Jim Krusoe’s first novel, Iceland (Dalkey Archive Press) was named one of the Ten Best Fiction Books of the Year by the Los Angeles Times and Austin Chronicle. Since then he has had five novels published by Tin House Books: Girl Factory, Erased, Toward You, Parsifal, and The Sleep Garden, two of them New York Times’ Notable Books. He’s also written two books of stories, Blood Lake and Abductions. His fiction and poetry have appeared in the Antioch Review, Bomb, the Denver Quarterly, the Iowa Review, the American Poetry Review, the Chicago Review, The Believer, The Baffler, and the Santa Monica Review, which he began in 1988. His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Tin House Writers’ Notebook, and in Brief Encounters, the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. He received a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a reading fellowship from the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest fund. His students include NYT bestselling writers, as well as winners of the Best American Short Fiction and O. Henry Awards, as well as other prizes. A book about Jim’s teaching, You Don’t Need To Be Happy, You Just Need To Write (2022), is available from Blue Jay Ink. He has published five books of poetry.
What excites you about writing? How has it affected your life?
Writing is my life; I owe my life to writing. My friends, even my family, have all come about thanks to writing. Writing is the lens through which I can see the world most clearly and the way I try to find my place in it. Writing grounds me and frees me at the same time. Specifically, in everything I read, I look for sentences that delight me, paragraphs that surprise me, and stories that allow me to learn something about myself and to enlarge my world. I’m most comfortable with what’s called literary fiction, and least able to be helpful with books of fantasy.
What mindset does a writer need to continue to grow and learn?
The project of being a writer is not so different than the project of being a human. It’s important for me to read work that will challenge my assumptions and make available points of view and techniques I didn’t know existed. At the same time, I need to make whatever I do as good as it can possibly be. And here two quotes come to mind: the first is from Charles Olson: “We only stand more revealed.” The second is from the medieval mystic/ philosopher Richard St. Victor: “Where there is love there is sight.”
What makes a good writing mentor?
A good mentor wants every work to succeed. A good mentor gives feedback in such a way that a writer is left with clear choices as to his or her next step. A good mentor takes pleasure in reading student work and helping it realize its potential. As good mentor responds in a timely manner, and makes the discussion of the work a conversation, not a pronouncement. Finally, a good mentor understands that the final choice must always be the writer’s.
What is your style of feedback?
I begin by showing what’s not needed. Next I look for what Flannery O’Connor called a story’s “lines of force.” Then, after consultation with the writer, I offer suggestions of where a story might go and how it might be made stronger (hint: I’m a big fan of specific detail). I like to be available throughout the entire writing process, answering, or trying to answer, any questions that may arise in the course of revision, depending on the writer’s needs. There are no set deadlines; I look forward to reading and discussing work as often as each writer finds it helpful. In addition to our individual conversations, I hope to meet together with mentees on Zoom on a bi-weekly basis.