• Q&A with WriteByNight Consultant Robert McDowell


    Robert McDowell (Grants Pass, Oregon), a two-year Woolrich Fellow at Columbia University’s School of the Arts, served as co-founder, publisher and editor of Story Line Press. For twenty-two years at SLP, he selected, edited and guided into print 300 anthologies and individual volumes of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, memoir, guides for writers and drama by new authors, authors in mid-career and well-established authors. SLP authors included five Pulitzer Prize winners, six U.S. Poet Laureates and a Nobel Laureate. For ten years he co-edited, with Mark Jarman, The Reaper, a literary magazine. Robert is also the author, co-author, translator and editor of four E-books and fifteen print books of his own from publishers such as Free Press/Simon & Schuster, New Directions, Penguin Eastern Classics, Henry Holt & Company, University of Pittsburgh Press and others. He has taught writing in all genres at the low-residential Bennington graduate MFA program, which he co-designed with the late Liam Rector, the University of Southern Indiana and UC Santa Cruz. His non-fiction, fiction and poetry have appeared in dozens of magazines here and abroad including The Hudson Review, London Magazine, The New Criterion, Poetry, NER/BLQ, The American Scholar and many others. For the last ten years, Robert has worked as a freelance coach, editor and ghostwriter for beginning and established writers.



    Where are you from?

    I was born in Alhambra, California, in the long shadow of the San Gabriel Mission. I’ve also lived in New York, the Midwest and Ireland.


    Where did you study?

    I studied writing with George Hitchcock, Raymond Carver and David Swanger at UC Santa Cruz where I earned a B.A. I received an M.F.A. from Columbia University.


    How did you get your start as a writer?

    By reading. I fell in love with Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth and Coleridge. I worshiped (still do) Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, Proust, Hemingway and many others. I got my first writing job at age 16 at the Monterey Park Progress, a newspaper, where I learned revision and meeting deadlines.


    Who are some of your influences?

    The aforementioned authors and others; English teacher Elizabeth Luttrell, editor Johnny Edwards, Shakespeare, of course, Tolstoy and Chekhov, Rumi, Hafiz, Frederick Morgan, John Muir, Jane Hirshfield, Annie Dillard… really, the list goes on and on.


    What is your favorite thing about educating writers at WBN?

    Co-creating! Sharing the journey, which is always unique. Facilitating in various ways the emergence of the true story that one has to tell in whatever form it takes.


    What is the hardest part of writing for you?

    Not writing. I am always happier when I am writing something or working on a piece of writing for myself or someone else.


    Where do you see the world of writing and publishing heading?

    There will be ever more diversity in writing and publishing in the next five to ten years. Small presses will thrive, large publishers will consolidate and there will be fewer of them. There will be even more independently published books. Traditional distributors won’t have such a stranglehold on the industry. Writers will continue to become more and more savvy as marketers.


    Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?

    Hemingway said “Write one true sentence.” That’s splendid advice. I’d add: find and work with mentors. Since the time of Odysseus, mentors have made all the difference. Believe in yourself, in the truth that you have stories to tell. Be open, be present, stay awake.


    Interested in working with Robert? Request a free consult now