The Firsts column features Windmill writers talking about their own firsts in both writing and life. Interview conducted by Theresa Pham.
Ace Boggess is both a poet and prose writer. He is the author of the novels A Song Without a Melody (Hyperborea Publishing, 2016) and States of Mercy (forthcoming from Alien Buddha Press). His recent fiction appears in Notre Dame Review, Lumina, and Superstition Review. He received a fellowship in fiction from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and spent five years in a West Virginia prison. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia.
Q: What is the first word that pops into your head to describe yourself and why?
A: ‘Terrified.’ I have had unbearable anxieties my entire life. In many ways, they are the cause of my becoming both a writer and an addict.
Q: What was your first dream job?
A: I’ve only had one dream job. In the early 90s, I was a reporter in Huntington. Mostly it involved covering the police beat (for which I don’t fail to see the irony these days) and weekend obits, but I also branched out to cover the local music scene in a time when alternative music was breaking. It was magic to me. It’s the inspiration for my only published novel, A Song Without a Melody.
Q: How did your first book change your process of writing?
A: It didn’t. My first poetry book came out in 2003, and by then I was a drug addict. My writing process revolved around the drugs. I took my dose, read a book until the buzz kicked in, then wrote. My process is essentially the same today—read and then write—just without the dope.
Q: What was the first thing you remember writing?
A: When I was 11 or 12, I decided I wanted to write an adventure novel about an emerald mine. I wrote the first chapter and then forgot about it. I wrote a lot of first chapters as a teenager.
Q: When was the first time you knew you wanted to be a writer?
A: My sophomore year in college I finished my first novel (not good novel, mind you, but something complete), a horror/fantasy novel that I’m embarrassed to think about. Still, I knew at that point that I had to keep going. That same year I wrote an obnoxious experimental novel, followed the next year by a slapstick comedy (a much-shortened version of which will be published later this year after only a quarter of a century). Then, my writing took a more literary turn and I couldn’t stop. In law school, a professor asked me in class why I went by Ace, and just to say something, I said, “I’m a writer.” He replied, “Well, now you’re a lawyer,” and I said, “No, I’m a writer,” as I looked down at the journal in front of me which already had the first few chapters of my next novel.
Q: When was the first time you felt successful/like a real writer?
A: In ’97, I found an agent for one of my novels. It didn’t sell, but the fact an agent took me on after years of rejections was mind-blowing. Then, around the turn of the millennium, first Notre Dame Review and then Harvard Review accepted poems I’d written. Those were the biggest successes I’d had to that point, and I felt like I was on my way.
Q: How did you celebrate your first book?
A: Oh, that was one of the most fun nights of my life. I premiered the book at my home-away-from-home, a bar/restaurant called Calamity Café in Huntington, West Virginia. In order to build the audience, after the reading, I hosted a poetry slam, took the sign-up list and, as I read each name, introduced the poets with bizarre, fanciful bios that I made up on the spot. We had a lot of laughs, and I sold a lot of books—two of my favorite things. What a wonderful evening.
Ace Boggess’ short story Embraced by Every Atom of the Universe is forthcoming in the 2019 edition of Windmill.