Interview with David A. Estringel: “Emerging? We’ve Always Been Here” Writer Series
I was first made aware of David A. Estringel’s work when littledeathlit published his poem, “And The Beat Goes On.”
From there, I devoured his work — his poetry and prose are stunningly intimate, pulling no punches, but his words stay with a reader long after the last word. I could argue that, when spending time with David’s writing, he is the one that gets the last word.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
David A. Estringel works and writes at the University of Texas. David is a “2019 Best of the Net” and “2019 Over the Edge New Writer of the Year” nominee. His publications are varied as they are extensive, so be sure to visit his website to check out more of his work.
Also, don’t be silly: go buy his book, Indelible Fingerprints, now.
A special thanks to David for taking the time to chat with me. Enjoy our conversation below:
Q: People are usually in two camps: they knew from a young age that they were going to be writers, or they “stumbled” into it later on. So, which one were you? Was being a writer always an option to you?
D.E.: Good question. I would have to say that I demonstrated a penchant for writing at an early age. In second grade I wrote a story about two doves and I was whipping out adjectives like ‘crisp’, much to the dismay of the nun who was teaching me and didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. So, there were signs. Since that point, writing was never an issue for me. I was quite good at composition and relaying things in a way that tended to be more mature for my age. It wasn’t until college that I first fell in love with creative writing. That stemmed — to an extent — from a whole lot of reading (most Salinger, Vonnegut, Forster, and Hardy). I especially loved Raymond Carver (yes, I know its cliche…but what are you gonna do?). My first Creative Writing course was the thing that hooked me though. To this day, taking classes is a sure way to get the creative juices flowing (despite the fact that I hate workshops). I always thought I would be a short story writer, maybe novels. The last thing I ever thought was that poetry would be my thing (mostly due to a disastrous Second Grade recitation of “Daffodils” in front of the nun from “The Conjuring 2”).
I guess you could say being a writer was always an option. It is no matter who you are. The real question is if it’s my passion (you have to do it if it’s a ‘passion’). It is. When I write, all is good in the universe. When I don’t write, I feel like shit and life just seems to make less and less sense. I need it like caffeine. Doesn’t mean I do it all the time, especially as of late. You know. Job and career. Paying the bills. The absence of it is on my mind daily, though.
Q: I was struck by your CNF piece, “Windows,” that The Elixir published. As I went through your other work, I noticed that you offer the reader these intensely intimate morsels of yourself to consume. Your writing, especially in the intentionality of your language, and this intimacy got me wondering about your process. How much does honesty and vulnerability play into your conscious writing life? What does that look like for you?
D.E.: All my writing is terribly honest and peppered with stuff that has happened to me in real life. To be honest, I didn’t really start writing til I was about 50 years old. Any attempt to do so before was pretty fruitless. I hadn’t lived enough…or, at least, I hadn’t been paying attention. Then — all of a sudden — I am fifty and realize that I had a whole lotta feelings and ideas about a lot of stuff. I am not one to really talk about my baggage but writing about it is a different story, altogether. Ultimately, I don’t think my pain in any more relevant than anyone else’s; however, writing about it can bring someone to the realization that they are not alone in feeling what they feel. That connection between writer and reader is an amazing thing.
Q: Indelible Fingerprints, your first published book, lists influences from classical to dirty realism. Can you talk a little more about these influences? When I hear “dirty realism,” my mind jumps to Bukowski.
D.E.: I am nuts for Classical literature, namely anything by Homer. It is mainly evident in my poetry. I incorporate Classical (Greek) allusion from time to time (or at least symbolism) to give it a “bigger” feel — if that makes sense. I guess I resonate with the idea that we — mortals — are at the whim of the powers that be and have little control over our own outcomes. Sure, we can do a lot to direct our lives, but Fate has the last laugh, no? I am sure a lot of my angst against God and stuff plays into that, but I feel we live in a world of organized chaos. so ‘time’ becomes more precious to us. As far as ‘dirty realism’, sign me up! I always lump Carver into that category. I love how he presents life in all its ugliness and rough edges, then saunters over to make a third highball at the bar. The content isn’t shocking, but what is is the calm familiarity the reader has with it. Ultimately, we want to see ourselves and lives in the characters we read about. Again, we don’t want to feel alone. Now, in regards to Bukowski…never read him. Have his books and plan on diving in one day, but I Carver is the one I reread over and over.
Q: You said that the first creative writing course in college changed things for you. Can you talk a little more about that? Was sharing your work ever hard or jarring? What advice might you give to writers who are just now starting to circulate their pieces for critique?
D.E.: I guess you could say that I am an incredibly private person. Life is sort of an internal experience for me — very contained. When I started reading and writing short stories and poetry, I found I resonated with certain authors and subjects. I was in awe of these folks, really, fascinated how some people could ‘put it all out there’ like that. I had been waiting a long time to find an outlet for all my angst and creative energy, and that was it. In regards to sharing my work, I hated it. I can publish pieces with no qualms, but having folks critique my work in front of my face is a grating experience for me. I can take hits here and there regarding the quality or clarity of my work with no problem; I find that helpful.
From my experience, however, when one enters a workshop sort of situation, folks start to ‘run’ with your pieces and take them to places they never intended to go. The whole process is viscerally uncomfortable for me and — at times — agitating. I wish I would have started writing earlier in life and made that my main focus. I think surrounding yourself with like-minded people, who love to write, creates a more supportive environment that facilitates growth. I definitely wouldn’t limit my experience to workshop classes within an MFA program like I have. I would also take advantage of submitting work to publishers who offer feedback. Generally, one has to pay a little for the privilege, but the feedback can be quite invaluable.
Q: You noted that you didn’t start “really” writing until you turned 50; since we talked about advice we might give writers who are just getting their feet wet, what advice would you give any writer in all walks of their artistic path? Has there been any “words of wisdom” given to you that has just stuck?
D.E.: I would say that anyone who wants to write needs to stay true to their process but — at the same time — discipline themselves. Writers need to write. There is no plainer way to say it. The words, however, don’t always flow. Sometimes this is a brief affliction and clears in a few days or weeks, but sometimes, it lasts a while (months…years even). No matter the situation, one has to keep trying to get those words down on the proverbial paper. These days, I find myself writing all the time…in my head. I write sentences, file ideas for short stories and poems away for later review, and daydream about titles I like and would want to build work around. Career-wise, things are nudging me in a different direction, which has significantly impacted the time I have available to sit down and create. These changes are a good thing, mind you. Like I said before, writing doesn’t pay my bills. There is more to life than security, though. Once things settle, I feel that things will come back to center again. When that does come to pass, I will gladly drown in my own words. I also need to be ready for it, though. It’s kind of like being in the middle of a group of people having a deep conversation and wanting to contribute but not feeling quite ready to do so. That is where I am right now: I’m waiting for the words to jump in. Jack Kerouac’s words come to mind, “One day, I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” (Dharma Bums, 1958)
Q: Indelible Fingerprints is gut-wrenchingly addictive. Like peering into a window of someone’s life, scared you might get caught but you just can’t look away. I couldn’t put it down, and as someone with ADHD, that’s saying a lot. How did that project come about? Were there any particular struggles with compiling this book?
D.E.: Thank you for that. Yeah, that is what it looks like when someone hemorrhages on 111 pages. I didn’t originally plan a book. I hadn’t attempted to write for decades and it wasn’t until I got into my MFA program that I started taking Creative Writing classes, again. Once I started writing poetry, I couldn’t stop. Decades of anger, sadness, sex, heartbreak, and — yes — love spilled out of me over the course of a year. I had lived more than enough to find my voice. Every decision — good and bad — led me to that place. I do have to tip my hat to my MFA program though. If it weren’t for taking classes I don’t know if I would have had the discipline to sit and write all the time (and even then, it happened in spurts). I can say that I grew as a writer because of the program, experimenting with structure, form, and style, as well as playing with language. The short stories were a pleasant surprise. I had always told myself I wanted to write them but never had the gumption to sit down and just do it. Again, if it weren’t for a fiction workshop, they never would have seen the light of day. Even though poetry seems to be more ‘my thing’, I feel that short stories will, ultimately, be my claim to fame, which is why I probably find them more challenging to write.
So, once I had a decent selection of poems and short stories together, I started to think about putting a chapbook together and reached out to a few publishers. Alien Buddha Press responded to an inquiry and asked to see my collection and offered to publish the whole manuscript. Of course, I squealed like a little girl for five minutes and the rest is history. The whole thing happened really fast, actually. Realizing there was nowhere to go but forward, I kept writing and continued to publish in lit mags and journals. I had two chapbooks published, Punctures (Really Serious Literature) and Peripheries (The Bitchin’ Kitsch), which was also the winner of the 2019 B’K Chapbook Contest. Indelible Fingerprints and the process of creating it really have changed things for me. So thankful! At the beginning, I needed a catalyst to start writing. Now, I am my own catalyst. Now, if I just weren’t so lazy.
Q: And because I really gotta ask: why “The Booky Man”?
D.E.: I am quite the bibliophile. My library is composed of about 2000 books. I can’t stop buying them. Books feed the soul and mold who you are. Sometimes I see a book and think, “Let’s add this to the profile.” They do that, you know? They have a great deal of power.
David Estringel can be found on Twitter (@The_Booky_Man) and his blog “The Booky Man” at thebookyman.wordpress.com.