Dark Stories with Grit
by Claude Christensen
Two boys loot the still-warm corpses of two unlucky private airplane pilots. A recovering alcoholic struggles with making the right choice, over and over. A story about a disturbed addict with a penchant for self-mutilation.
These are just a few scenes from the work of Youngstown writer and 2017 NEOMFA graduate Bill Soldan. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and his stories, including “The Long Drive Home,” “All Things Come Around,” “The Thirteenth Step,” and “Talking and Standing Still,” have been published in such literary journals and publications as “ThugLit” and “The Vignette Review.”
Bill’s earliest work was in horror and mystery, and he continues to write dark tales. Now, though, his stories often inhabit real place.
“I write stories about lonely people with an abundance of problems struggling to get through life with few options,” he says.
Bill’s narratives are oddly familiar, often disturbing, and totally engrossing.
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Bill moved with his mother to Youngstown in the late 1980s. Growing up, he absorbed the frustration at the closing of the steel mills. He lived in a landscape that was “blighted and scarred,” had rows of empty houses and derelict buildings, where people moved away from, not to. Bill’s writing is tightly connected to Youngstown, with “its starkly beautiful and often volatile atmosphere.”
Bill thought he was going to be a musician and a poet growing up.
“I was sure I’d someday front as my generation’s Jim Morrison. That was my delusion,” says Bill.
Then, a few years before he entered the NEOMFA, Bill became obsessed with writing. The NEOMFA program, with its nearby location, sufficient aid, and highly skilled faculty, allowed Bill to pursue his passion.
The NEOMFA really pushed Bill, especially courses on the craft and theory of writing, which allowed him to learn new ways of writing and try them out in his own work. He knows his writing has improved because of the program.
“When you read and write and read and write over and over, [stronger writing] is the most common and pleasant side effect,” says Bill.
He learned a lot from his professors Varley O’ Conner, Robert Miltner, Steve Reese, Eric Wasserman and Mary Biddinger. But he is especially grateful to Christopher Barzak, who inspired and pushed Bill to pursue his writing.
“I wouldn’t be where I am as a writer if it wasn’t for his guidance,” says Bill.
Inspired by authors Donald Ray Pollock, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Richard Lange, and Benjamin Percy, Bill has a heavy reading list.
“Currently, I’m working my way through ‘God’s Gym’ by John Edgar Wideman, ‘Funhouse’ by Robert Vaughan, ‘Line Study of a Motel Clerk’ by Allison Pitinii Davis, ‘Bit Rot’ by Douglas Coupland and ‘The Hard Way on Purpose’ by NEOMFA’s own David Giffels,” says Bill.
Bill is still living and writing in Youngstown, where he’s set his roots.
“I write all the time. Constantly,” says Bill.
And he’s bringing to bear what he’s learned about creative writing to others through workshops he’ll be teaching for Lit Youngstown.
“That’s my modest ambition,” Bill says, “Read, write, teach and publish when the tide is right or the planets are aligned.”
Asked what makes someone a strong writer, Bill knows it’s work ethic.
“Give me the newbie with heart over the stagnant pro any day,” he says.
Writing is hard work. And Bill loves it.
(photo courtesy of Bill Soldan)
Claude Christensen runs. A lot. It ties his mind to his body, bringing a clarity to his life he can’t do without. Plus, spooking hikers (and sometimes bikers) from behind never gets old.