Working with Words: Eli Glasman
Eli Glasman had his first short story published in 2011. From that point on, he’s had two more short-story publications, a $5000 prize and, with The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew being published by Sleepers Publishing, his first novel. He is currently in residence at the Wheeler Centre with a 2014 Hot Desk Fellowship.
We spoke to Eli about his love of Q&As, the fact that people find him funny (even though he sees himself as an intensely serious person), and why beefing up the word count makes for boring reading.
What was the first piece of writing you had published?
It was a short story called ‘Head Heavy Latte’, it was about a doctor who was out on the town with a transvestite prostitute and the two get beaten up in a bar. The doctor is then scared to take his companion to the hospital where he works. I have no idea why I wrote it. I’m very glad that I did, though, because it was published in Voiceworks magazine and got to meet all the great young editors working at Voiceworks.
What’s the best part of your job?
Speaking to people about writing — specifically, my writing. I love Q&As in particular. I’m one of those people who only likes talking about what’s going on in their head. So, being able to speak about what I’ve been writing is great.
What’s the worst part of your job?
In all honesty, there isn’t a worst part. I really do love it.
What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?
Getting that call from Sleepers Publishing that my novel was going to be published. They answered me in two weeks, which is a blink of the eye in publishing. I’m very glad it was quick. Because I go nuts waiting to hear if my work has been accepted.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?
Worst: ‘You have to make sure to beef up the word count’. We’re not making door-stoppers. A story is as long as it needs to be. Adding words so that it fits a mould makes for some boring reading. Anyway, rant over.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself?
That I’m funny. I see myself as an intensely serious person. Maybe that’s why some people are laughing at me.
If you weren’t making your living by working with words, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
Hmmm … that’s tricky. Mostly because I’m not actually making my living off being a writer. I work full-time doing pretty entry-level office work, as I have for a number of years. If I was making a living off being a writer, I certainly wouldn’t be doing this instead. I’d be teaching creative writing, which is something I’m working towards now. I’m very excited about being a Vic Writers’ tutor for next year.
There’s much debate on whether writing can be taught – what’s your view?
You can teach many of the elements of storytelling, such as structure, plot, conflict, character development etc., as you can teach more of the syntax-level writing such as switching between tenses, habitual past, grammar, tension and so on. But you can’t teach a person how to do any of these things well.
What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?
Workshop your writing. Get lots and lots of feedback. What you will need to learn as a writer is how the words you use affect the reader. Only when you understand this, can you manage the tone, elicit emotion and create realistic, relatable characters.
Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?
Both. But mostly in shops. I’m very impatient. So, I like to go in and get what I want straight away.
If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?
Dirk Gently from Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. We’d talk about the interconnectedness of all things.
What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?
Keep The Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell. It’s about a man who declares war on money and then quits his job to write, but finds being poor too depressing and it snuffs out all his inspiration. I did that for a year and only after reading that book did I realise that feeling financially secure was an important ingredient when writing fiction. At least for me.
In terms of my writing, I love Orwell’s economic use of language, which is something I try to apply to my own work.