Caleb and I chose to complete this interview across the big pond, since I’m currently in Europe, and he’s in the states. I’ve always been a fan of Caleb’s writing, especially his short stories. So, I decided to reach out to him. Luckily, he allowed me to pick his brain on the subject of short stories.
What inspired you to write short stories?
Honestly, getting my ass kicked by my first novel. I didn’t really know what I was doing with that first book. I think I’ve always been a semi-competent writer, but there is so much to learn on the plot and character development side of things. That was missing. When I finished my book, I felt defeated and didn’t have it in me to jump into another multi-year project. I needed quick, actionable results. Bite-sized pieces to learn from. Hence the shorts.
How do you know when a short story is actually complete?
Man, that’s a great question. In every short there’s a certain ending I’m searching for. A certain feel. It’s intangible most of the time. A feeling. It just looks right when you put it down on paper, know what I mean? That said, I let all my shorts sit for a few weeks after completion and then read and edit them again. And honestly, until they’re published, they’re really never done. I’ll keep tweaking them until they’re accepted.
What’s your attitude toward your work being rejected?
Part of the process. It sucks, but I’m pretty used to it. And the rejections are a bit like a compass. i.e. are you getting personal responses (a good sign your story is on the right path), is the story being short-listed, are you receiving nothing but form rejections (time to revise!). It’s cliché, but each rejection really is another step toward your next yes. I think I’ve been rejected like 130+ times at this point, ha!
How does it finally feel to see your short stories published?
So good! It sort of validates all the hard work and lets you know that, yes, you actually can do this. But beware, it’s like a drug. As soon as I get published I want more.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Oh yes! When it really hits me is when I haven’t been consistently writing. At that point, I’m not in the characters’ heads. I don’t have a good pulse on the story. I feel like it takes a couple of days of just showing up and gutting it out to get back into the flow. And flow is magical! Once you get there, you don’t want to leave. The words are just spilling out and everything is clicking. That’s why it’s so important to find a writing rhythm in your life.
How do you find time to write with a full-time job and a family to take care of?
With three young kiddos and a demanding job it’s tough. There’s not much margin in my day. I have to carve it out. I write for an hour every morning at 5:30 A.M. and then again during my lunch break. I try to log at least two solid hours a day. It’s a decent amount, but it still doesn’t feel like nearly enough.
How do emotions play a role in your work?
They do, but not so much my own. Really more through my characters. When the writing’s really hot, I feel like I’m in the characters’ heads. I’m feeling their emotions, seeing the world through their eyes.
Are you a part of a critique group, or part of the literary community? How has that helped you with writing?
Yes, and this has been huge. Early on, I found some good folks (including you Preston!) through AgentQueryConnect that I have kept in touch with and who have helped me develop in my writing. It’s been fun to watch them develop, too. It’s great watching people “level-up”. One of the girls in my group just scored an agent which is awesome. These days, in addition to critique partners, I run all my writing through an incredible writing coach here in Denver. She’s very accomplished and her advice is amazing—worth every dollar I pay her. Getting connected with her is the best thing I’ve done for my writing.
What does literary success look like to you?
Simple. Writing full-time. Just the thought of it makes me want to cry.
Do morals play a vital role in your work?
This is such a good question, and the answer is yes. I’m a lifelong Christian, my faith is very important in my life, but I write dark fiction. Sometimes there’s an inner conflict when I’m writing something especially dark. Sometimes I wonder what, exactly, I’m putting out into the world. But whatever it is, it’s begging to get out there. I can’t keep it in.
Do you hide any secrets in your short stories that only a few people will find?
Not so much. But it’s interesting to hear other people’s take on the story. They see things that I never intended to put in there and that’s really cool. It’s like, “Yeah, I can totally see how you would come to that conclusion.”
What’s one piece of advice you would tell fellow authors?
Nothing in this world, especially writing, comes easy. You have to work for it, and if your working on your craft day-after-day, good things will start to happen!
Caleb is the Assistant Editor for Hinnom Magazine and lives in Denver, Colorado with three crazy daughters and a wonderful wife, who puts up with his insane need to write. For more information about Caleb’s short stories or longer works (yes he is writing another novel), contact Caleb at
www.calebstephensauthor.com or follow him on Twitter and Medium @cstephensauthor.
If you're an author or in the writing business & would like to be interviewed, contact Preston at firstname.lastname@example.org.