Interview with RW Spryszak
by Haley Cherico
RW Spryszak was born in Chicago in 1953. His first works of poetry and fiction were seen in various publications of
Chicago's "Underground Press," including The Seed, which published him — and others — under assumed names.
He was a member of Marjorie Peters' Southside Creative Writers Workshop and attended Columbia College of Chicago
in the early 70's.
Writing was set aside for the larger priority of raising a family, but by the mid-80's he began to appear in
various publications of the pre-internet "altzine" world such as Paper Radio, Asylum,
The Lost and Found Times and many others.
In the early 90's he took over the reins of the SP Stressman's Seattle-based Fiction Review and
brought it to Chicago. The Fiction Review only managed three issues from March of 1991 until late
summer 1992, but included the work of many writers who were already established in the "alternative"
scene or became notable for their later accomplishments and extensive publishing resumes.
The Fiction Review featured writers such as Thomas Wiloch, Richard Kostelanetz, Paulette Roeske,
Hugh Fox, Gorman Berchard, William P. Haynes (Elliot), Sheila Murphy, Jack Foley, Lorri Jackson,
Jake Berry, Rupert Wondolowski, Willie Smith, B. Z. Niditch, and many others. A few of the
few remaining copies of The Fiction Review can be found at the Read/Write Library, in Chicago.
Some of his work can still be found in the John M. Bennett Publications Collections at
The Ohio State University Libraries, (formerly, the Avant Writing Collection).
In late 2010, along with Dave Simmer, he founded Thrice Fiction magazine which began
publishing in 2011, for which he is currently fiction editor.
How has your job as an editor affected your own writing?
Horribly. Sometimes I think people who get rejected must think I'm impossible. But if they saw how hard I am
when it comes to my own stuff, I know they would feel that I handled them with kid gloves, so to speak. I think
I'm okay with something and then realize I've been sending a piece around with an "of" where an obvious "if"
should be that's been there through three rewrites unfixed. Or I look at a paragraph and think "well that would
be just ducky IF the reader knew what I was thinking, which the reader doesn't because the idea referenced an
obscure notion I never communicated." I'm so much more forgiving of glitches in other people's work and a terror
when it comes to my own Sometimes I go happily into the submission pile because I'm convinced everything I've ever
done sucks and I need to see some good writing for a change. I've been working on something for years that has gone
through more rewrites than I've flipped calendars and there are moments I'm convinced it's the most boring piece of
tripe ever invented. I guess it's one thing to be able to say "no, do it THIS way." But then I look at my own work
and become convinced I'm the one doing it all wrong.
The thing I keep trying for in my own work is this impossible goal, probably. All I want, in my own work,
is for the reader to forget they are r-e-a-d-i-n-g. I forgive this miscue in other people's work because it's
a goal they may not share - if that makes any sense - though I'd prefer to see material in which I get to page
six before I even realize I'm in a story. That's usually a good sign. But when I try to do it sometimes it
gets all bogged down. I am ten times harder on myself than I am with anyone else. That's hard for a writer who
has just been rejected to understand, but I'm afraid it's the honest truth. I wish they could see it.
In your opinion, what makes a literary piece successful? Have these standards changed over the years?
I honestly don't know the evolution of this over the years. I'm not that smart or intuitive. It's also
probably too subjective. I think maybe I touched on it a little in the first question. If I get half way
through a story before I realize where I am I think that's a good clue. And yet if I've pulled away from
the piece and say to myself "wow, I've just read ten pages and didn't know it sucked me that far in," does
that mean I just hit a weak spot in the story that woke me out of the spell, and therefore did the piece just
then go sour? You see what a trap that is? Plus if you're talking about a genre, there are certain things that
will work and certain things that won't. Put what doesn't work in that genre into the piece and it is no longer
"successful." A lot of writers don't like the idea of thinking about your audience. They seem to want to have their
work be a kind of edifice one has to scale, true only to itself in its own universe. That's okay, but if it's as
boring as sin who is going to sit around and plow through it without they're being the kind of artless person
who says "everyone says this is good, so it must be my fault I'm yawning." No. I believe writing is still
performance. That may be something I learned when I was an actor, but I think keeping your reader's interest
And in going through submissions for Thrice, it must be said, I can't think about other people's standards.
I have to think about Thrice's standards.
How do you think the rise of technology has affected the literary field?
Zadie Smith summed it up better than anyone. "Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet." End of answer.
What do you look for in a submission?
To be perfectly frank I have to be interested in what you have going on, and this has to happen to me
quickly. If I turn the page still looking for a reason to like what I've got you've caught me in a
gracious moment but you're probably not going to like my answer. That said, the truth is that I return
more work because it isn't in Thrice's wheelhouse than because it's a "bad" piece. I see a lot of
material that would work well in other places but simply doesn't fit with what we've got going.
Thrice goes on two tracks, I hope. One track has a bit of "kink" in the rail. It's rather oddball,
so to speak. I hate the word "experimental" because I'd rather you figure out the formula on your
own time before sending the thesis. So I guess we can use the word "alternative" instead. Anyway the
second track is simply damn good writing. Usually more traditional but undeniable. This combination
has made a few readers wonder what we think we're all about, but we've said this is how we're going
to operate from Day One.
That's the long answer. The short answer is - grab me from the first line and don't let go.
How do you handle those who do not take rejection so well?
Thanks to the lovely internet where a writer can fire off an email the minute he gets something turned
down, I have seen my share of emotion and reaction. 99% of the time I ignore the response, delete it,
and even forget the name of the butthurt party - so they may feel they'll never have a chance with us
again but they'd be wrong because I don't have a list of these names. But if the whining and egoism and
righteous indignation is really juicy and stupid I devolve into my 4chan persona and just tickle the
shit out of the asshole. We have a lovely series of emails then. And I do have a list of those names.
Oh hell yes I do.
You once wrote that you were glad to receive some of your rejection slips. How has rejection made you more successful?
I am thankful beyond words that some of the stuff I've submitted over the years was returned to me because,
looking at them now after the passage of time, to have had to live them down if they ever saw the light of
day would be twenty times harder than the rejection. People have to trust that a lot of editors really do
know shit when they see it. And I am thankful they didn't let me slide. If you stop and think about all the
things we consider "great works" now that had a difficult time getting seen (Catch-22, I'm told, got its name
because it was rejected 21 times previous), and really consider what that could mean, you should get to the
point where you realize there are only two answers to why it was rejected. And, as an editor, I've come to
this understanding with even more surety. It either just sucks, or it hasn't been sent to the right place.
I think writers forget the second one. They shouldn't.
On the other hand I don't think I have ever, in my life, felt so 100% about anything I've written that I
ever became livid or insulted that it was sent back. Too large an ego will kill the process, my friend.
Wake up here. Stop looking for conspiracies. Stop looking for evil motivations in others. Or just stop
being a jerk. You get something back, maybe try and see why. I don't know.
What is your advice for aspiring writers?
It is no mystery. You can't write a masterpiece unless you write something. Quit trying to be a writer
and just write, for Christ's sake.