did. I may appear crazed in my constant desire to work, but it betrays something very different than ambition. I think many think I am just overly ambitious. I’m not. I work hard and work so much because I know I am on borrowed time. I became a doctor and practice medicine because I owed it to those people who saved me to do the same for others. I feel grateful every day to be alive, to walk. I live with an immense amount of pain, but I am alive. I will work hard and write until the day they roll me into the grave, because I know this is borrowed time. I escaped the grave once before. I may not escape it the next time.
About the Author:
C. Dale Young is the author of four collections of poetry including The Halo, forthcoming from Four Way Books in early 2016, and a collection of stories The Affliction, due out from Four Way Books in early 2018. A recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation, he practices medicine full-time and teaches in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers.