Why We Write

Surviving New Jersey with Scott Loring Sanders

Episode Summary

Scott Loring Sanders is the author of "Surviving Jersey: Danger and Insanity in the Garden State," a collection of personal essays on growing up in New Jersey and life beyond the state. In this interview, Sanders discusses murder and mayhem in his home state, the advice he gives to young writers and going on a police ride along for his upcoming novel.

Episode Notes

Scott Loring Sanders is the author of "Surviving Jersey: Danger and Insanity in the Garden State," a collection of personal essays on growing up in New Jersey and life beyond the state. In this interview, Sanders speaks with Lesley University Director of Communications John Sullivan about murder and mayhem in his home state, the advice he gives to young writers and going on a police ride along for his upcoming novel.

Sanders teaches creative writing to Lesley University undergraduates. In addition to "Surviving Jersey," he is the author of two novels and a book of short stories. He has published a variety of short stories and essays in magazines and journals ranging in scope from North American Review to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine to Creative Nonfiction to Brevity.

For more information, visit our podcast page.

Episode Transcription

[music]
Announcer: This is Why We Write, a podcast of Lesley University. Each week we bring you conversations with authors from the Lesley community to talk about books, writing, and the writing life.
John Sullivan: I'm John Sullivan, director of communications for Lesley University. I am here with Scott Loring Sanders. He is one of our adjunct faculty. He teaches creative writing and he is the author of two novels, The Hanging Woods and Gray Baby, as well as a short story collection Shooting Creek and Other Stories. Also an essay collection/ memoir, Surviving Jersey: Danger and Insanity in the Garden State.
Scott, I just wanted to welcome you. This podcast is called, Why We Write. I suppose I should just ask you, why is it you write? How did you find that kind of monkey spot of the- [laughs] -the blessing and the curse of the literary life?
Scott Loring Sanders: Blessing and a curse, that's true. In the seventh grade, I read Of Mice and Men. I got it at the library. I started it that evening and by some-- I guess some mystery, I got very sick the next morning. I wasn't really sick. I was sick with this book. I was in love with it and I wanted to finish it. I played hooky, I faked being sick. My mom, "Poor you, you just stay up in your bed all day." It was perfect. Sorry, mom, if you're listening.
John Sullivan: She was an unwitting dupe
Scott Loring Sanders: She got a lot worse than that too. I finished it and this is such a vivid memory. I finished it and I remember being like, "I want to write a book like that someday." That sort of disappeared but I remember that love of what a story can do and where it can take you. In this case, I played hooky because I had to finish and I had to see what was going to happen with George and Lenny.
That was my love affair with literature and then I started writing. I would write poetry and stuff as a young kid, high school, teenager. Again I was like, "That wasn't cool." "That was very secretive." I was a good athlete and popular but I also loved reading and loved writing, obviously. It was alright, it was sort of hidden almost. Then I barely took a few writing classes in college. I had a lot of things going on, I was in a lot of trouble and different things and school was-- In fact, I got a degree in English for no other reason than I found out you could get a degree by reading books.
That was as much part of this went into that for me. College was not my first priority at that time. I had to admit but--
John Sullivan: It sounds familiar.
Scott Loring Sanders: Yes, right, I know. I think that’s what it was for a lot of us, but thankfully I came out of it. For me, I was a grown adult with a child-- At that point, I was probably 10 years ago, I was in a job-- Verizon, the phone company as a sales associate. On the phone all day, people calling in to yell at me or get caller ID or do whatever. I realized I'm miserable and there's got to be something else. It was one of those you stare out the window and you're just like, "What am I doing with my life?" Kind of thing.
I started going home and started writing at night. My wife, I said to her, "I'm going to write a book." "There's one in your memories." He says. "I've always wanted to write a book." "Well, you know what? Do it." I did. I thought it was a masterpiece and it was horrible. I didn't know-- How many have done this? I had no idea what I was doing.
Then I wrote some short stories. I sent them out to The New Yorker and all that stuff and of course they rejected it but I kept at it. Then my wife had said, "Why don't you try to go to grad school?" I have her to thank for that. This time in Virginia, there was a very good school right up the road. I applied. I did not get in, but I got wait listed and then something happened and a guy dropped out. The director called me, "This is like the last minutes and we have an opening. Do you want it?"
I was the breadwinner at that point. My wife was actually still in school because we'd had a son early, and she was now going back to school. I said, "Yes." I went for it. I quit my job and we got student loans and we went from there. I've never looked back. My thesis there ended up being my first novel. It got taken shortly after I graduated. I worked hard hard in grad school. It was my job and I was much older-- It's fairly a bit older than the students at undergrad or whatever. I had to go through college with a wife and with a child. Anyway, that's how it happened and I've never looked back.
John Sullivan: In your memoir, there are quite a few harrowing tales as well as hilarious tales from death defying adventures and amusement park, as well as some pretty disturbing discoveries. Those particular tales have an element of mystery stories in them. Unlike in fiction, they're not necessarily neatly wrapped up. Maybe you can talk a little bit about the process.
Scott Loring Sanders: Okay, sure. Yes, the fiction and non-fiction, there's always a big crossover a lot for me. Certainly, a lot of the fiction that I write there are at least some nugget of truth. Not always, but a lot of the time. The beauty of fiction, of course, is that you can take it in whatever direction you want. The thing that's important to me with creative non-fiction is telling the truth, it's got to be honest. I try to be as honest as I can, at least as my memory serves.
There's always discrepancies. If I've learned anything about writing creative non-fiction is that my memory is horrible and everybody's memory is horrible, and really can't be trusted. One example I'll give you is that the cover of the book, where there's a tiger leaping, and one of the early stories about when I was a little boy in a circus, and a tiger leapt off of its pedestal. Ultimately, attacking a young boy and it killed him.
John Sullivan: This was a chained tiger, but if I recall, the boy had maybe wandered a little too close or inside the barrier, right?
Scott Loring Sanders: Exactly. There really wasn't a barrier. The tiger was chained and sitting on a pedestal, but the boy was actually coming back from the bathroom and just walked right past this tiger, with his babysitter as it turned out. The boy was attacked and he was ultimately killed. Thirty-five years later when I write this book, and it comes out, and then I learned-- By the way, I can still see that tiger in my head to this day. It wasn't a tiger, it was a leopard.
[laughter]
In fact, there was no tiger at this little circus. It was actually two leopards and a panther or something. It was so strange and talking to people. Everybody all my life would be, "It was a tiger. There was a tiger." It comes down and almost everyone still said," I think it's a tiger." A few people like, "I think it was--" We had lions, we had leopards, we had all kinds of things. It was just really interesting. What happened is I couldn't find any information about it. Ultimately, I did. I think one of my students actually found this information when the book was coming out.
There was a transcript because of course there was a lawsuit. In this lawsuit transcript is where people actually said that it was a leopard that attacked this little boy. That's the different. I still believe it was a tiger, yet it wasn't. That's one of the things I learned about this process, especially with the non-fiction side; is that you write it as true, you believe that you remember it, but even that is not always accurate.
John Sullivan: A leopard really can change its spots as it turns out, and the tiger is correct.
Scott Loring Sanders: [laughs] In my mind anyway.
John Sullivan: That is the nature of memory though. Is that your mind creates these connections that perhaps didn't exist or actually changes major details. You actually copped to the fact that your memory might not be entirely clear.
Scott Loring Sanders: Again, I think that the tiger thing that I just mentioned kind of proves that, but it's certainly clear or a bit-- Again, it's as accurate as I remember it. That's all I have. That's all any of us have, is to be able-- If we can't trust our memory, then what can we trust? [crosstalk]
John Sullivan: Most people-
Scott Loring Sanders: You'll find them like, "I have a great memory." What I kept finding even with that tiger example talking to people. Same with the young girl that was murdered while I was in high school. The memories there from different people were very different.
I did a lot of research on that one, so I had a pretty good-- I feel confident that everything is quite accurate in there as best that I could come up with, but it was interesting to hear from other people if they would remember her name or didn't know this, or didn't know that.
All I can do is go with my memory; some of the details. I did keep journals, at some points in my life. I can then either go back in my head and see the setting or in a lot of cases, I went back to those places. For example, with the girl that was killed, I went on that same trail where her body was found many many years later as an adult-- Just a few years ago as an adult. You've got to get a sense of the place and- so on and then you can fill in details there.
John Sullivan: What's interesting too, is you're a few years younger than I am but you're from a time before Google and the Internet. To actually find corroboration or just fact-check, you really have to go into a library and search through a microfilm probably or unless there were bound copies of the local newspaper or something like that. How much of that did you engage in? You mentioned your student had found some details about the leopard, but did you engage in any of that sort of research for your memoir or were you just strictly going on, "These are my recollections. These are the notes I took"?
Scott Loring Sanders: It just depended on the essay and it depended on the topic. A lot of it is just from my memory or what I recollect and then talking to people, certainly, talking to old friends and family members. Again, with the one that I keep going back to called “The Hookerman's Backyard,” about the girl who was killed, I talked to the historical society of that town who then talked to the police who took certain facts.
That's what's interesting about the essay form is it's really why it's called creative non-fiction. Creative non-fiction, the misnomer sometimes is that like, "Well, it's true but they changed a bunch of details to make it creative." That's not what creative non-fiction is. Creative non-fiction is taking something that's true and real and then depends on how you want to tell that story. As far as playing with form, there's one called “The Second Person” where I wrote it in the second-person but that's a double entendre for what's going on.
The one about “House For Sale By Owner” is actually set up as a bunch of Craigslist ads but it's actually the story about me trying to sell a house, kind of, but it's more than a few fake humorous ones in the collection.
Definitely, I do research a bit. It's not, maybe, traditional research always of going into the library and getting microfiche necessarily but with that I found old YouTube videos and interviews with people and, of course, just my own experience and then talking to friends that were there with me about their own experiences in that wild and crazy place.
John Sullivan: Let's go back to “The Second Person” because one, it has the benefit of being early in the book, I remember about halfway through your memoirs. I noticed that the first story about your father is very, very detailed. Your father's very-- Like all of us, is a complex individual. He would be easy, as an outsider, to write off as this roughneck, redneck but he is not at all. He, in fact, reacts to his own father's racism and rejects it and makes sure that you and anyone else don't engage in that thing.
Your mother does the same thing later in the collection. Again, your father is very-- Later in life, is 275 pounds, not necessarily violent but mercurial, a heavy drinker at some point in his life but at the same time, is a worker for AT&T, is, by all accounts, very intelligent. I don't know what his education was but he certainly seems cultured and learned yet he comes from Arkansas. A lot of people might quickly write that off as, "no, he's a bumpkin," or something like that.
Scott Loring Sanders: Yes, that essay, certainly, it was in many ways the toughest thing for me to write and by far, was the hardest thing for me to share with someone, in this case, my father because it's brutally honest but it's also-- My father plays a huge part throughout the entire book. He's in and out throughout. What I'm pleased with is that people that contact me, often, that's their favorite essay of the bunch. Usually, they say things like, "I want to meet your dad," and/or that love always shows through in that piece, which is what I was after.
I was never there to malign him. In fact, when you mentioned 275 pounds, of all the things- [laughs]
John Sullivan: [laughter]
Scott Loring Sanders: Of all the things in that book, that's the thing he always comes back to and get pissed off about because he's not but at the time when I wrote it, he might have been a bit heavier. Now, he's lost some weight. It's interesting how it's certain things that bother him. I'm actually going to be doing a reissue of the book soon and I'm going to edit that.
John Sullivan: [laughter]
Scott Loring Sanders: I really I'm mainly because I never wanted to hurt his feelings or anyone's feelings with that.
John Sullivan: It's not written as a lampoon. It's a description. You're not certainly calling him a shambling fat slob.
Scott Loring Sanders: No.
John Sullivan: You used, he's a very substantial carnal force to be reckoned with. [crosstalk]
Scott Loring Sanders: No doubt about that. He's a really interesting guy. He's larger than life, no pun intended there. He's an interesting man. He's highly intelligent, highly educated but, I think, his whole life, he was breaking stereotypes like you've mentioned, the whole Arkansas thing, it'd be easy to throw him into that same category but he was constant. That's what I admire about him more, probably than anything. The way that he overcame so many stereotypes that could have easily-- He got that Southern accent to some degree and then he was in New Jersey-- He's in a high-powered job at AT&T yet he still had-- I think that- [crosstalk]
John Sullivan: I suppose he was like Micky or Kingsley.
Scott Loring Sanders: Yes, exactly. He would say to them certain things that I experience still. In some ways, probably some people will judge him that way, even though he'd certainly proved it by being smarter and honest and doing the right things. There's no doubt that book is in so many ways an homage to him and how and what influence he was on me for better or worse sometimes. He loves that essay, by the way. He loves it. He's very proud of me for it.
John Sullivan: Though it's quite a thing to lead off with it and I think it speaks obviously importantly of his prominence in your life as well as an organizing force for the entire memoir. One question I have is, you're from New Jersey but really this, many of the stories could have happened anywhere, maybe not Action Park because that's circus of the New Jersey or The Hookerman's-- What was it, The Hookerman's?
Scott Loring Sanders: It's called “The Hookerman's Backyard.”
John Sullivan: Backyard. That sounds like a cryptozoological character similar to the Headless Horseman. A lot of these tales really could have taken place anywhere. To me, it seems more like it's organized around the trans-generational darkness and sadness but none of the stories, none of the recollections I've come across so far are at all mawkish or sentimental nor are they detached. You're a narrator, you try to get inside the head of somebody.
What must have the babysitter felt like? What must have Matt, the brother of the murdered high school student, felt? You're obviously trying to empathize or at least asking the question and aware of that. What was it about Jersey that made you decide, "This is how they should be packaged--"
Scott Loring Sanders: Jersey was such a huge influence. When I was in my formative years, I lived there from about seven till high school or at least after high school, so those are your formative years, with this crazy bunch of friends that I grew up with. Things like you said, the Hookerman, Action Park was another one of our great adventure which was an iconic place to go to. It's still there. As I become a teenager and start, discover alcohol and drugs and other things, I always felt like growing up in New Jersey, we tended to grow up a bit faster.
Part of that is because New York City was right there. We could shoot off to New York real quickly and get into all sorts of trouble. Plus, there's just a mentality there. I love New Jersey. I love the people of New Jersey but The Sopranos show, for example, was not too far off. That was set not too far from where I grew up. Again, I'm not indicating that I'm--
John Sullivan: You and Malmo?
Scott Loring Sanders: No.
John Sullivan: You're not connected?
Scott Loring Sanders: No. Not only am I not connected, I didn't know anyone who was connected. That was just a joke but it is fun to watch that show to see. It's the same era. My era was a little bit earlier than that totally. A lot of it was fast, it was hard-hitting. I think it shaped me in so many ways with who I am. Even though I have lived in Virginia for 25 years and now in Massachusetts for seven years, I still think "where I'm I from?" I'm from New Jersey even though I understood now as it turns out, I've spent almost three times as much time in Virginia or elsewhere but there's something about it that still lives with my roots, I suppose.
A lot of the stories are either based or set in New Jersey. Many of them are not, however I can't remember right off the bat but I can say that almost every one at some point somehow comes back to New Jersey, not all of them. That wasn't necessarily intentional because the book is broken into three parts, before Jersey, surviving Jersey and after Jersey but even, let's say the after Jersey stuff when I've moved away and lived in Virginia or wherever, Jersey still comes back either friends or different things.
That seemed to be the central focus,- but there was something you just said about fiction and non-fiction and so on. A good friend of mine basically said, "There is no such thing as truth. Everything is fiction." I like that because it's the bold truth I know is my truth. I try to tell it as honest as I can. This happened many times-- I wrote the thing and then people come out with "that's not the way that happened", or "that's not the way I remember it." Everybody comes with their own perspective.
Based on what my friend said, I think he's accurate. It's all fiction. It's as real and true as I can make it, as I remember it but the next guy or the next girl down the room could see it totally different.
John Sullivan: One of the things I find about fiction too is that the novelist really has a harder job than God has, you once said, because things happen in the memoir; the one-way mirror just spontaneously chattering or the woman who is the psychic who has all these dead-on insights under Rachel's disappearance and her eventual fate. Not to give too much away but you're left with "in real life, I can't explain this." Like, "What happened?" It's like, "Well, we were there and this happened." "Boom bang."
In fiction, you can't get away with that. It doesn't have to wrap a little more neatly or else the reader is on sand. How many real-life tales sound so out of the box, amazing that if you read it-- They would say, "You could never do this as a movie because nobody would believe it happened," but in fact this thing happens all the time. "Cancer Spontaneously Remits," anything like that. Like, "The Cat Leaps Out of a Car in Washington State and Finds Its Way Back to New Jersey Home," these things do happen.
Scott Loring Sanders: Everything comes back to New Jersey. [laughs]
John Sullivan: [laughs] Exactly. When you're talking to students about-- Do you say that they need to find a way to logically conclude things in a way that in non-fiction maybe you can leave that for an end?
Scott Loring Sanders: Yes and no is really a way to do that. One thing I resist generally even in my fictions is to wrap things up neatly because-- This is where I think what you just said is perfect because life doesn't usually wrap up neatly. You can't leave us hanging completely, we need some ending. You'll see it all the time in workshops and classes too where inevitably the most difficult part, I think, of writing and certainly with the students is the endings. It's hard to write. It's hard to create a story and it's really hard to create a satisfying ending. I always say, I don't have that answer. If I did every one of my stories would be perfect and there's really no such thing.
A lot of times, they would tend to-- I'm talking about students. At least at first they'll tend to want to wrap up things nicely with a bow and it's all tied up neatly. Sometimes that works, but for me, I still cannot believe it. We as readers, even if it's fiction we have to believe it. There's a balance. That's probably something any student that's listening, "These problems I don't have." He says that.
John Sullivan: [laughs]
Scott Loring Sanders: They would have, but it's balance. Everything is balance, so you've got to create-- It's got to be believable. If you do your job and you do it well and you create characters and the dialogue sounds right, we believe that. We'll go anywhere with you, and I'm talking as a reader. We'll go anywhere with you. The author reaches out their hand and we'll go on that journey with you if it's done well.
My example often is Harry Potter. I believe that there is this Diagon Alley and that if you jump on that train, the next thing you know you're at Hogwarts and they're flying broomsticks and playing quidditch and all that. I'm on board because she did her job. She created these characters so we'll go anywhere. That's the beauty of fiction because we'll go anywhere with you.
More back to realistic fiction, I'd say the same thing. It's basically, write a good story and I'll go anywhere with you. If it's believable and the characters are believable and I buy them, then you should be good to go. Sometimes I'm more satisfied with something that just ends and maybe I don't know all the answers, often that's what provokes discussion too. “What other piece of literature--", "What did happen?", "What do you think happened?", "What do you think happened with this character?", "What do you think the author was thinking right there?", That's what's so fun to discuss either in a literature class or a creative writing class.
John Sullivan: What are some of the exercises--? Not specifically "which assignments?", but that you take students through and how much of that is informed on--? Personally, you've been sitting through creative writing classes as a student in the past. What are some of the things that worked well or didn't work well that you either replicated or avoided here, mostly in the mainstream?
Scott Loring Sanders: Sure. Workshop is the biggest thing. It's just happening-- By workshop I mean students writing stories. I usually just throw them to the dogs and say, "Here we go." Even in literature class, we talk about some stuff, we talk about dialogue perhaps, or plot, or setting or whatever, the big bullet points, but then a student will write a story and admittedly they don't really know necessarily what they're doing but they try.
We then dissect that story. We talk about the good, we talk about the bad, we talk about the things that can be worked on, suggestions. The workshop process works. That's how I learned and it's inevitably-- If the students sit down and buy-in and do their part inevitably, by the end of the semester you can see how much they've improved and how much better they are. They maybe even possibly say, "Wow, I thought I thought I knew about writing until I came in here." So much of that is just sitting down there and dissecting the story piece by piece.
Dialogue is a huge one for me. Dialogue is difficult to do. When it's done well, we don't even notice as a reader because it's done well and it's so real, that sounds great. One of the exercises I have them do which they always seem to enjoy is-- One of their homework assignments will be to go somewhere and eavesdrop on a real conversation. Of course, I tell them they're not allowed to get caught, that's part of the assignment. You can't get caught.
John Sullivan: [laughter]
Scott Loring Sanders: And a few have. We're talking of go to a bar, go to a church, go wherever, on the train, anywhere and observe. What my job for them is, is they have to sit on their laptop or whatever, handwritten however it is. They have to try and copy exactly what's happening in dialogue. It's impossible to do because in real life we talk over each other, interrupt each other, and we talk fast, and it's going bad, it's truncated. That's one of the huge things I've ever-- A lot of times students will write very complete, nice, full sentences. They won't use contractions. I feel like every creative writer has been told since third grade, "You can't use contractions.”
John Sullivan: I don't understand at all.
Scott Loring Sanders: That's insane because that's how we talk. Those are examples. After their homework assignments come back and it's always really funny. The conversations that you hear and the way the people talk when they have no idea that anybody's listening. We'll read them in class sometimes and it can be uproariously funny. You never know what they're going to come up with.
Internal monologue or monologue in general, I tell students often, it becomes boring pretty quickly. You need interaction, and that's how characters develop, and that's how characters are shown. We go back to classic 101, show them and tell. Dialogue is such a strong tool on the toolbox for showing and I tell them all the time, "In real life you meet someone, what they say and how they say, shows us so much about them right off the bat. We need to do the same thing in dialogue." My mantra and probably every creative writing professor's mantra is, “Read your work out loud." That's how you find so many errors. That's how you hear-- Your ear is probably the strongest tool you have in writing other than reading. Reading everything that you get your hands on and then reading your work out loud, you catch things and you catch dialogue and you should be able to hear whether that sound is stiff or not. Again, it takes a lot of practice and you step out and do it.
Those are the things that I preach constantly. By the way, I practice what I preach too. I think that's why students respond because they know I'm not just telling them to do this. I'm sitting at home at the same time doing the same thing, and I'm reading my work out loud still. 15 years later I'm still reading my work out loud and doing the same things that I'm talking to them about.
John Sullivan: Tell me a little bit about your fiction. Both your novels as well as the short stories. First of all, obviously a novel is much larger but outside of that is there a different process and plan of attack to writing a short story than to writing a novel? Is a novel almost a collection of- short stories about the same subject, expertly woven together from-- It's short stories, their chapters.
Scott Loring Sanders: For me and my method, you've kind of hit it on the head. Everyone's different and I think there's a sense of, "Well, I'm a novelist, and I'm a short story writer. I do both and I have to do both." Some people, I think, are just better at writing novels and some people are better at writing short stories and some people can do both, or essays, or whatever the case.
The two novels I wrote, and other novels that I've written that have not been published, but almost every one of them I think, if this is true, started as a short story. I often will just write a short story, it becomes almost a sketch for that for the eventual novel. It's all hard, it doesn't matter what avenue you go down, whether it's the novel or an essay or a short story, it's all difficult. It's all different animal.
The novel is a whole bunch of pieces to make the puzzle fit or a short story, I like them both. I think I probably prefer the short story only because I think it doesn't take as long so you can write a short story in a week or two or a rough draft, and it could take months or years really, but a novel, there's so many pieces, but there's also a huge satisfaction when some of the pieces start to fall into place, it happened this morning.
One thing with me with a novel is it's always with me, kind of like a curse. It's in my head, even when I'm riding my bike or running or doing whatever I'm doing, exercise generally, or walking my dog, it's there and things are firing in there and I don't necessarily always even realize it and then something [snaps fingers] will hit and I use-- Now it's my phone. I'm typing- [crosstalk]
John Sullivan: I was going to say, if you have a notebook or did you always carry it, but with the phone- [crosstalk]
Scott Loring Sanders: With the phone now it's different. If I'm on my bike somewhere, as soon as I would stop I'd go, "You've got to remember that." I'll tell you right now, if you don't write it down-
John Sullivan: It is lost.
Scott Loring Sanders: "But there's no way it could be lost, right? It's the best idea I ever had." [snaps fingers] It's gone. It happens all the time. I'll preach that to students too, "It's been one of the for me, it happens. I think I'm way off the question here at this point, but this is interesting to me." Right when I'm about to fall asleep, often I'll be in bed and part of my brain is gone, but I'm calming down, and all of a sudden something some kind of energy really hard like, "I've got to wake up and write this down." It's so important to do that because if you don't, it will be gone by morning.
One cool story, I think that I have always-- The worries that rolled off the writer of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and Jackie Chan record stuff. His story is that he was driving in England or wherever he was, on some dusty road and he had an idea and he had nothing to write with, so he stopped the car and the back windshield was all dusty. He wrote “boy chocolate factory” or something with his finger in the dust, got home, and then showed a friend and recorded that but I don't know if that's exactly--
It's a cool story but whether it's true or not, it's accurate because if he hadn't I bet you that idea would have just gotten lost, then suddenly you make a wrong turn or whatever happened. Your brain is thinking about a zillion things a day so those things get lost so it's highly important to write them down.
John Sullivan: Are you somebody who writes two hours a day from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. without fail and that kind of thing? I guess if you wait for inspiration to strike it'll never strike because of the --
Scott Loring Sanders: Yes. I don't buy that really. I don't really buy work writer's block and I don't buy inspiration, per se. You have to be super dedicated and super disciplined. I blame or think, a lot of my self-discipline on sports and growing up in sports because you learn so much, that you've got to dig deep and you've got to do another wind spin or whatever.
For me, I think that has helped because there's nobody sitting there. My wife's not standing over, "You better write this much today." "Change the question." No, I am not, I have to write from 6 in the morning, 7 in the morning or 8 in the morning or whenever it is. If I don't write, or at least don't edit, or I don't work on something. I want to say every day, that's not exactly true because it doesn't happen that way, always.
When I'm in a project, when I'm working on something that I need to stay on it every day, whether that comes at 6 in the morning, or 10 in the morning, or whatever, or the middle of night, I'm usually driven more by article word count. For example, the novel I'm working on now, which I started last-- This time last year, I received a fellowship to go to the Edward F Albee Foundation in Montauk, New York, I was thrilled about that. I had one month there and my goal was to write a novel in one month. That's just-
John Sullivan: Not finished up but at least a rough draft.
Scott Loring Sanders: I want this stuff out of my head so I had a goal of 90,000 words, which would be basically 3,000 words a day. Get that crap out of my head, get it on paper and then I have something to work with. At the end of the day, or at the end of that month, for example, I think I came up with 87,000, or whatever it was, which is about an average length of a novel these days. Give or take 75,000 for a normal sized novel.
I had it, so then it was like-- Did that, worked over there for that summer. Now I'm back and now I'm shaping, now I'm rewriting and working so a year or two-- Hopefully by the end of this summer, I'll have something that is ready, I know. Which is set in Massachusetts, by the way, a teaser.
John Sullivan: Teaser all right there it is.
Scott Loring Sanders: At Walden Pond. [laughs]
John Sullivan: Alright, excellent. I understand too that you did some police ride-along-- If you're happy to talk about it, I don't want to spoil or anything but clearly- [crosstalk] -that's your--
Scott Loring Sanders: Yes, that was for this novel I've been talking about and I've set it near Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, or maybe a fictional Concord, I don't know. That's still to be determined, but yes, I had a contact through a friend who knew somebody who knew one of the police officers at Concord and called him up. I said, "Come on out." I talked to him and went on this ride along for a couple hours with a different officer and it was absolutely fascinating. I learned so much. I learned, just on a personal level, what an appreciation I had for police officers and what they do that I didn't have before necessarily, not like I do now and just what they deal with every day.
One of the characters is a police officer, but I'm not a cop and I'm don't really have any friends that are and so to get back to that whole research, you got to go figure it out, talk to people. What I found was they were very happy to talk to me and I said, "Just tell me what you're comfortable." "Look, I'll tell you anything." Talking about people that seen it all. They've seen it all every day.
John Sullivan: There's a certain argot too that you'll pick up on the scanners and the chatter as well as with each other that they wouldn't necessarily give to a civilian but it really will add a lot of color.
Scott Loring Sanders: Yes, you get that kind of cop speak, if you will and their lingo, and just little things that you wouldn't think about. It was really interesting, how much death they deal with, which was interesting. I don't mean murder. I'm talking about just death in general. If you think about it, any car accident they're first on scene. If there's a suicide or an old person passing.
John Sullivan: [crosstalk].
Scott Loring Sanders: [laughs] Anything, they're there. They're the ones that deal with this, so it was really interesting to see how they deal with it, their take on those kind of things. I urge my students to do that too. Talk to your parents, talk to your grandparents. That's another amazing information you get from them. They love to talk about stuff you don't hear from the old days or whenever.
John Sullivan: With that, I think we can probably wrap it up. It's been a pleasure to meet you.
Scott Loring Sanders: Absolutely.
John Sullivan: Glad you're here at Lesley-
Scott Loring Sanders: Me too.
John Sullivan: -influencing young minds in the undergraduate program.
Scott Loring Sanders: Absolutely, I appreciate it.
[music]
Announcer: Thank you for listening to Why We Write. For more information about Scott Loring Sanders and our undergraduate and graduate programs, check out the show notes at lesley.edu/podcast. That's Lesley, spelled L-E-S-L-E-Y. If you enjoyed the podcast, please give us a review. It will help other people to find the show. Next week we've got a conversation with Boston Poet Laureate Danielle Legros Georges and other members of our community from the Boston Book Festival. This is a perfect episode for anyone considering an MFA in creative writing program. Here's a clip of that conversation.
Danielle Legros Georges: At 30 years old, I decided to take myself seriously as a writer and allow myself the moniker and once that happened, really wonderful things started to come to me. Applying to the MFA program was a part of naming myself as a writer and that naming really changed my life.