The (not-so-soft) touch of Nick Garnett
Last year, Sliver of Stone Magazine welcomed Nicholas Garnett as its Nonfiction Editor.
Now we get to pick his brain…
Nicholas Garnett received his MFA in Creative Writing from Florida International University, where he teaches creative writing. He’s also a frequent instructor for the Center for Literature and Theatre at Miami Dade College, and nonfiction editor of the literary journal Sliver of Stone. Nicholas is a recipient of residencies from the Vermont Studio Center and the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, and a scholarship to the Norman Mailer Writing Colony. His writing has appeared in Salon, Sliver of Stone, R-KV-RY Quarterly, and The Florida Book Review. His work has been anthologized in Sundress Publications’ “Best of the Net” and Cleis Press’ Best Sex Writing of 2013.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, meet Nick Garnett:
MJ: Your nonfiction voice is gripping—straightforward, but laced with just the right dose of humor. I’ll go on any ride with you. When did you first realize you wanted to give a special place to writing in your life?
NG: I’m not one of those people who started writing early. I wasn’t scrawling stories on the back of my Capt. Crunch. But I grew up in a household that valued stories and storytelling. Stories were the vehicle for transmitting family history, for entertainment, for connection. I read a lot, but I was well in my 40s, following a divorce and relocation, that I devoted myself to telling stories on the page.
MJ: You have a talent for characterization. In All That Glitters, Billie Dennis, the “mercurial gay man” with a toupee, becomes alive on the page. That makes me want to ask you about your craft. What can you tell me about your writing process?
NG: If you’re very lucky, someone like a Billie Dennis—larger than life, complex, contradictory, and damaged—will fall into your lap (so to speak). For a writer, people like that are golden. If you’re writing nonfiction, all you have to do is choose the right elements to put on the page. I don’t mean to minimize that process—it can be difficult to know what to portray and what to leave out. But the character is there, fully formed. And in fiction, you can use those real-life characters as the “starter kits” for interesting fictional characters.
MJ: After publishing All That Glitters, you joined the staff of Sliver of Stone Magazine. Tell us about your experience there.
NG: When I began editing for SOS, I’d just finished my MFA. The experience has allowed me to put into practice a lot of what I learned in that program. In most aspects of my life, I’m a soft touch. But, for some reason, I’m a pretty tough editor. I’ve been able to say “no” to some talented writers and critique the writing of folks who are far more accomplished and experienced than I am. The payoff is that I’ve worked with writers to bring stories that I’m proud of to the magazine. I’ve gotten a lot of nice feedback from the contributors I’ve edited. That’s tremendously satisfying.
MJ: In All That Glitters, referring to your job at the dining hall of the George Meaney Center for Labor Studies, Billie Dennis advised, “Don’t get caught up in something like this. […] You can do better.” So what did you get caught up in, after college?
NG: Like many writers, I did a million things. Mostly, I tried to shove myself into “respectable” jobs that made me feel horrible about myself. Writing is the first thing that has made me feel as though I have a rightful place in the world.
MJ: As far as writing goes, what are you working on?
NG: I’m in the process of fictionalizing a memoir, which had—practically and creatively—hit a dead end. I thought that fictionalizing the story would feel more like another rewrite. Instead, I’m writing a story that is 95% new. It’s been a revelation. By not having to stick to the facts I can actually get closer to the truth. Who knew?
Nicholas Garnett will be reading at the next Lip Service, on September 21, at the Miracle Theater, in Coral Gables.