Robert Eversz

Robert Eversz

Robert Eversz is the author of eight novels, including Shooting Elvis and Gypsy Hearts from Grove-Atlantic Press, Killing Paparazzi from MacMillan, and Burning Garbo, Digging James Dean, and Zero to the Bone from Simon & Schuster. His novels have been widely translated, with more than two-dozen foreign editions of his work in publication, and have been named to the “best” lists at the Washington Post, Oslo Aftenposten, Manchester Guardian, BookPage, January Magazine, and The Los Angeles Weekly. A graduate of the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television, Robert is a member of the permanent faculty of the Prague Summer Program, the longest-running study-abroad program for writers in the English language. He has served as the final judge for the Association of Writing Program’s Award Series in the Novel, and has been Visiting Professor and Writer in Residence at Western Michigan University and Hood College. The highlight of his many book tours is the time he appeared on the Norwegian equivalent of The Tonight Show with the world’s only Elvis impersonator from north of the Arctic Circle.

What excites you about writing? How has it affected your life?

I think of writing as a way of life, the way I choose to experience both real and imagined worlds. Like reading, writing is a way of dissolving the barriers of the self, to explore what it’s like to be someone else, someone who may share many of my character traits or none at all. Today, I might imagine a story through the lens of a twenty-something striver with few moral scruples; tomorrow, I might project myself into the mind of an astral traveler out to save the world. There are few things more exciting to me than the empathic bond between writer and character. This is why I teach that character is structure, that stories are created when characters react to events that confront them. What happens when fictional characters are tossed into the maelstrom of difficult moral choices? This is what keeps me on the edge of my seat as I write—and as I read.

What mindset does a writer need to continue to grow and learn? 

Every writer whose art remains alive is still learning about the craft. Each blank page presents a new challenge, and the challenge defeats the writer often enough to keep the outcome in perpetual doubt. Most likely none of us will ever reach the moment of satori in which every word we inscribe is the perfect one for that moment. To write is to ride parallel lines that may meet on the horizon, but never right in front of you.

If you’re growing as a writer, the manuscript you finished two weeks ago no longer completely represents where you are as a writer now. This makes some writers compulsive rewriters, revising again and again until the work is published. You need a second draft to incorporate what you’ve learned in the process of writing the first draft, and you need a third draft to tie together lessons learned while writing the second draft. No amount of improved technique, however, can replace the white-hot moment of creation, so wherever you are in the process, you’ll need to find that moment again and write from the center of it.

Remember, the things you’re struggling with today will be second nature to you tomorrow. Tomorrow, however, you’ll be dealing with a whole new level of issues.

What makes a good writing mentor?

Let’s think for a moment about the role of the teacher/mentor in myth. Joseph Campbell and other scholars in cultural anthropology, as well as philosopher-psychologists such as Carl Jung, have identified the archetype of the guide/mentor in quest stories and myths. The role of the mentor in quest stories isn’t limited to teaching the hero specific technical skills needed to fulfill the quest. Though that may be involved, the mentor also helps the hero understand their true heroic nature, convincing them that they’re destined or ready to fulfill the quest.

A mentor should teach students specific technical skills, but should also serve as a guide to help writers find within themselves the components they’ll need to complete their quest, and those components won’t always be purely technical. It’s important to help writers connect with their subconscious, which is where most will find the answers to their deeper creative problems.

In one sense, the adage that you can’t teach voice is correct. No one can impart voice to a writer in the same way one might a set of technical instructions. But a mentor should know how to listen, and what to listen for, and then to tell the writer where the voice sounds strong and true. Rather than teaching voice, a mentor helps the writer identify and develop their voice into something uniquely their own.

What is your style of feedback?

I react to a story line by line and scene by scene when I review a manuscript, jotting down my comments in Track Changes as I engage the text. This gives the writer real-time, dynamic reactions to sentences, characters, and story development. Though I don’t copy edit, I’ll line edit work until I’m confident that the writer understands the problems and can correct further instances as they occur.

A good critique identifies strengths in a story as well as weaknesses. If I love something, I won’t be stinting in my praise, whether it’s a witty line or smartly conceived plot turn. Writers need encouragement, but more importantly, they learn how to write a story according to what’s working, as well as to what’s not.

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