I had an opportunity to talk with author Shawn Vestal, a columnist for the Spokesman-Review in Spokane. Vestal's short story collection Godforsaken Idaho was shortlisted for The Story Prize in 2014. It was longlisted for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham award, and the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing.
His prose is magnificent; a joy to read. Exciting. The first story in the collection, "The First Several Hundred Years Following My Death," opens the book with much more than a bang. I kept re-reading passages for their beauty and new-ness. I dog-eared pages I couldn't wait to share.
As fellow Spokane author Jess Walter says on the back cover of Vestal's book, "Wickedly funny and surprisingly profound, these nine stories of prophets and parents, of doppelgangers and pocket dogs, form a thrilling introduction to one of the wryest, most inventive new voices in fiction."
Our conversation was not intended as an interview for this blog, nor to talk about his book, although it arrived in the mail the very afternoon we spoke. Instead, Vestal was kind enough to share his story of querying for an agent (and another agent) with me. Although his genre differs and his agent search was a short one (both times), the ultimate take-away I heard is this: keep the faith in your own project, and don't let too much outside noise erode that.
We also discussed the importance of an MFA for a serious writer. Vestal believes it was a great fit for his writing growth and career.
Lastly, after a day and last few weeks when I've been consumed with writing critiques, challenges, contests such as #PitchWars, #PitMad, and Chum Bucket (from 'the' Query Shark, Janet Reid), and considering which in-person writers' groups to attend via MeetUp, it was quite nice to stop and just listen. My visit with Vestal was calming yet exciting, re-affirming and inspiring.
Reading his collection later in the day was perfect timing; exciting, re-affirming and inspiring. Calming, it was not. In a good way.