Keeping up with old friends: an interview with Eliot Treichel

In 2012, Ooligan Press published Eliot Treichel’s Close is Fine, a short story collection depicting the lonely isolation of rural Wisconsin and the winner of the 2013 Wisconsin Library Association’s Literary Award. Now a resident of Eugene, Oregon Eliot is teaching writing at Lane Community College. He has continued to stay in touch with Ooligan through the years and we wanted to take the opportunity to check in with him.

First of all, the catch-up question: What have you been up to in the last couple years since the publication of Close Is Fine?
I’ve spent the last few years working on a YA novel. The genre was a bit of a departure for me, but ultimately helped me grow as a writer. I’m happy with how the manuscript has turned out and hope it can find a home. In the meantime, I’m back to stories—trying to get down a few things that I’ve been carrying around in my head for a bit. Then it’s on to tackling another YA project.

Has your writing process evolved at all since publishing Close Is Fine? How do you fit writing into your daily life?
My process has evolved mostly in small ways. For instance, I use a standing desk a lot of the time now. And there are fewer late night writing sessions. I have a different kind of patience, too. Writing a novel required a more sustainable kind of pacing and a different kind of engagement than writing stories. That was an adjustment I had to make. I found that it was much more important to be working on the project every day, even if only in small chunks. To that end, I was very fortunate to receive a month-long residency from Playa, which is an amazing arts advocacy organization in Eastern Oregon, and it was there that I was really able to wrap my head around the novel. As far as fitting writing into my daily life, that’s always a challenge. It often depends on my teaching schedule, or on how much yard and housework I’m willing to ignore.

-Right now you are teaching writing at Lane Community College in Eugene. How long have you been teaching there? Do you find that your students inspire and inform your own writing?
I’ve been teaching at Lane for five years. The students there inspire and inform my own writing in profound ways. It’s almost impossible to talk about. But it’s definitely a collaboration. I’m always learning with them. A pair of former students once gave me a t-shirt that reads TEACHING IS A WORK OF HEART. Fiction is the same thing. I owe both my students and my fiction the best of what my heart can deliver.

What is the writing community like in Eugene? Furthermore, Ooligan has been excited to see you continue to attend our events here in Portland (the recent Alumni Reunion Party, for example). Do you have any particular thoughts on the Portland writing scene and how it may differ from what you experience in Eugene?
The word “scene” just makes me so nervous, because my scene is pretty much limited to like my house. And I’m not even sure Eugene has a scene. Eugene does have a lot of talent, though, including many writers who are at the UO, or who have gone through the program there. There are also some great independent bookstores in town, a couple of good reading series, and a very nice public library. But there are some things that are missing. One thing I wish Eugene had was something akin to the Writers in the Schools program that Literary Arts runs. In addition, I think Eugene is in desperate need of a community-based literary center, something similar to The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, or The Shallows, which is turning out to be one of those books that I think everyone should read, as well as Matthew Quick’s Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. I’m not sure I can measure the impact of them on my writing yet. What I’m really looking forward to reading are Anthony Doerr’s new novel, All the Light We Cannot See, and Bret Anthony Johnston’s debut novel, Remember Me Like This. Those two writers have had a significant influence on me, and I greatly admire them both.

On the flip side, what book has sat the longest on your TBR shelf?
I was actually just staring at its spine the other day and wondering if I’ll ever get around to reading it. It’s Frank Luntz’s Words That Work. I think that book has been sitting there for about six years now.

Thank you, Eliot! We really appreciate you taking the time for this interview, and for your continued support of Ooligan Press.

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