Christopher Meeks is the author of the short story collections The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea and the more recent Months and Seasons. He has been a journalist, critic, playwright, and screenwriter. Currently he divides his time between writing and teaching at five different colleges. He's the editor of the ecclectic news magazine, The Maplewoods Mirror. In this in-depth interview, Meeks talks about his books, life, writing and publishing, as well as getting an agent and book promotion.
Thanks for being here today, Christopher. Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?
I started as a freelance journalist and critic, writing for over twenty publications. One of my specialties was interviewing authors, which included top authors such as Colleen McCullough, Chaim Potok, Thomas Thompson and playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. When I found I was getting published faster than the checks were coming in — magazines owed me money — I looked for a full-time job and found a heavenly one. I became the Institute Writer at CalArts, an arts college in Valenica, California.
There, I edited an arts magazine, and then a quarterly where I interviewed artists of all sorts — dancers, filmmakers, theatre directors, musicians and composers, painters, graphic artists and more. I wrote about them as well as events happening at CalArts. Some of my favorite interviews include film directors Tim Burton, Werner Herzog, and Alexander Mackendrick, Pixar’s John Lasseter, theatre director Peter Sellars, actors Don Cheadle and Ed Harris, and bassist Charlie Haden.
While I worked there, I wrote plays that were produced and screenplays that were optioned. Between my bigger projects, I wrote short stories. Fiction to me felt dangerous. I didn’t have any producers or actors to help me polish my work, so what I wrote felt so naked. I kept those stories to myself until I finally started submitting them to literary magazines in the late nineties and getting them published.
After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which closed CalArts’ main building, and classes were taught in rented buildings all over town, I took a chance and asked a dean if I might teach a class in creative writing. He thought it was a great idea.
Watch what you wish for. I’d been a writer because I didn’t have to be in front of people. With my plays, the actors were on stage, not me. Suddenly, I found twenty pairs of eyes looking at me, saying “I dare you to teach me.” That brought more fear in me than writing had ever done. Still, I persevered. I left being the Institute Writer to teach creative writing and English. I’m proud of my teaching, especially when I see I inspire great writing. I mostly teach now in USC’s Master of Professional Writing Program.
I’m best known for my two books of short fiction, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea and the recent Months and Seasons.
Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?
As I’ve read the histories of literary blogsters on such sites as yours, I see I wasn’t as avid a reader compared to others (and probably you.) My parents didn’t want my brothers and I up reading after bedtime, but I’d sneak under my blanket to read by flashlight in fourth and fifth grade. Frankly, my English teachers pounded out of me the joy of reading.
It was only when I was in Denmark in my junior year of college studying abroad that I found myself so utterly alone that I devoured books again. At that time, I’d planned on living with my Danish girlfriend, who’d I’d met in Minnesota, but by the time I had all my studies arranged and got over there, I learned she was living with another man. She didn’t tell me until I landed. She arranged it so that I could live with her parents. Life’s odd, yes? (That loosely became the basis of an upcoming novel, The Laughter and Sadness of Sex.)