Joseph Schwartz, famously known as “St. Louis Short Story Writer”, writes exclusively about the GatewayCity. He is the author of “Joe’s Black T-Shirt” and “The Games Men Play”. He knows St. Louis very well and it reflects on all his short stories that will take the reader on a haunting journey through the darkest St. Louis streets to its most rural counties. Joe is clearly a writer who is following in the footsteps of Dashiell Hammett, Donald Goines, and Chuck Pahlinuk. He is indeed preserving the culture of St. Louis through literature.
Interviewed by Stephen M. Thompson, Ph.D.
Welcome to OpenBeast. Could you tell us about yourself?
I am 41 years old and first started writing professionally five years ago. A friend of mine couldn’t write a screenplay and asked me to give it a shot. I wound up selling the script to a local production company and eventually turning the screenplay into my first novel. I write short stories as a way to stay constantly productive in between writing novels. Short stories offer an amazing rush to me as an artist. They are not even close to being as difficult to write as some 100k+ book and are good practice at solving big problems. Sometimes I think an inexperienced writer will feel they are suffering from writers block when in fact it is actually ignorance. There is nothing more exciting to me than someone telling me they have read my work. That is why I write. To make a living doing it is just icing on the cake.
What is “The Games Men Play” all about?
The title is a double entendre. Each story is titled in the literal sense of games generally associated with men alone, i.e. golf, pool, poker, chess. The stories though are an examination of men and their especially private faults, and not to be a misogynist, a few women too. I am not as interested in the headline “Four Found Dead In Car” as in how they came to be that way. My strongest desire, whether I’m telling the story of a bereaved father looking for revenge, or a senator’s aide willing to do whatever it takes for his boss, or a story about a child who is caught in the complexities of his parent’s divorce, is that I want the reader to be there experiencing it all firsthand.
So why write exclusive about St. Louis?
Why not? St. Louis is as interesting as any New York, Miami, L.A., or Boston. I want to do for this place what Elmore Leonard did for Detroit, Faulkner did for Mississippi, Steinbeck did for Salinas, and King has for Bangor. They are interesting places, more so than they appear on any map, because writers have made them so. That is what good writing does-makes the banal exciting and the profane holy. Although I have lived in other states and cities, to me St. Louis is the most interesting of them all.
Any upcoming projects or initiatives you would like to discuss?
Currently, I am writing another collection of short stories which I hope to publish in 2013. After that I plan to sit down and write another novel. In June “The Games Men Play” will be the subject of book club. That is the kind of stuff I find most exciting. The more people who are reading my work the better! As a writer you must be being read. To write and keep it hidden away, constantly afraid to expose your work to criticism is akin to a guitarist who might be the most proficient artist of his generation but never plays to an audience, who constantly dreams of glory yet never dares to perform outside of his bedroom. It is also why I have from the very beginning given digital copies of my work away for free. Love me or hate me, as long as you are reading me. If I wanted to be rich I would’ve been a TV evangelist.
What is your take on eBook vs. traditional publication?
They both are relevant. I don’t ever see real books going completely the way of the Dodo but I do see the eBooks completely replacing costly texts such as schoolbooks, encyclopedias, and even phone books sans the Internet free of pop ups, spam, and viruses. In ten years I can see kids being issued eReaders for their school assignments, yet there will always be a need for real books. If for no other reason than to have your favorite author sign a copy to you. Seriously, would you rather he sign your Fire or iPad?
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Write often. The more you write the better you will get. Make goals and keep them. Join a writers group and make yourself accountable to others for your work. Don’t compare yourself or your work to others. Be conscientious of your flaws but be able to ignore criticism that is not helpful. Remember it is what you think that counts. If you continually say you suck, then everybody will believe you. Be patient. When you read a book remind yourself it was not written as fast as you read it. Every page is relative to three hours of work from first to final draft. An average novel comes in at about a thousand hours of hard work. That is equal to twenty-five weeks of putting your ass in a chair at forty hours per week. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why it is called work.
What are your leisure time activities?
I like to read(duh). Mostly, I like to stay in bed and watch bad TV, smoke cigars, and drink coffee. I don’t care who won the game or got the trophy. The idea of going out to the movies or dinner just pisses me off when I think about how much it costs. Outside of writing, going to work, or attending whatever pointless social engagement I’m forced to by my wife, I don’t do a whole hell of a lot.
If you could live anywhere where would you build your dream home?
I would still choose to live inSt. Louis. It is where I belong.
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