Featured Artist | February 2016
Bio: Brooke Fossey is the President of DFW Writers' Workshop, which boasts a membership of nearly 200 local authors. She is a web content contributor to the literary magazine Carve and a Tin House Winter Workshop alumna. She’s known to be solar powered and naturally caffeinated. She also has a mechanical engineering degree, an MBA, four kids and a writing habit she can't shake. You can find her @BAFossey.
Favorite Dallas Hangout: Wild Detectives
Favorite Author: David Foster Wallace (too pretentious?) Jonathan Franzen (too controversial?) Dave Eggers (just right.)
AHD: Christopher Booker believes there are only 7 story plots in existence. In your essay Creating an (Un)original Story Idea, you find this both ‘discomforting’ and ‘reassuring’. As an author, how do you find the balance between this discomfort and reassurance in order to create something unique?
BF: The reassuring part of Booker’s theory is that writers aren’t obligated to invent the pieces that make a story whole. That’s already been done. All we need to do is arrange those pieces in such a way that a reader will think we’ve invented something. It’s a mind-trip. A story has to have all these recognizable parts or the reader will be disappointed, but it can’t look too familiar or…the reader will be disappointed.
As an artist you’ve got to trust no one can see the world quite like you, and even if they could, no one would relay it the same way. Case and point: When you give two writers a story prompt, they don’t produce duplicate tales. Put painters in front of a flower vase and see the same phenomenon on their canvases. Watch Top Chef. Those guys all get the same ingredients and still manage to produce drastically different dishes.
I guess the point is that balance comes from you being you, doing whatever it is you do. The rest will fall into place.
AHD: You write openly about the frustrations of the post-writing process and the discouragement that can come with it. How would you encourage aspiring writers who find themselves discouraged in their journey to publication?
BF: Fingers crossed that my answer doesn’t sound like a cheesy inspirational poster quote. Perspiration! Perseverance! Patience!
So here’s the rub: Sometimes your dream project turns out to be a practice project. Sometimes you’ve worked for years in the field and all you’ve managed to do is till soil. (This is actually a specialty of mine. I’m hoping for a big, big crop one day.)
The scary part about any art is not the doing part. The doing part is fun and fulfilling. The frightening bit is putting it out there with the possibility it won’t be validated by others, and every artist knows that’s guaranteed to happen at least once (or more).
You spend so much time writing, first because of the intrinsic value. Then you think: I should monetize this, considering all the time I’ve invested. Then you discover no one is willing to pay you for it, and you become (understandably) discouraged. Then you start thinking time invested is actually time wasted. Then you quit. The end.
But actually, not the end. If you really have the writing bug, you will always come back to the page for the intrinsic value. The fun. The fulfillment. If you never forget that part, the words will keep coming. And eventually, all those beautiful words will pay off in ways you never expected.
AHD: It is said Sir Walter Scott composed poetry on horseback; Joseph Heller claims he wrote some of his best work on the bus; and Woody Allen found some early inspiration on subway rides. Is there a place that you find particularly inspirational where you do your best work?
BF: I have four kids, so my inspirational spot is usually anywhere my kids aren’t…which means I do my best work hiding in closets. (I would have it no other way. They are an amazing bunch.)
But in our crazy house, I live by Jack London’s words: “You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." Give me a computer and a solid hour anywhere, and I’m on my way.
AHD: As the President of DFW Writers’ Workshop, which boasts a large network of popular authors, how has becoming a part of a community of artists influenced your work? Do you feel it is important to surround yourself with people who understand the journey you are on?
BF: Being part of a community of artists is essential. Do or die. Find your family, and quick!
The writing family I was lucky enough to be folded into introduced me to my voice. What I mean to say is: everyone has a voice, obviously, but putting it on paper is another matter entirely. It can get buried in forced metaphors or terrible dialogue or overwrought narrative. But if you find a family who loves you and wants to see you succeed, they’ll help you shed that sort of clutter faster than if you go it alone.
Organizations like Art House Dallas and DFW Writers’ Workshop foster these sorts of communities in such amazing ways. Artists aren’t competing against each other. We’re propping each other up. We’re sharing. We’re making each other better. And the best part: you can bottle up people’s energy and enthusiasm about your work and save it for later, for when you’re sitting alone, tilling your field.
AHD: Your organization puts on the yearly DFW Writers Conference, which has become the premier writer’s conference in the Southwest. What can we expect from the DFWCon this year?
BF: DFW Con is a labor of love, and I think the love shows. It’s put on by DFW Writer’s Workshop (a nonprofit organization) and is 100% volunteer run.
This is DFW Con’s ninth year, and it gets better every time. This year we’re at the Fort Worth Convention Center on April 23-24th. Like always, the DFW Con committee has put together an amazing program. Attendees get to pitch their books and clink glasses with a dozen established literary agents. And when they aren’t schmoozing they have a selection of over forty craft and business classes to attend, plus they can catch three keynote speakers.
The theme of this year’s conference is: “Writing for a Better World.” It fits unbelievably well with Art House Dallas’s mission of “cultivating creativity for the common good.”
It’s almost like this Q&A was meant to be. My heart be still!
AHD: Where can writers go to learn more about and sign up for the DFW Writer’s Conference?