FRED McGAVRAN is a graduate of Kenyon College and Harvard Law School, and served as an officer in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam. In 2010 he was ordained a deacon in The Diocese of Southern Ohio, where he serves as Assistant Chaplain at Episcopal Retirement Homes. The Ohio Arts Council awarded him a $10,000 Individual Achievement Award for The Reincarnation of Horlach Spenser, a story that appeared in Harvard Review. Black Lawrence Press published The Butterfly Collector, his award winning collection of short stories, and his adventure novel The Arminius Codex: The Hunt for the Last Roman Eagle just appeared on Amazon Kindle. For more information and links to stories, please see www.fredmcgavran.com.
I write because it is the most intense and exhilarating intellectual experience I can imagine. For years I wanted to become a writer, but despite several unpublished and probably unpublishable novels, I was not going anywhere. Then I stumbled upon the voice you saw in “The Dinner Bell,” my story in Spank the Carp. I remember a long ago English professor saying that tone is the most difficult aspect for both author and critic. Recently I have been able to adopt different tones to accommodate different stories and characters.
When I have an idea and am writing, life is more intense and real. Right now I am researching and writing a long, complex story that is almost developing itself. I don’t care whether the story is published or whether I am paid anything for it; I just want this moment.
Unlike real life, when we may forget to say something important or only think of the right answer hours or years after the conversation, the writer can always correct. To revise is to move freely backwards and forwards in time.
What other creative activities are you involved in?
I teach Bible studies to widely diverse groups and preach once a month. Teaching and preaching have the same affect on me as writing, and the rewards are very similar.
Who is your favorite author and why?
Twenty-five years ago I would have said Ambrose Bierce, because he taught me the satirist’s tone and showed that material for satire is everywhere. His Civil War stories read as if written about Vietnam or, I suppose for more recent veterans, about Afghanistan and Iraq. Now I might say Chekov, because of his humanity and compassion for his characters, or V.G. Sebald and Patrick Modiano, for their weird and evocative excursions through time and relationships and ruins, always observant, often moving, sometimes shattering.
Tell us about the mechanics of how you write.
I begin with an idea and proceed to the critical first paragraph. If I can get that right, the story will flow. If not, back again and again until it starts where it should and sets the right tone. Research is a tool to propel the story forward. Then I write and revise until it feels finished. In my current story, I did not have the overall theme correct until I wrote and rewrote the final few paragraphs several times.
Finally, what do you think about Carp, the fish, not our website?
I see you lying in a deep pool at the side of the dam, outlined in muted scales, working your gills in the effluent, swallowing anything that can be swallowed. More lively species may lose their balance in the rushing waters and tumble over the precipice, while the heroic attack the obstacle from below, leaping up to reach the magic land of death and procreation. You, O carp, are content to be dull, indifferent and alive.