5 Questions with Peter Turchi, Author of (Don’t) Stop Me if You’ve Heard This Before (and Other Essays on Writing Fiction)

Feb 1, 2023

Peter Turchi has written and coedited several books on writing fiction, including Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer, A Muse and a Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery, and Magic, A Kite in the Wind: Fiction Writers on Their Craft, and (Don’t) Stop Me if You’ve Heard This Before (and Other Essays on Writing Fiction). His stories have appeared in Ploughshares, Story, the Alaska Quarterly Review, Puerto del Sol, and the Colorado Review, among other journals. He has received numerous accolades, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He is a professor of creative writing at the University of Houston.

Peter Turchi will be in conversation with Austin Kleon at City Lights on Tuesday, February 7, 2023 at 6:00 p.m. PST to celebrate the release of his new book (Don’t) Stop Me if You’ve Heard This Before (and Other Essays on Writing Fiction), published by Trinity University Press.

Where are you writing to us from?

Central Arizona; I’ve recently returned after living in Houston for nine years. I enjoy the beauty of the Sonoran Desert, even as I recognize not many of us should be living here.

What is bringing you joy right now, personally/artistically/habitually?

I just finished an extended move and over three months of weekly flying, so I’m enjoying being in one place, hiking, watching the light, watching the birds (a flock of feral lovebirds comes by every few days; the very existence of feral lovebirds is inspiring).

Artistically, I’m glad to have this collection of essays out in the world, so I can focus my attention on a group of related long stories I’ve been working on for an absurdly long time. Those characters have been very patient, waiting to learn their fate.

Which writers, artists, and others influence your work in general, and this book, specifically?

My sources of inspiration range from music, maps, and magic to iPhones and elephants. I tend to think associatively, through analogue and metaphor, so I’ve found building stone walls, solving puzzles, and standing at the edge of a desert pool useful to my writing.

For this book in particular, in addition to all the writers whose work I discuss, and elephants, I was influenced by the craft essays of Robert Boswell and Charles Baxter (friends and colleagues), other wonderful teachers of writing I’ve been lucky enough to work with and listen to, and the writing students who have asked questions to which I had no ready answer, as well as those who taught me things. I’ve taught classes on the history of writers writing about writing, from Aristotle to E.M. Forster to Margot Livesey, and it seems to me that conversation, at least among fiction writers, has never been so robust.

What books are you reading right now and would you recommend any to others?

It’s hard to recommend with confidence a book I’m in the midst of reading, but a few recent highlights among books I’ve read have been Javier Marias’s A Heart So White, Fernanda Melchor’s Hurricane Season, and Imbolo Mbue’s How Beautiful We Were.

Among the recent books I’m most excited to open are Andrea Barrett’s Natural History, Peter Orner’s Still No Word from You, and the two most recent Elizabeth Strout books. There isn’t enough time.

If you opened a bookstore, where would it be located, what would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?

Since this is a fantasy, let’s put it in the Grand Canyon—not on one of the corridor trails, but in an isolated but reachable slot canyon. It would need to be so environmentally friendly and so perfectly designed to blend into its surroundings that it can’t exist, but…there would probably be no more than 250 books, and just a few comfortable chairs.

The books wouldn’t be for sale—they’d be there to read and discuss, or to read and contemplate, or to take on the trail. People would probably keep walking off with Ed Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, but I bet at least a few would understand why Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North was there beside Powell’s journals, Van Dyke’s The Desert, Krutch’s The Voice of the Desert, Zwinger’s Down Canyon, and Austin’s The Land of Little Rain.

Patrons would be encouraged to pause whenever they heard a canyon wren, and to leave as quietly as they came.

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