Henry Alley


1. When did you start writing? When and/or how did you know that it was something you loved doing?

I took a creative writing class in high school. We were assigned haikus to compose. I loved writing about a sprout breaking through the surface in a poem called “Spring”. I was enamored with the adjectives: “the frantic wind,” “an emerald sprout.”

Later, I discovered stories. At first I needed a piece for my mother’s birthday, then I realized I could pick up my portable typewriter and take the Seattle bus down to the wonderful public library and find refuge in my own narratives. I used to fall asleep at night listening to Katherine Anne Porter’s prose on Caedmon Records. I thought if somebody could write like that, then writing is deserving of a lifetime commitment.

2. Describe some aspects of your writing process (how you get ideas, how long you usually spend on a project, your editing process, how you know when a piece is finished, etc.)

I collect phrases in a notebook. If I am writing a novel, the project gets its own journal. Otherwise, I simply log in a general one. When I get a center for a story (a situation, a character, a memory) I give it a title and write it in the upper right hand corner and then assign the section several blank pages. As the relevant images and thoughts and people arrive, I turn to the tagged part and jot them down. Once I have enough “mulch,” I compose the story section by section, usually about 500 words at a time.

This process usually takes from a couple of weeks to a month. For a novel, it takes about a year. When the first draft is done, I let it cool and go on to something else. Once I feel there’s some sufficient distance, I begin revising. Some stories have been published after a few re-workings and others appear after years. One of my pieces, “The Alternative,” came out in the Q Review in 2010; I wrote the first draft around 1984. I started my latest novel, Precincts of Light, in 1985, and many drafts and revisions ensued in the nineties. That book also didn’t appear until 2010. As for writer’s block, I agree with William Stafford. I don’t get it; I just lower my expectations.

3. How do you choose what subjects to include in your work? Is there anything you most like to write about and why does it intrigue you?

I love writing about men and women who are just getting on their feet. I just finished the first draft of a novel about this very subject entitled People Who Work. It doesn’t matter whether the person is eight years old or eighty; there are all kinds of ways of making one’s way and making one’s way haltingly. I also love Alice Walker’s observation that everyone has a “best self” and that she likes writing about people trying to follow that. So do I. I also love what she said about what Toni Morrison said: that she likes to write the sort of books she would desire to read. Therefore my work is distinctly “up-tempo,” which, incidentally, is the dance music I prefer.

4. How did you find out about the St. Sebastian Review? Why did you choose to submit work to us?

I believe I heard about you through the Lambda Literary Review. Since coming out in 1985, I have incorporated more and more gay themes in my work, and I’m always interested in a journal that combines LGBT literary interests with the spiritual. In fact, for me, LGBT is spiritual, and I very much appreciate the St. Sebastian Review for being open to that and for providing a consistent forum.