English Professor Andrew Porter Pens First Novel
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English Professor Andrew Porter Pens First Novel
Porter, an award-winning short story author, talks on writing In Between Days and the growth of Trinity’s creative writing program
SAN ANTONIO - Before an audience of more than 80 people inside Trinity's William Knox Holt Center on a rare rainy evening, Andrew Porter, associate professor of English and director of the creative writing minor, read the first chapter from his latest book, a novel that begins with a stormy night in Houston.
The novel, his first, is titled In Between Days, and opens with the image of a man drinking by himself in a downtown hotel bar. As Porter finished this reading, his character, named Elson, finds himself in his car, caught in an unfamiliar part of town during a rainstorm, and confronted by a family mystery involving his ex-wife and their daughter.
The beginning of the book proved intriguing to the audience at the reading, and several left with a copy of the book in hand to learn about the fate of Elson, his former wife Cadence, and their two grown children, Chloe and Richard.
In Between Days, published by Knopf, is the second book by Porter. His first was a collection of short stories titled The Theory of Light and Matter, which won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction.
Writing the Novel
Porter said he was ready for the challenge of working on a novel when he began the project after many years writing short stories. "The short stories tended to be written in the first person perspective and they tended to be fairly reflective pieces," explained Porter. "For this novel, I decided to write a story in the third person from alternating perspectives."
The novel grew from the scene that opens the book. "I lived in Houston for a short time in the late 90s and I always used to love the downtown area of Houston at night. You would have all these giant buildings and yet it looked empty as people left the city to go home after work," he said.
That image led to the beginning of the story, with Elson looking out the window at downtown Houston. "Before I knew it, I knew some things about this character and his marriage and his daughter," said Porter.
But he didn't know everything about their lives. Porter said more questions would arise as he continued the story, segueing from one family member's perspective to another. "I have always approached fiction writing that way. I like not to know where the story is going. I feel like when I don't know, the story tends to develop more organically and I am more engaged in it."
Though it was only released in the first week September, the book has already been well received, with positive reviews in The Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews,The Minneapolis Star Tribune, San Antonio Express-News, Houston Magazine, and Texas Monthly.
Growth of Trinity's Creative Writing Program
At the same time he was writing the novel, Porter oversaw the start of Trinity's creative writing minor. "It has been very exciting to see the increased interest in creative writing among the undergraduates," said Porter. "It's really become a minor that offers a wide range of courses. All these developments have been largely due to student interest and demand."
The minor now has three full-time faculty members. Along with Porter, there is Jenny Browne, assistant professor of English and a poet; as well as Kelly Grey Carlisle, an assistant professor of English who teaches creative non-fiction writing. Professors in other departments, including communication and human communication and theatre, also offer courses that count toward the minor. Other classes in the minor include magazine writing, playwriting, and scriptwriting.
Rather than competing for his time and energy, Porter said the creative writing program has actually helped his own work. "The two do feed off each other. I feel like teaching has improved my writing in some way because I am constantly being forced to reflect on the technical aspects of writing - the craft," he said. "And certainly being around students who are very excited about writing keeps me continually inspired about my own work."
With the publication of In Between Days, Porter has taken a short break from writing but said he already has a few projects in mind he would like to pursue. "I have the early stages of a new novel and some short stories in the works," he said. "I may work on both simultaneously because I have missed writing short stories."
"I can't go too long without writing," he added.
--Russell Guerrero '83