Author David Means Discusses His Work and Inspiration

Photo by Jeff Chimenti

David Means, author of “The Secret Goldfish" and "Assorted Fire Events,” participated in an informal question and answer session before a reading with poet Cate Marvin on Monday.

Means, an American fiction writer, has had his short stories appear in many publications, including The New Yorker, Esquire and Harper’s. He won the Guggenheim Fellowship of Creative Arts US and Canada Award, and was nominated for The National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction.

The session started with professor Hugh Sheehy asking how Means came into writing fiction.

“Well I started with poetry,” Means responded, “and don’t get me wrong I love poetry, and this may sound a bit shallow, but you can’t make any money.”

Means went on to describe the world of poetry as “cutthroat” and that “there is just no good way of supporting yourself in it.” Means also said that, while fiction and poetry are not the same, he believes they are connected and he felt comfortable enough transitioning.

“Poetry and novel writing are different, but they bleed into each other,” he said.

Means also talked about experiences he had with his brother-in-law who is a heroin addict and how that influenced his stories. Means says his stories are influenced by his experiences, and while many of them may not be positive, negative stories don’t have to be your only influence.

“Be a part of the world, do stuff you may not necessarily do, and pay attention; the stuff doesn’t need to be positive,” he said.

Means, natively from Michigan, has lived in the Hudson Valley for the last 30 years. A student asked if the “noir” feelings from his childhood affected his stories.

“A lot of what creative writing is is working around shame. I grew up in a violent family in a tough neighborhood,” he said. “I wanted out of this noir, but it did affect my work and myself, but to add on, you don’t have to stick with one territory in which you create.”

When asked what he does when he can’t figure out what to write next, Means responded with, “I just keep writing and let it play out. I take a leap forward in time. The key is to let loose, let yourself keep going.”

Another student asked if Means had received any bad advice when he was a student.

“I would listen to music when I write and I remember having a professor who would tell me not to,” he said. “He once hit my headphones off my head, so I stopped listening to music as I wrote for a few years and the time I did that was detrimental to my writing. Think about the conditions that help you write the best: everyone is different.”