Back in September, we had the privilege of publishing Shawn Rubenfeld’s “The Cut-Off.” Shawn has an MFA in fiction from the University of Idaho, where he received a Writing in the Wild Fellowship and won the university’s 2014 Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award. His stories appear in Portland Review, Heavy Feather Review, 580 Split, and SmokeLong Quarterly, among others. He currently serves as managing editor of Split Lip Press and Split Lip Magazine. We sent him some questions. Here are his answers.
If a ten-year-old kid came up to you and told you she wanted to be a writer, what would you say to her?
A writer writes and a fighter fights. Stay in the chair and write your guts out. Don’t be intimidated by the blank page or the critic. Read critically, practice self-evaluation and revision, carry around notebooks, pens, keep writing and keep seeing.
When you write, do you consider your audience? If so, how?
Sometimes I do. But not usually. Philip Roth was asked this in 2004 and he said something that resonated with me. He said, “I don’t think about the reader. I think about the book: I think about the sentence, I think about the paragraph, I think about the page.” A story has its own sets of demands. When I’m writing, that’s the voice I feed. I love sharing my work and I love engaging in conversation about my work, but more important than the audience (or lack thereof), to me, is the story itself. I trust and hope that once the story is right, the right audience will follow.
How does your story, “The Cut-Off,” represent the type of artist you are?
“The Cut-Off” is one of my many attempts to make the familiar unfamiliar. There are a lot of these challenging middle school/high school moments captured in literature, and so I really wanted to explore it from a different angle. As an artist, I like being in uncomfortable places, I like doing things that are a bit risqué.
Who do you think we should be reading right now, and why?
Split Lip Press (for which I’m Managing Editor) just released a wonderful chapbook by Nicholas Reading called, “Love and Sundries.” We have books by Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach, Ed Harkness, and Jared Yates Sexton forthcoming. These are totally worth checking out. Recently, I enjoyed Suzanne Rivecca’s story collection, “Death is Not an Option,” Ben Lerner’s novel, “Leaving the Atocha Station,” and Kristopher Jansma’s “The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards.”
Tell us something about you we might be surprised to hear.
I’m cousins with the comedian Paul Reubens (better known as Pee-Wee Herman). That’s not really about me, though, is it? How about this: I’ve worn multiple hats. Before I turned twenty-two, I had worked as a bus driver, a camp counselor, a tour guide, a grocery store checker, a bagel maker, a dish washer, a bookstore clerk, a security guard, a babysitter, an ice cream scooper, and a substitute teacher. Not only have these various jobs help shape me, but they’ve introduced me to a ton of interesting people and have led to a ton of great stories.