On March 26, author Charles Baxter came to the College of Charleston to perform a reading at the Alumni Memorial Hall with a Q/A, reception and book signing to follow. He also greeted Senior creative writing students personally in a lecture during professor Brett Lott’s fiction capstone class.
Baxter is an author of over five novels, including Feast of Love and First Light, with his most recent being 2008’s The Soul Thief. He is also the author of a number of award-winning essays and short stories, poetry collections and non-fiction books.
Growing up in Minnesota, Baxter’s father died while he was incredibly young. Soon after, his mother remarried and moved deep into the country of rural Minnesota. His mother made sure to keep him busy, splitting his time heavily between reading books and doing chores. He attended Macalester College and completed graduate work in English at the State University of New York at Buffalo. On his college experiences, Baxter said, “Tim O’Brien was one class ahead of mine. Everyone thought that he would be a politician.” Baxter spent 15 years teaching in Detroit at the University of Michigan before transferring back to Minnesota, where he teaches now.
Professor Lott’s capstone fiction class is currently reading Baxter’s Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction, a guide to writing effective fiction through various means of character development, setting, plot, pacing and his own personal experiences in the literary world. Baxter explained that, “the hardest thing a writer has to do is talk about his/her work,” he said. “I can do it, but it’s like describing your own face, it’s so close to you,” emphasizing the incredibly visceral relationship between the writer and his or her art. Writers have to pour their hearts into their words, mean what they write and make others believe it, too.
When asked how long he spends writing each day, Baxter explained his preference to write in the mornings, as evenings make his mind tired. Although, he said, thinking of literature before sleep sometimes yields the most creative results. Baxter stressed the time he takes to make the story truly what he envisioned it to be, saying that, “when you feel yourself being pulled by the story, you’re really married to it, in love with it, you don’t want it to end.” Again, Baxter stressed the absolutely dependent relationship the writer and the story share.
As a writer attempting to forge my own way through fiction, it truly is a craft reliant on dedication. Putting half a heart into a story is apparent and often times detrimental to how you feel about your writing. The characters are your creations but still, they often hide secrets from you. You breathe life into them, but they take themselves where they need to go. Baxter explains one of his most prominent and useful archtype characters, the illustrious Captain Happen, to be “the one volatile character who arrives on the scene and breaks the surface the other characters have constructed.” By breaking the ground your characters have established, Baxter believes that you can break the mold of the story and flex creativity. Not only does it get your story going, it lets your mind run wilder than before, dispatching a Captain Happen to push plots into uncharted territory.
Baxter’s newest book, the short story collection There’s Something I Want You to Do: Stories, was released Feb. 3, 2015. Featuring 10 interrelated and interconnecting stories, the book follows a set of characters through trial and tribulation as their morals are weighed in their search for virtue. The results are funny, tragic, thought-provoking and most of all, human. Make sure to check it out here.