Eric Charles May is the author of the novel Bedrock Faith. An associate professor in the Fiction Writing program at Columbia College Chicago and a former reporter for The Washington Post, his short fiction has appeared in Fish Stories, F, Criminal Class, Hyper-Text, Solstice, and Flyleaf Journal. May has performed at numerous Chicago storytelling programs including 2nd Story, Here’s the Story, Grown Folks Stories, Story Sessions, and That’s All She Wrote. In addition to his Post reporting, his nonfiction has appeared in Sport Literate, the Chicago Tribune, and the personal essay anthology: Briefly Knocked Unconscious By A Low-Flying Duck.
Do you have any writing rituals or habits? What does an average day of writing look like for you?
It varies. Some days it’s me at my desk, which is set in front of a bay window and provides me with a grand view of the foot traffic below; sometimes its me in a coffee house or a saloon with a cup of coffee or a pint of beer, and writing in my journal. Sometimes its me writing scenes on index cards. (A trick I got from Nabokov.)
There’s no particular time of day or night that I write. My work schedule doesn’t allow me to have a set writing schedule. Which is fine. As long as I can get in two-three hours. Of course if I don’t get those hours in, I don’t beat myself up about it. Life gives me enough things to worry about without my adding writer’s guilt to the pile.
What piece of advice has shaped your career the most?
“Great literature articulates the crucial questions of our time, and mediocre literature attempts to answer them.” I got that from Ed Kessler, a poet and literary scholar who was one of my instructors at American University.
What tips and tricks would you offer other Chicago writers?
When I was a newspaper reporter, I had a few sayings I came up with that I had taped to the side of my computer monitor One of them was: “At some point you have to sit down and write it.” All too often we writers spend too much time thinking about the writing instead of just doing it. To quote Sinclair Lewis: “…sitting down is the first part of the writing process.”
What current Chicago writer or reading series excites you the most?
Samantha Irby’s essay collection Meaty was an invigorating read.
What’s the one book every Chicagoan should be required to read?
The Slum and the Ghetto: Immigrants, Blacks, and Reformers in Chicago,1880-1930, by Thomas Lee Philpott. If you want to know how Chicago came to be so segregated, this is the book to read.
What book would we be surprised to find on your bookshelf?
Cruising Speed by William F. Buckley Jr. I read a lot of his stuff when I was in my twenties. Not because I agreed with him (I most certainly did not), but because he was by far and away the most articulate conservative writing at that time. My thinking was, if I could find the holes in his arguments (and I did), then I’d be able to more than hold my own in arguments with any other conservative.
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