In this age of increased brevity, to the layman, there is a great temptation to dismiss the storytelling value of a novel, or a complex television drama, such as LOST. That narratively, its depths appear too deep; mythologically, its widths, too wide. While one may make the inference that the laity seems, increasingly, to prefer the likes of the nonliterary – and indeed, the ab-literary –, such superficial observation should by no means discourage those with sufficient ambition from practicing and promoting a common bond with all arts. The literary legacy of this generation must not be distilled to page-upon-page, ad infinitum, of laughs out loud. Yet such avoidance requires the encouragement of the artist.

Indulge, for a moment, the editor, as he adds a simple philosophy:

We live our lives as though a page of lined paper. We travel through life collecting thoughts – each recorded upon its own line, parallel to all others, upon which other things are recorded. Our lives stay within the lines with impeccable penmanship. These thoughts would remain upon their own line – indefinitely –, if it were not for certain events in life that shake the page: allowing those lines to come close enough to contact another line. In this way grand ideas are formed. These events may have nothing to do with the thoughts that briefly kiss as their lines continue on toward infinity. The event may be: a word, a book, or a punch to the face: but a sharp mental jarring is necessary to intertwine the lines of code.

The artist requires this sharp mental jarring. Then the great problem becomes the lack of literary punch, or perhaps the courage to throw such a figurative punch toward the artist in violation of the Marquess of Queensbury rules.

Perhaps it would be just as sensible to offer the following wisdom (as uttered by the great Werner Herzog):

Mut müss du haben, und nicht feige Sein.
You must have courage, and not be a coward.

This entreaty is paramount: Stand tall, gentle writer. Take courage, either to throw, or accept the full force of the blow. Continue to create at length; it is for you to return literature to the position of strength. By force! do not allow the electronic chirps of snipe and woodcock to overwhelm the song of the honey-tongued Muse.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

–The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám


Sally Weigel is a writer of peculiar ability and she has set out to obtain a literary reputation – to build the immortal part of herself. For reasons too fortunate to admit, she sat across the table – metaphorically— for an interview regarding her novella Too Young to Fall Asleep (CCLaP Publishing, 2009). This is stop number eight of CCLaP‘s revolutionary, two-week Asleep book tour (and so, gentle reader, you may believe you are well acquainted with this talented writer), yet Ms. Weigel has still new facts and pleasing discoveries to disperse.

Sally Weigel, sketch by Grace Blevins

With her work now laid before the public eye, we believe, Sally Weigel has reached the age of promise.

Jason R Riley: As oversimplified as this may sound, to be a writer you must put words on the page. Yet for many – and often enough, I include myself among the many – the simple act of sitting in the writing chair is the hardest thing to do. Do you ever find your motivation ebbs to the point where the words don’t flow? What tricks do you use to get your words on the page? Do you need any particular environment to write? Or definite hours of the day?

Sally Weigel: I am most productive early in the morning and late at night so I end up doing most all of my work then, preferably at times when everyone around me is sleeping. I think solitude is really conducive to the writing process so I need to be stuck in my room with no noise and no one around. And you are right, if you are serious about writing, there are times when I need to force myself to be creative when I am in fact, feeling lazy and unmotivated. I usually push myself at these times and just say, “Sally, all you need to do is write one sentence. Then another. Then another.” Soon, I will start formulating paragraphs of writing without even trying.

JRR: Too Young to Fall Asleep was a very different piece when you pitched it to Jason Pettus at CCLaP. How would you say having the added pressure of adapting a shorter work into a novella influenced your writing? Why don’t we see more novella’s? Or are they out there, but disguised as novels using fourteen-point font, blank pages between chapters, and creative pagination (like, say, On Chesil Beach)?

SW: I don’t think there was too much pressure turning my short story into a longer piece. I think what is a lot more challenging as a writer is to shorten your writing. When I start a short story and begin to introduce new characters with their back stories and their story lines, I realize I can easily turn the story into a novella. And I think this is the case with most writers. I think short stories and novels are much harder to write than novellas.

That being said, I do not dislike the novella form at all. I just think there isn’t much of a market for it. People nowadays are used to novels. They rarely even pick up books of short stories. I have no doubt novellas are being written. It’s just that less and less people are reading, and the people that are reading are reading novels.

JRR: There are certain expectations a reader has of a war story. You’ve written a war story that contains very little description of the war, just over a page. In a way, it captures the average US citizen’s half-a-world-away exposure to this war – where unlike WWII, physical participation in this war was optional. Yet Too Young to Fall Asleep is no less a war story. There isn’t the usual combat, or translation work, or the soldier asking what can I do next that will keep me alive? The events happen so fast that we don’t see Catherine making these decisions, but we see her asking a related set of questions regarding her post-army life. And the way you handled it really focuses the story on the psychological issue of why she made her decision to join the Army. How did you come to the brave and – probably – difficult decision to make Catherine’s choice, and not the combat, the event of the novella?

A Nocturn of Baghdad, Donald Maxwell, 1921

SW: I’m flattered by the question, although I have to admit, this decision was done out of sheer fear rather than bravery. I wrote this story when I was 17 and had never attempted and succeeded in writing a longer work. Knowing that I was still at a place where I needed to hone my skill, I decided to deal with Catherine’s psyche rather than combat in a foreign land. Even though I made this decision, I didn’t think I was hindering the story at all. I actually have grown to love the unique plot of this war story. Although most soldiers I am sure find themselves with much alone time on duty to reflect, there is so much being dealt with in making the decision and then dealing with this life-altering service after the fact. I like to think that Catherine’s story tells an important yet relatively untouched part of the story of the Iraq War.

JRR: Lately I’ve given much consideration to the honesty in writing – that one’s best writing is also their most honest writing. Let’s call it an ability to figuratively stand on a chair naked before your peers, and to stand there without fear. That to find the truth, you must embrace the freedom to use everything that has happened to you. How free do you feel when writing? Have you ever held back because a character is – on some level – based on someone you know, and so there’s a concern they might recognize something of themselves and become upset?

SW: I never had to deal with this before Too Young to Fall Asleep because most of my writing was not really based on real life and in the end, it was unpublished. I wrote knowing that I would most likely be the only one reading it. But in writing the novella, both of these pretexts were gone. I was dealing with characters that many people around me would see real life inspirations in them. Also, the prospect of publishing was in the back of my mind, so I knew that if I wrote a sex scene, my mother would read it. That being said, I only held back my apprehensions, rather than holding back my writing. I am such an advocate for art, that I am willing to sacrifice my feelings and my fears if the writing is bettered because of it. I think a writer needs to think of it like this. If my writing can resonate and invoke emotion in another, then I am willing to take slack that the writing may be inspired by someone real.

JRR: You allow much of Catherine’s emotional state to flow through her quill. Do you keep a journal? Do you allow yourself to pluck little bits out of that for your fiction?

SW: I actually don’t keep a journal. I have a couple journals that are just filled with other writer’s words, such as quotes and articles that have really resonated with me. Still, this does inspire a lot of fiction. Although I am a writer, I am a reader first. Every bit of writing I keep in my journal inspires words of my own.

JRR: How well do you need to know a character for a short story or a novella? Should the writer know whether Catherine’s second favorite band is blur or Coldplay, even when that detail will never make it onto the page?

SW: I have seen character sheets online, where a writer can map out obscure details of a character so they can familiarize themselves with their invented characters and make them appear more real on the page. However, I don’t find that necessary. Most of one’s character comes out through interactions with other people, not little details. And if the detail is not helping the story at all, then it shouldn’t take up the writer’s time. So I wouldn’t encourage completely mapping out a character.

Although if the writer subconsciously gives the characters details that never make it into the story, that’s fine. This will most likely happen, as I found that by the end of Too Young to Fall Asleep, I believed that Catherine, Jeffrey, Vince etc. truly exist and thought about them without intending to.

JRR: On a somewhat related note: I have a friend who wrote a wonderful novel, which I’m certain you’ve not read, as it was published in Ireland (Ailbhe Keogan’s Molly and the Cyclops) – but, in it, publishing houses employ actors to work a phone bank and portray characters from the novel. If you could have a chat with an actor portraying anyone in Too Young to Fall Asleep, who would it be, and what might you say to them?

[Personally, I think I’d chat with Jeffrey. He was clearly overmatched for the task of being the anti-recruiter, doing it, Catherine suspects, simply to get out of a physics exam. His inability to perform, or to come up with compelling reasons against joining may have tipped Catherine in that direction. I wonder what sort of responsibility he felt for her injury.]

SW: What an interesting point you bring up! I do agree that getting into Jeffrey’s psyche would be quite interesting. Although, I did feel a huge pull toward Vince in the story. If I do say so, I found him to be a very lovable antagonist. I suppose if I could talk to him, I would want to drink whiskey with him and chat about Neil Young.

JRR: I asked this of Ben Tanzer regarding CCLaP’s first publication Repetition Patterns, but as you are slightly younger than Ben and me, you probably have an interesting perspective and answer. The publishing world seems to be undergoing a slow transition to the digital age – with amazon, Apple, and brick and mortar publishers arguing over the price and format of electronic literature. As a writer whose major work debut was first published in a digital format, are you still attached to the printed word in paper form, or do you see the (Radiohead) model you and CCLaP have used with as the future of publishing? Is digital versus print relevant to you and those writers yet to debut?

SW: I am kind of a contradiction in regards to my thoughts on electronic publishing. I am very much attached to the printed word in paper form but I am not against the digital format. I’ve mentioned this in other interviews but the best way to put it, is that as a reader, I will never choose to read something on the screen. I like the smell of a book. I like the tangibility of it. I am obsessed with book covers and decorating my room with shelves full of novels. As a writer, though, I have nothing against electronic publishing. If I can learn anything from the music industry, it’s that publishing would be making a grave mistake if they denied readers the electronic market that they are demanding. Instead, I am more than willing to utilize the new form and work with the change to get more eyes to read my writing.

JRR:Any final words of wisdom for the writers out there among us, preferably that one thing we’ve all been searching for, yet you’ve already discovered?

SW: It’s funny because I still feel like an aspiring writer myself so I don’t know how much I can really advise others. Instead, the only bit of wisdom I can think of actually comes from Conan O’Brien. A couple weeks ago, I watched his last episode of “The Tonight Show” where he said something that just really resonated with me. He more or less said that if you are kind and hard working, you can achieve anything you want. I agree. In my opinion, kindness and work ethic are the keys to success.

The Town of Hit, Donald Maxwell, 1921

Editor’s Note: Sally Weigel will speak tomorrow April 9, virtually, with Jason Jordan, and finishes her book tour on Sunday, April 11 with the incomparable Kevin Neilson at Between the Lines.