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  • By Kelsie Crough

CCU professor opens up about his writing process and new book

Creative writing professor, Jason Ockert is releasing his fourth book on Feb. 22, 2022, which will be a short story collection called "Shadowselves."

Ockert paces the front of the classroom with open arms and laughter as he takes a roll-call that lasts about 15 minutes. The fiction class is only about 20 students in total, but Ockert asks each student how they are doing and what they are up to. He tells his class that this is how he grabs stories from real life.

He said this collection is different from his previous works because of the optimistic theme.

“It’s a slight bit more hopeful than my other [works],” Ockert said. “I feel like I don’t want to write as bitterly as I did before. I don’t think we are in that time, sort of culturally, for kind of a jaded cynicism.”

The cover of Jason Ockert's fourth and upcoming book, Shadowselves. Photo courtesy of Jason Ockert.

Ockert said the collection explores the different aspects and versions of a person in any given moment. Most of the stories are introspective and are chasing, exploring trauma. He said some of the stories are more political than his previous work, citing that one of the stories centers around gun violence.

Ockert said his writing process for these stories involves an early morning walk on the beach followed by one to three hours of writing. He said it is important to get out into the world and away from technology with these walks.

“At some point during that walk, the story, whatever I’ve been thinking of, it finds me. I don’t find it, it finds me,” he said.

Ockert described his writing process as lacking distraction. He said he writes before starting his workday, on a desktop, with no internet connection.

“Writing for me has not been particularly easy, it never has been,” said Ockert. “I’d rather be doing any number of things so I can’t be distracted or the story will suffer.”

Despite this sentiment, Ockert said he feels that writing provides some balance in his life. He said when he is not writing he is much more irritable and impatient.

Yet, Ockert was not always a writer. He began working a series of odd jobs at the age of 12 years old. He said that working was a big part of his childhood and he described himself as an independent child.

Ockert lived in Florida since he was about 11 years old. He attended the University of Florida as an environmental engineer. Ockeret said that during his time there, one poetry class made him switch paths. After graduation, Ockert worked for National Geographic for about a year.

He said he was unhappy in his dream position and applied to several Masters in Fine Arts programs on a whim. Ockert was admitted into Syracuse University where he studied under George Saunders and graduated with his Masters in Fine Arts in 2000. Since then, he worked at Ithaca College for about seven years and is now at CCU. There, he helped start the Masters of Arts in Writing program.

Jennifer Terry, a student of Ockert’s at CCU, said that Ockert’s class has helped her discover that she is not a short fiction writer. She said that she still appreciates how the class is run and the feedback she receives on her work.

“Makes you think in a way that is maybe outside of your comfort zone, which I think helps writers when they are trying to hone in their craft,” Terry said.

Ockert said the best advice he received from studying under Saunders was simply, do not stop writing. He said that he sees this advice when he gives his own advice. He offers four pillars to build from, childlike curiosity, discipline to leave the world behind and just write, empathy that needs to be fostered, and faith that it will all pay off.

Often Ockert pushes his workshop until the very end of class when many students are already out the door before he is able to formally send them well wishes. However, he said he has tremendous faith in the future of the craft.

“The diversity of voices that are entering our culture is just fantastic. There’s a wave coming behind that power. It’s exciting to see how people are redefining our understanding of that,” he said.

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