Interview with American Writer, Gary Emmette Chandler

Photo: Gary Emmette Chandler

Photo: Gary Emmette Chandler

Brief Biography:

Gary Emmette Chandler works from his apartment in Portland as a copywriter and web developer, mostly in pajamas, with a cat nibbling at his leg. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction, Pantheon, and One Throne Magazine, among others. You can follow his hungover ramblings on Twitter @TheWearyLuddite, if you like.

Geosi Gyasi: Let’s begin from your work as a copywriter. Who is a copywriter?

A copywriter (in my case at least), is someone who takes a service, or object, and then presents it to an audience in a desirable manner, using lots of pretty words.

Geosi Gyasi: Does one require any special skill to become a copywriter?

The ability to talk about something without fully understanding it is helpful. It’s a bit like writing fiction in that sense. You don’t need to know a profession inside and out in order give one of your characters that job. You just need to do enough research to present it in a convincing manner, without getting anything terribly wrong.

Geosi Gyasi: I’m not sure what the difference is between copywriting and editing?

Ad editing can be a part of copywriting, whereas copywriter can cover a lot more than just ads. If we’re developing a new website for a client, for example, and they don’t want to write the text, then it’s my job to provide that for them. Essentially, any time a client requires text at a professional level, that’s copywriting.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell us what we don’t know about Zbra Studios?

Zbra Studios is a web development company that my sister started, almost ten years ago. In that time, we’ve built websites for a diverse range of clients, including certain international fast food franchises (which I don’t think I’m allowed to name). The nature of the job allows me to work from any location with an Internet connection, and I’ve been grateful for that flexibility.

Geosi Gyasi: You’re also a Web Developer. How do you reconcile your work as a Web Developer to that of writing?

General web development is a much smaller part of my job than it was when I started out, something like eight years ago. At this point, my work consists mostly of copywriting, though I still do a little coding here and there, in addition to other miscellaneous tasks.

Geosi Gyasi: At what point in your life did you become a writer?

I wrote my first story in high school, or thereabouts, inspired by the late, great Terry Pratchett. “Jonathan Goes to Heaven and Asks About Kittens,” was the title, if I remember correctly, and it was hardly a story so much as a crude joke. I didn’t pursue writing seriously until college, when I switched my major to Creative Writing.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell us about the inspiration behind your story, “The Waters of My Mind”?

Oh, that one’s a bit of a tangled mess. In some ways, it’s one of the most personal stories I’ve ever written. The first draft was written in a single sitting, when everything in my life seemed to be imploding. At that point, the story was really just me working through that – my doubt, and regrets – in the most abstract way possible. It went through so many drafts before it was published, though, that I’m not sure how much of it remains. Originally, it was written in epistolary form, and had a different title: “There Are No Maps.”

Geosi Gyasi: How often do you write short stories?

As often as I can (which isn’t as often as I’d like). On average, I’d say I start writing a new story each month, though not all of those make it to the finish line. I’ll hit ruts every now and then, but I try to work on revisions or new stories several times a week, at least.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it difficult to write short stories?

Definitely. Though I like to think I’ve improved over the years, I don’t think writing will ever necessarily become easy for me. It’s always a challenge, and I’m always doubting myself, or my work – even after a story’s published.

Geosi Gyasi: I want to know how many rejections you’ve received ever since you started writing?

I did keep track, initially, but I lost count after a while. Before my first legitimate story acceptance, I’d guess somewhere around fifty rejections. To date, I’ve received well over a hundred. Most writers, I think, quickly learn that rejection is a constant companion. Even Neil Gaiman mentioned on Twitter that he’d had a story rejected, recently.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the most boring part of writing?

I’m not sure if I’d call any aspect of writing boring, though some bits can certainly be tedious, or frustrating. That said, I’ve gotten a bit bored with some of my stories in the past, simply because I’ve put them through so many revisions, that I’ve read them (in some form, at least) literally hundreds of times.

Geosi Gyasi: Why did you write “This Life Without Wings”?

That one was written around the same time as “The Waters of My Mind,” and it comes from a similar place. For me, that story was about learning to deal with rejection, as well as facing up to myself, and the choices I’d made in my life. It started from a rather simple place, though: walking my parents’ dog in the summer, and watching the sky. I liked the idea of being able to reach out and move the clouds around. The rest of the story came from there.

Geosi Gyasi: Where do you get your stories from?

Often from a single line, or image. I’m not as methodical as a lot of writers. I rarely plot anything out (though that is something I’m working on), and instead find the story, and characters, as I go. I’m not sure how it happens, but I’m glad that it does.

Geosi Gyasi: Who inspires you as a writer?

I tend to go through phases where I’m particularly obsessed with a single writer. Recently, that’s been Neil Gaiman (I discovered him rather late, compared to most people). Ursula K. Le Guin will always be one of my favorite authors, and when I’m stuck, or feeling uninspired, I’ll often go back to one of her books.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you earn anything from writing?

In the monetary sense, outside of my job as a copywriter, I earn very little, very rarely. But I don’t think many people go into writing with the expectation of making a great deal of money – especially when it comes to short stories. For example, I’ll generally buy an issue of the magazine I’m submitting to before I send them something, which can add up pretty quickly. It seems unlikely that I’ll ever earn enough from writing to cover that cost, retroactively. In other words, my day job allows me to maintain my writing habit.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you write poetry too?

Not since high school really, no. And my high school poetry is something we can only hope is never seen by anyone, ever again. I imagine many high school poets feel the same.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us about any profound moments as a student in San Francisco State University?

I had several excellent professors at SFSU, particularly in the writing program, and they changed how I both read and wrote. An older professor, Mr. Arkin, taught the Modern British Novel, and in that course I discovered D.H. Lawrence, and just how effective subtext could be. Another teacher, Amy Payne, taught me about the power of “dailies,” or the rhythms and rituals of mundane daily tasks, through Haruki Murakami’s work. There was much more, of course, but those are two of the lessons that stand out.

Geosi Gyasi: Did you struggle at the time with the choice of course you went to study at the university?

I actually had planned on being an elementary teacher when I first applied to college. That lasted about two years, before I realized I was woefully unsuited to teaching. As luck would have it, though, SFSU had an incredible creative writing program, and I had a great experience with my schooling from that point on.

Geosi Gyasi: What are your plans for the future?

Mostly to continue working on short stories for now, while also prodding at the inevitable novel. I’m also working on a few collaborative projects with friends, but those are in the early stages, so we’ll see.

Geosi Gyasi: This may sound silly to ask but is it true that you work from your apartment in Portland and mostly wear Pajamas?

It is indeed. One of the best bits about my job is the fact that I can work from home, and that means I’m free to wear pajamas as much as I like. (Which is essentially all of the time.)

Geosi Gyasi: Which books have greatly inspired your writing?

Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed is certainly at the top of my list. In that novel, she manages to make an anarchist society seem completely plausible, without ever sounding preachy. I think, in part, that’s because it’s not a perfect utopia – it’s just as flawed as our own world – and that was a revelation for me.



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