Gary Presley – Author Interview

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

My memoir, Seven Wheelchairs: A Life beyond Polio, was recently published by The University of Iowa Press. I had had experience writing and publishing creative nonfiction essays, and I attempted a memoir only because fellow writers who had read my pieces about living with a disability in American society gave them insight into a different world. I have used a wheelchair since people with disabilities were considered “invalids” and “shut-ins” and denied access to education and employment through the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the most significant civil rights legislation for people with disabilities.

Tell us something about yourself.

I’m an Army brat. My father was stationed around the world throughout my youth. I’ve lived all my adult life in Missouri, and I begin writing after winning a centennial essay contest sponsored by the Joplin (MO) Globe newspaper. My essay was placed in a time capsule, and I was intrigued that I could write something that would be seen at the dawn of the 22nd century. Since then my work has appeared in, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and assorted magazines and on various websites.

What inspired you to write this book?

I wanted readers to understand that people with disabilities are not their disability, that physical or mental disability is but one hue in the rainbow of human condition, that it is possible to live a happy and productive life as a person with a disability.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

I don’t want to be “A Writer” so much as I want to write to live, to understand my place in the world, to find some means of participating in the world.

What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?

Self-discipline, I think. Then of course, the ability to accept rejection without losing belief in the ability to write.

What are you reading now?

Jim Harrison’s novellas — Legends of the Fall, Revenge. Mark Harris’ baseball novels — The Southpaw and Bang the Drum Slowly are wonderful art. Richard Selzer’s essays — Confessions of a Knife, Letters to a Young Doctor.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

Memoir. History. Essay collections. Richard Selzer is a master of the essay. I love Tom Wolfe. His Bonfire of the Vanities and The Right Stuff are seminal works of 20th century America. I read Hemingway and Faulkner as a youth. And A. B. Guthrie, Jr.’s The Big Sky is a remarkable worth, a novelized view of the early westward movement. And Shelby Foote and Bruce Catton’s histories of the Civil War. For fun, I always enjoy a mystery, and for some reason, I am particularly fond of Dick Francis tales of crimes and misdemeanors surrounding the horse racing set.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

I would like to write a memoir about growing up as a military brat.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Never give up. Never. And write for yourself.

What are you doing to promote your latest book?

I enjoy writing essays expanding on the themes within the book. I most recently published one in the New York Times “Modern Love” column.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

My book is available from The University of Iowa Press, of course.

Or you can find it on Amazon

And I blog regularly , mostly about my life, my life with dogs — Did I mention I love dogs? — disability in the world, books, and books that I review for various venues, particularly at the Internet Review of Books.