John Abbott is a writer, musician, and English instructor who lives with his wife and daughter in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Redivider, The Potomac Review, Georgetown Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Arcadia, Two Thirds North, upstreet, Bitter Oleander, and many others. His first story collection “Theft: And Other Tales of Loss and the Working Class” is available from Underground Voices, his first novel “The Last Refrain” is now available from Sweatshoppe Publications, and his poetry chapbook “Near Harmony” is available from Flutter Press. For more information about his writing, please visit http://www.johnabbottauthor.com
Geosi Gyasi: You’re a writer and musician. Which of the two came first into your life?
John Abbott: I guess both. When I was young, I played piano (although not particularly well), and around the same time I wrote a couple short stories and some poems. Shortly after I quit playing piano in early high school, I started a novel that I never finished. As an undergrad, I focused more on learning guitar and writing music. It wasn’t until I started grad school that I fully applied myself to writing.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the main difference between the two professions – writer and musician?
John Abbott: Writing is a lot more difficult. I can sit down with my guitar and usually come up with some decent melodies or just use the music as a way to relax. But writing, at least in my experience, requires a lot more discipline and focus. Sometimes I wish it could be the other way around.
Geosi Gyasi: You worked as an assistant editor for the literary journal, Third Coast. What were your main duties?
John Abbott: I mostly worked my way through batches of roughly twenty short stories at a time, rejecting most of them and sending maybe one or two on to the editors above me. When I rejected a piece, which I hated doing, I tried to write something positive and encouraging.
Geosi Gyasi: Talk me through your book, “The Last Refrain”?
John Abbott: This book was my way of combining my background in music with my writing. The book is about a family of musicians that tour county fairs across the Midwest. I’ve always been fascinated by family dynamics , so it was a lot of fun crafting these characters and showing how this family tries to keep from falling apart.
Geosi Gyasi: How long did it take you to write, “The Last Refrain”?
John Abbott: About a year and six months of actual writing, but figuring out the plot and characters, which I did beforehand, took an additional six months or so.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write, “Theft: And Other Stories of Loss”?
John Abbott: The project started as individual stories, but over time I realized many of the stories I wrote had close thematic connections, so I started thinking of the stories as a collection.
Geosi Gyasi: How do you find time to write?
John Abbott: I wake up early every morning during the week and write for an hour or so. This time is reserved just for my own writing. I find that if I try to write later in the day, then the chance of getting distracted by something – work, my daughter, my dog – goes up exponentially.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you write on a computer or in a notebook?
John Abbott: Always a computer for novels and short stories. When I write poems, I write in a notebook.
Geosi Gyasi: What is your greatest accomplishment as a writer?
John Abbott: My work has been nominated for awards such as Best American Short Stories, the Pushcart Prize, and Sundress Publications Best of the Net Award, but I would say my biggest accomplishment has been getting my story collection published, since that was my biggest goal when I started grad school.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you do as a consultant for manuscripts?
John Abbott: I start by asking the author if there are any particular aspects they have questions about or need help with. From there, I review the manuscript and provide a combination of margin comments and a few paragraphs at the end. I also inquire whether the author is trying to get an agent, self-publish, find an independent publisher, or improve their work for some other reason. This helps me gear my comments toward whatever goal the author has in mind.
Geosi Gyasi: How do you know if a piece of work you’re writing is not going well?
John Abbott: Usually a gut feeling tells me whether a piece is worth continuing or not. If I have the same feeling of disgust for several days in a row, I usually scrap the project.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the most boring part of writing?
John Abbott: Sitting there staring at the screen when I realize I haven’t typed anything in several minutes.
Geosi Gyasi: Are you working on anything new?
John Abbott: Yes, I’m currently working on my second novel. I’ve finished a few drafts so far and should have the final one finished hopefully no later than May of 2016. I have also been dabbling with children’s books lately and have finished two this year.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any writers you admire?
John Abbott: Yes, quite a few. In no particular order, they are Joy Williams, Kim Edwards, Stuart Dybek, Tobias Wolff, Tim O’Brien, Walter Mosley, Jennifer Egan, NoViolet Bulawayo, Anthony Doerr, and Langston Hughes.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have specific audience you write for?
John Abbott: For my fiction, I guess I would say anyone who appreciates a detailed, thought-provoking story. When I write children’s books, I like to appeal to the silly sense of humor many kids have.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about critics when you write?
John Abbott: Not too much. I focus mainly on trying to get the story idea from my head to the page in a way the reader can understand.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you earn a living from writing?
John Abbott: No. I’ve made a little money, but certainly not enough to make a living. Of course, I wouldn’t mind making a bit more from writing, but even if I did, I wouldn’t give up teaching college, which is my main line of work.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you know who reads your works?
John Abbott: Friends and family for sure. Also, the contributors and subscribers of the literary magazines where I’ve been published. Beyond that, I don’t really know. I’ve received some positive emails from complete strangers about my work, which is always a cool experience.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you intend to achieve from your writing?
John Abbott: This might be the toughest question yet. I guess I hope that readers will get at least some of what I enjoy about fiction – learning more about life and other people and their different perspectives and the unique satisfaction that only a good story can bring.