by Steve Dudas
April 9, 2013 — Chris Coake’s reading was a fantastic finale to a year of stunning visiting writers. Not only was his reading enjoyable, but his discussion during the question and answer period was enlightening with respect to his views on writing as a craft.
Coake read from his novel You Came Back, the narrative of Mark Fife, a man trying to move on with his life after the death of his young son and subsequent divorce from his first wife. When Mark meets Connie, a woman who has moved into Mark’s old house with her husband and son, he learns that his child’s ghost may very well be haunting the new family.
Coake’s reading was as charming and compelling as his writing. The language was crisp and the story exciting. Even when the audience knows what is coming (I think here specifically of the phantasmagoric reveal), there is energy, care, and reality in the scenic filling as the moment is drawn out. The tensions of anticipation and resistance felt by the characters are shared by the audience.
Coake credited much of his talent and success to “the good fortune, writing-wise, to have been unpopular” in high school. His outcasthood led him to a range of genre fiction, though he cites Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft, and horror-fantasy as specific initial influences. These books served as “points of departure” for the author who remains a proponent of exploring genre-fiction. He argues that it is important for budding writers to latch on to subjects and styles that they enjoy and that excite them.
“Start out writing the kind of stuff you know and like,” Coake says, “and then start reading more widely and eclectically.”
The author was very honest about the difficulties and stresses of the publishing world observing, “Many authors do not get the audience they deserve.”
Coake also advised the writers in the audience to draw from the events and experiences that leave them unsatisfied, to figure out if each approaches dissatisfaction as an “engaged, enthusiastic” interrogator or as a “miserable bastard” whose style might be more complaint and protest driven.
A former student of Miami himself, Chris Coake ended with a thank you to several of his former professors in the audience, giving them his own small applause as we in the audience thanked him for an inspiring evening with our own.
Chris Coake earned his M.A. in creative writing here at Miami University and an M.F.A at The Ohio State University. He teaches at University of Reno, Nevada.