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Five Questions with Mike Belanger

1.) When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I wish I could point to a moment: Back in high school, furiously reading Slaughterhouse-Five or Catch-22, some classic of the American canon that just made me need to write. Or maybe college, needing to document my first bitter taste of heartbreak on a blank page. Unfortunately, my focus remained on drums until well into my twenties. My shift into writing was less like a lightning bolt, more like a distant roll of thunder. As I pursued drums and teaching, I dabbled in poetry, screenplays, and short stories, gradually accruing a body of work until one day I realized I’d become a writer. By then, it was too late to turn back.

2.) What do you love most about the writing process?

I love getting lost in a novel. When a world starts to feel fully formed, and the people begin whispering their histories, lines of dialogue, needs and desires, that’s when I know I’m onto something. Sort of like meditation, the goal is to empty yourself. But with fiction, the next step is to become somebody else. I love that part.

3.) What do you love most about teaching writing?

I love helping students find their voice, so much so that I’ve developed an equation that boils it down to a simple formula, the E=MC2 of the writing world. Unfortunately, I can’t give it out over the internet.

4.) What are you reading right now?

A strange combination of books. Sophie’s Choice by William Styron at night, which is as close to a literary masterpiece as I’ve ever read, and, on the way to and from work, I’m listening to It by Stephen King. Two masters working with very different material. Both haunting in their own way.

5.) What's your favorite writing quote?

I’ve never been one to hold onto quotes, but a colleague recently shared an interview with me where George Saunders talks about his background as a scientist, and how his technical writing shaped his fiction, made it original. He compares that alchemy to a “welder designing a dress.” I think that’s really important to remember, especially for those of us who don’t come from traditional writing backgrounds. Often that divergence is what makes our writing fresh and unique.

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