Earlier, we shared the first part of an interview we did with Jeff about his work with essays. Here is the second part of the interview.
Interviewer: What is your process. In other words, how do you write an essay. Can you take us through your process from the inception of the idea to completed product?
Jeff: I experience something in my daily existence that I realize can be related to larger issues that readers might find interesting, issues both emotional and intellectual, as I’ve said. Like many creative nonfiction writers, I use techniques from both poetry and fiction to add color, depth, and texture to the writing. In the process, I try to expand my personal interest into a larger topic that readers can relate to.
Interviewer: Who inspires you most as an essayist?
Jeff: Often, it’s finding an old poem of mine that’s too long to work well but that contains a topic I think could be expanded in the more capacious form of creative nonfiction. Other times, I realize that I’m cogitating over (“worrying,” as country folk would say, worrying the way a dog worries a bone) a topic or problem that I need to figure out on paper. My first essay collection, Edge, contained several travel essays, and those were all about remembering and commemorating the rich sensual textures of places I’d visited, both in the United States and Europe. Essays, like poems, can serve as monuments, honoring experiences, places, and people.
Interviewer: Do you have any plans for any new essays?
Jeff: Yes, indeed. Steve Berman, the wonderful publisher of Lethe Press, has expressed interest in a new book of my essays. My last personal-essay collection, Binding the God, appeared in 2010, and since then, I’ve published quite a few essays online and in assorted journals and anthologies. Those previously published pieces will end up in the new essay collection, but I need to write 5-6 more essays to make it a complete book. I have several new essay topics in mind. One would reminisce about the Middle Eastern friends I’ve had, my enthusiasm for Middle Eastern food, and my contempt for anti-Islam fanatics like that hateful troll in the White House. One would discuss some of my favorite Appalachian foods. Another would examine the current anti-Confederate hysteria and the offensive practice of removing Confederate monuments. Another one—the tentative title is, “Watch Out! That Queer’s Got a Gun!”—will concern my determination to buy and learn to use a handgun after the election of aforesaid hateful troll in the White House.