This is one of an ongoing series of interviews with contributors to The 3288 Review.
In the Tucson, Arizona desert there is a man with dirt in between his toes. He is rarely clean shaven, prefers a backpack to a briefcase, and laughs in the face of danger, so long as it’s at a safe distance, of course. That man is Craig S. Baker; professional freelance writer, editor, and journalist. His first fiction publication, “Wanderlust”, appeared in our inaugural issue. More at www.craigsbaker.com.
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3288 Review: How and when did you get started writing? Was there a moment when you said Yes. This is what I want to do, or was it more of a realization over a period of time?
Craig Baker: I won a Thanksgiving poetry contest in the second grade, of which I can only recall the last two lines: “Crunch, crunch, munch, munch / Mmm mmmm, good.” I don’t remember writing it or writing anything before that, but I remember that I won a very dorky poster of a bear with a slogan hinging on a barely-clever academic slant, which I was simultaneously very proud of and terribly embarrassed by—it was either that or a poster that said “Silence is Golden” with a big pair of red lips in the center. I chose the bear. So, as far as I know, I’ve always been writing, at least for as long as I could read, though I never thought that I could actually make a living at it until I started freelancing a couple of years ago (thanks are due here to my wonderful, beautiful wife, Ashley, for the constant support and encouragement—couldn’t have done any of it without her). I got my B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona because it’s the only thing I really enjoyed studying and, thankfully, my parents were wrong because, as it turns out, some people do get paid to write stuff—they just don’t get paid very much. Ha! Still, these last two years of under-earning have taught me that poor and happy is much better (for me, anyway) than wealthy and miserable so, in short, I’m glad I elected not to go to law school, after all.
3288 Review: Your short story “Wanderlust” features a man apparently suffering from a sort of dementia. It was quite a realistic depiction and suggested at least part of it was drawn from real life experience. Can you comment on that?
Craig Baker: I’ve watched multiple members of mine and my wife’s family suffer from the mental degradation that sometimes accompanies aging. Basically, I wanted to try and see through the eyes of those people who are still themselves, but seem to be trapped in a brain that is now wired wrong (for lack of a more appropriate analogy). There was a news blurb a few years back that I saw about police officers helping an old man to find a gift on Mother’s Day and I thought it an interesting scenario to work with and a very apropos place to start, as far as talking about dementia and/or Alzheimer’s in a story.
3288 Review: You have had some success as a journalist, with pieces in regional and national magazines. The Atlantic, in particular, sticks out. How much of your writing time goes toward contracted work, and how much goes toward creative pursuits which might not have immediate monetary compensation? And have you managed to completely give up “the day job”?
Craig Baker: Very little of my time actually goes to speculative creative pursuits, though I’d prefer it if that were not the case. And the time that does go to short fiction, for example, has mostly been spent in the submission/rejection area of things. I have managed to ditch the day job, though mostly in my capacity as a journalist, and mostly on the local level. And, as it turns out, that takes up a great deal more of my time than I’d previously presumed it would. Or else I just work really slowly. Alas, there has not been a huge financial windfall due to my efforts as a freelancer thus far, but it’s better than working at the mall, and it only pays slightly less. Either way you look at it, no health insurance, but no one has told me I wasn’t dressed “appropriately” for work in the last two years, and I like that.
3288 Review: Does your work as a journalist bring you into contact with people and situations which might serve as the inspiration for new creative projects?
Craig Baker: Basically, the way I see it, I’m always, always on the lookout for story ideas, be they journalistic, fictional, or whatever. I’ve never been tempted to actually fictionalize a person that I’ve met and write a story about them, per se, though I might incorporate some of their quirks or idiosyncrasies into a character I’ve made up, or use a portion of their home as a setting, etc. Really, though, I feel like those two worlds remain very separate for me and, if anything, the search for creative inspiration is more likely to lead to the discovery of a bit of news than the other way around.
3288 Review: What does the process look like for a freelance journalist? Do you come up with an idea for a story and then shop it around, or do publishers come to you with requests for pieces on specific topics and events?
Craig Baker: At first, it was all shopping and querying ideas. Publications with whom I’ve developed some sort of rapport over the years will send me assignments now from time to time, but for about 80 percent of those stories, I’ve got to do the legwork.
3288 Review: Your website suggests that you also spend some time giving back to the writing community, by posting helpful tips, links, and examples. Can you tell us a little about that?
Craig Baker: I started out interviewing pros—writers and editors with more acclaim than myself—for a monthly blog and felt like it was a nice service for the writing community, but in all honesty I’ve sort of fallen off of my productivity there. I’ve been thinking about bringing it back but believe I need to come up with a new format, or else something that is easier to produce, as I was spending way too much time on those posts as it was and they weren’t creating a whole lot of traffic for me. I haven’t given up on giving back, though. I just am not sure the best way to do it yet. I’m open to ideas though.
3288 Review: And for the final question: What are you working on now? Do you have anything new that we should look for in 2016?
Craig Baker: Right now I’m kind of all over the place. I hope to put out more fiction in the near future and am looking to start a draft of my first novel coming up here soon, but mostly it’s going to be the local journalism to keep the bills paid, I suppose. I also applied for a position writing multiple choice, novel-length text games and that seems like a really cool opportunity, but I haven’t landed a pitch yet. That said, I’m open to ghost writing clients, freelance clients, and all of that at the moment! Just finished my first novel-length ghost writing project and am hoping to find a publisher for that. My calendar is officially clearer than it’s been in about a year as a result, though, and I’m certainly ready to jump in to something new—time will only tell what exactly that means.