Friday Feature: Interview with Tom Pugh

Each week, the editors of Jenny Magazine sit down with either fellow literary magazine editors or past Jenny contributors for short interviews. This week’s interview is with Tom Pugh, a past contributor of Jenny Magazine.

Describe your first publication. Where was it, when, and what was the piece about? How old were you at the time and how did it feel?

The first time that I was published was in the Ursuline High School newspaper, The Irish Times. I am pretty sure it was fall of 2002, my junior year. The piece was a movie review. I was the film critic for the paper. I critiqued The Ring. I was seventeen and seeing the finished product was an amazing feeling.

What inspired your piece in the Jenny?

I was taking a class that was taught by Dr. Ball when I wrote the beginnings of “Tom’s Time Machine.” We were just learning about creative nonfiction as a genre and I was intrigued. I always wrote things about my family and childhood. I never knew there was a specific title for the kind of writing I did aside from “nonfiction.”

What got you into writing?

My mother. She had an assignment while she was working on her master’s degree in theology in which she had to ask a child about a real life event and write about it from their point of view. At the time, my goldfish just died. She asked me all kinds of questions about how I felt about it. She typed it up, turned it in, got an A on it, and put it in a special folder for me. She told me that I was “published” by her and that the editor liked it. I was little. It had a rather large impact on my life and I guess it was the first creative nonfiction piece that I ever worked on. Thanks, mom.

What do you like writing the most? Is there a certain style you prefer?

I like writing creative nonfiction essays about experiences with my family during my childhood most. I have had a lot of fun writing about superheroes in the past, though.

What are your influences? Who are your favorite writers?

My favorite writers come from lots of different genres, but for creative nonfiction’s sake, I will stick with my favorite essayists. First and foremost, David Sedaris. My sister, Amy, knew that I loved writing about my family and that over the years, I wrote and rewrote a holiday story involving my dad and a Christmas day in which he hit multiple “reindeer” when I was seven years old. She knew that I would love the humor in Holidays on Ice, so she bought it for me. When I finished that, I had to read everything else he had written. Seeing him live last year during the Skeggs lecture was a real treat.

Second is Augusten Burroughs. If you like essays and memoirs and have not read Augusten Burroughs, do so now. He has the rare ability to make people laugh and cry within a span of two paragraphs. He is immensely talented.

I am going to include Stephen King in this section. His memoir On Writing is something that I really cherished as a writer. He opened up. Reading about his experiences and what led him to being the author that he is (love him or hate him) was fantastic.

For an influence: I want to give adjunct professor Deb Lowry a shout out here. Deb told me that I should look into taking classes with Chris Barzak after reading some things that I wrote for her essay assignments. If not for Deb, I probably never would have received a minor in Creative Writing which means I probably would never have entered NEOMFA. She deserves a huge thank you.

What’s your proudest moment as an author?

My proudest moment so far has to be being accepted into NEOMFA. The board (or whoever it is that decides who gets in) liked my work enough to let me into the program. That was a cool feeling.

How has your writing developed over time?

When I started writing in elementary school (after being “published” by my mom), I wrote a lot of fantasy about knights and dragons. It was all battle scenes. I didn’t focus much on characters or world at all. I cared more about swords clanging and battles. In high school, I wrote for myself. I wrote horrendous rhyming poetry, some of which still exists, but I will never let anyone see. I also wrote short stories and what I would learn to be flash fiction during my senior year of college.

Early on in college, I wrote a lot more about life. The fiction that I wrote became a lot more about regular people. I still worked Death as a character into some pieces, but the dragons and swords were long gone. During my junior year, I started writing nonfiction essays and have only written fiction during workshops. I would really love to write out a superhero piece that I started for a Chris Barzak workshop one day, but finishing my thesis and attempting to sell some version of it comes first.

Are you currently working on anything?

HA! Yes, my thesis. I am writing a lot. My thesis is a collection of humorous essays based on experiences with my family. Each member of my family has three essays attributed to them. I am trying to decide whether or not to include one for my dog. I’m pretty sure I should.

What’s your writing process?

My writing process is as follows:

Choose family member

Choose memory

Write as many details as I can down about memory

Sit at computer

Type essay

Fact check with my family members to make sure that what I wrote really did happen. Despite the fact that he sold loads of copies of his “memoir,” I don’t want to be a master fabricator like James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces.

However, being on an Oprah special would be fun. Her “Oprah Book Club” sticker instantly sells anything it graces.

What are you currently reading?

Currently, I am reading a delightful textbook called The Prose Reader. It is the text that I have assigned for the 1550 class that I teach. I have also been reading and grading a lot of compare-and-contrast essays. However, I have an assignment for my nonfiction workshop that will actually allow me to read something, To Show and To Tell. It is a memoir on the craft of nonfiction.

Are you a past Jenny contributor or an editor at a literary magazine and interested in an interview? Send us an email.


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