January 24, 2013 at 1:35 PM
As part of the Mary E. Rolling Reading Series, novelist and Penn State professor of English William J. Cobb will be reading selections from his newest novel entitled “The Bird Saviors” at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Foster Auditorium.
Published in the spring of 2012, “The Bird Saviors” is a near-future vision set in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of Colorado. It addresses contemporary issues including severe dust storms in the wake of climate change, economic collapse and the outbreak and spread of a virus.
Cobb served as the director of the MFA program from 2009-2012, and he currently teaches ENG 414: Advanced Fiction Writing as well as a senior seminar in Western American fiction at Penn State. He cites authors such as Cormac McCarthy and Vladimir Nabokov as major influences on him as a writer.
Cobb spoke with The Daily Collegian on Wednesday about life as an author as well as a full-time professor at Penn State.
Q: You wrote “The Bird Saviors” at the same time that you were serving as Penn State’s MFA director. How do you strike a balance between the two?
A: Yeah, it’s hard. I think, like a lot of professors, you always have your project that you’re working on. You try to get your work done in the summers or any time off that you have, but you can’t just write only during those times. There were times when I would have to write a lot during the time that I was MFA director. How do you balance it? Well, sometimes you just don’t answer the emails (laughs).
Q: How are the works of fiction that you publish a product of the work you do as a faculty member at Penn State?
A: In the early stages of writing a book, which for me are for me the only enjoyable part, you’re just making up stuff and you get totally enraptured with the story. When I’m doing that, I have a lot of ideas. If I have an idea in mind I go ahead and write it here at the office.
Q: “Goodnight, Texas” is set in Texas, where you’re from, and “The Bird Saviors” is set in Colorado where you also live. How do you incorporate your own personal experiences into your novels?
A: The last two novels have almost nothing to do with my life but with “The Bird Saviors,” there’s an angle about a polygamous family and a polygamous father in the story. Where I lived in Colorado did have a big polygamous community. So that’s not about me, but it’s about something I witnessed in Colorado.
Landscape is also a big part of the story, and I love that landscape out there. In that way, it’s a part of my life.
Q: How did you get your start in novel writing?
A: Like a lot of writers, I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. I remember writing songs in school and when I got into high school, I was the typical misfit loner that smarter kids tend to be. I read a whole lot and thought that would be a cool thing to do trying to write a book.
Q: What is your approach to teaching creative fiction?
A: One thing I do that’s a little different is I don’t use any writing guides such as “How to Write Fiction.” I ask students to read authors of contemporary fiction because I think that’s how I learned to write. You read a bunch of good writers and see what they have done. You pick up all their tricks, and hopefully you learn what makes good writing by studying the best writers rather than writing guides.
Q: There are many aspiring writers here at Penn State? What is your message to them as they pursue a similar path in writing and publishing their work?
A: Write as much as possible, read as much as possible, and never give up.