We had the good fortune of connecting with Rick Harsch and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Rick, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
All work that can be expressed as one side of a dichotomy work/life is by definition against life. I’ve known that from an early age and striven to avoid doing any work I did not want to do. However, a prisoner in a monetary economy, and a writer of fiction at that, I have had to find ways to earn money. Throughout the balance has only changed according to circumstance. For instance when I worked as a security guard at a power plant my work and life were mostly one, as I had time to read and write on the job. As a taxi driver, I was virtually in a coma, as I was working to save money to take a break and write a novel. As a briefly successful novelist, I was able to survive on writing income for a few years. Now, whenever I am forced to work to make money, I am either back in a sort of coma, or simply a dullard. When I am free to write I am entirely alive.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
As far as I’m concerned questions such as this are extrinsic to the art of writing. Others answer the questions about our work. One thing I will say is that what really sets writing by one person apart from that of others is the simple fact that each writer is unique, something that if not obvious might tend to mark a degree of failure. Was it easy? Yes, writing is very easy for me. But where am I today? I was off to a good start professionally, but sales fell short, the New York Times was not among the reviews that lauded my work, my agent was unimaginative, the French publisher who translated my work went bankrupt, and that left the challenge of remaining outside the New York literary scene, which is no challenge at all–it’s easy to get there. Continuing writing was not a challenge, as that is a natural gift, but it took a long time before some novels I wrote became recognized in the US again, so now I am known be a great critic or two and a small reading subculture, to whom I tend to sell the books of my fledgeling press.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I live in Izola, Slovenia, so I would drive the friend to the train station in Trieste, Italy, and in two hours we would be in Venezia, where I would take into account what they were interested in but be sure to give my own tour, which would include the most famous equestrian statue and a church filled with a number of dead doges artfully memorialized. We would return that night, and check to see whether the best tavern in town has re-opened yet. In the morning we would have coffee and head to the dog beach for a swim, or swim and then have coffee. The rest of the day would be spent in Piran, where James Joyce got drunk, slept on the marlstone outside, and got an infection that led to his blindness, eat a a restaurant called the Pirat, where any number of sea food inventions would be brought to the table, and the local fresh and deep red wine, from a local farmer, would be served. That would leave a day of swimming interrupted by a half hour drive to a small church in the Mediterranean foothills to see a 14th century dance of death fresco. The next morning we would rise early and hunt for vipers at the foot of the karst, have lunch at a country trout restaurant, then visit various karstal points of interest, snacking on pršut (prosciutto) and cheeses, drinking the wine that is very much like the coastal wine only more so. The trip would end with however much time we had left driving up the Soča (Isonzo) valley into the Julian Alps. Throughout the trip we would sample the innumerable brands of hard liquor Slovenes make out of virtual every type of vegetation in a very diversely bosced region.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Primarily, my literary ancestors and colleagues deserve credit. Otherwise there is a sort of anti-credit we can shout about regarding the bizarre, pyramidal literary industry, which forces writers to take circuitous routes to achieve any degree of external pleasure from their writing. The particular circumstance I find myself in right now, chief editor of corona/samizdat books, an imprint of Amalietti&Amalietti of Ljubljana, Slovenia, is such an example. A more egalitarian and merit-based system in the US, along with a more artistic culture, a government that support arts to a greater degree, and I would not have necessarily felt the need to migrate to Slovenia, nor, recently, to start my own press. But, since I have, I have been helped immensely by my Slovene publisher, Peter Amalietti, and Marko Avanzo, his copy editor, and Metka (I don’t know her last name), the cover woman for both presses. Otherwise, I have probably doubled whatever success I have found through listening to the savvy advice of one of your Floridians, the novelist George Salis, who was one of the first writers we published.
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