Interview with Luke Whisnant

Only 6 more weeks until. . .

The 2nd Annual
Pamlico Writers Conference & Competition

The Art & Craft of Writing!

Washington Civic Center
100 Gladden Street, Washington, North Carolina
March 8, 2014
9am until 6pm

This is our 2nd Annual event, and this year’s conference has been organized with a host of talent that you won’t want to miss. We’re offering six workshops to choose from, and you’ll want assurance of a seat in two of them, since space is limited. Six weeks really isn’t much time,  so if  you haven’t already registered for the conference, you’ll need to do so. Visit our website to register and for more information.

Now to this weeks interview:

Luke Whisnant

Luke Whisnant 

 Due to the enthusiastic response to his presentation last year, Luke was recruited again to be an afternoon presenter at the second Pamlico Writers Conference. This year his session is titled, “Flash Fiction? Prose Poetry?” It is a session for poets and fiction writers that will include in-class writing exercises.

A novelist, short story writer, and poet, Luke teaches at East Carolina University where he edits Tar River Poetry. His first novel, Watching TV with the Red Chinese, was made into a feature film in 2010, and his work has been published in multiple national and international journals as well as six anthologies. His fiction has been included three times in New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best.

In an interview, he shared thoughts about his writing.

Interviewer: Is there a singular event that led you to become a writer?

Luke:   Not really. From an early age I knew I was going to be some kind of artist; I just didn’t know whether I’d be a musician, an actor, or a writer. By the time I was in my early teens, playing guitar, acting, and writing were all central to my life. I had a great English teacher, Margaret Gragg, who encouraged my early attempts at poetry, so that’s probably why I ended up making writing my main thing.

Interviewer: Did your writing begin as poetry, short story, non-fiction, etc? And which genre would you now consider to be your “passion”?

Luke:   Honestly I’m passionate about all genres. My first love was poetry, but I started writing fiction almost simultaneously. My first published story and my first published poems appeared in the same issue of my high school literary magazine, so apparently nobody told me you had to be one thing or the other. Nowadays, because my teaching area is the short story, I usually say that fiction is my primary genre, though I’ve also written screenplays and nonfiction and I seem to be going through a little flurry of poem publications recently.

Interviewer: Does your writing interface with your teaching?

Luke:   I try not to impose my work on my students, but every now and then it’s useful for them to see how something is inspired and evolves, so I sometimes bring in a published piece and show them how it came to be. More often I just write with them—whatever I assign them to write, I write with them, and share as time allows.

Interviewer: Is some, most, or all of your writing conceived through personal experience?

Luke:   Yes. In fact, right now I’m writing a story about answering a questionnaire for a writer’s conference blog.

Interviewer: Come on. Seriously?

 Luke:   All of my writing is “conceived through personal experience” and I don’t know how any writer’s wouldn’t be, but in my case it’s transformed, in varying degrees, through character and circumstance and point of view and situation, until whatever I’m writing about is unrecognizable as something that actually happened to me. I hope.

Interviewer: Do you consider commercial value when choosing subjects and characters for your stories or poems?

Luke:   Never. Not even for an instant. I guess I’m just not that kind of writer. And I think commercial value is a terrible starting point for a creative project anyway.

Interviewer: Do you have an agent, and if so, how did you find him/her?

Luke:   I had an agent for my first book. She found me. She was having lunch with an editor at a magazine that had published a short story of mine and he gave her my address and she called me.

Interviewer: In what ways does an agent improve your commercial success?

Luke:   I think a lot of people get hung up on these agent questions, frankly. It’s very much to your advantage to have an agent if you’re trying to do large-scale traditional fiction or nonfiction commercial publishing with major houses. But the publishing industry has so many more options now than it did just a decade ago; these days most writers I know are publishing with small houses, or print-on-demand, or self-publishing, or subscription-based press-runs—and you don’t need an agent for those options.

Interviewer: What is your favorite of all your works? Why?

Luke:   I couldn’t begin to answer that. I like different pieces for different reasons.

Interviewer: Okay, how about this: Is there one piece that might be a good introduction to your work?

Luke:   “Mexican Carwreck,” which you can read on my website ( might answer for that.

Interviewer: Actually, I read it in your book of short stories, Down in the Flood. It’s one of those stories that lives in my mind. I’ll never forget it. If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently?

 Luke:   Go to law school.

Interviewer: Really?

Luke:   Just kidding. No, the only thing I’d do is be more productive earlier. I’ve written a lot but wasn’t as organized as I should have been finishing pieces and about publishing.

Interviewer: What or who has been the greatest influence in your writing?

Luke:   My mom, who died last year, always supported every creative thing I ever did. She bought me my first guitar, and when I was acting she’d help me learn my lines and my blocking, and she wrote poetry when she was a girl, so I had that example to go by. And I had some great teachers—Margaret Gragg, who was NC Teacher of the Year; Terry Davis, Stanley Elkin, William H. Gass, Howard Nemerov, who was US Poet Laureate twice; and of course Peter Makuck, who was not only a teacher but also a mentor and a friend. It’s a blessing to have great teachers. It’s humbling. All you can do to repay them, really, is to pass it on. That’s what I try to do every day.

Interviewer: And your mentor, Peter Makuck, will be presenting in the afternoon as well. I never thought of teaching as an example of “passing it on”. But of course it is, and you don’t have to be in the classroom to do that. Thanks, Luke.


Doris Schneider

For information and to register –

conference, presenters, workshops, panels or lodging links,

visit our website at:


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