Interview: Sheldon Lee Compton Takes on the Wrong Tree and Wins

jmww editor Dave Erlewine interviews writer and editor Sheldon Lee Compton on the one-year anniversary of Wrong Tree Review, flash versus the novel, crazy river diving folk, and why he keeps on keepin’ on.

David Erlewine: Hey Sheldon, how ‘bout ya. We’re approaching the one-year anniversary of The Wrong Tree Review. How would you characterize the year? I’m guessing you and Jarrid Deaton are still having fun. How do you two operate as co-editors? Does one read first? Do you take turns on stories?
Sheldon Lee Compton: The first year for Wrong Tree was a slow burn sort of thing. We published one story online every month until the fall when the idea of putting a print issue came about. At that point we closed to submissions and started working to that end. Overall, it’s been a fun trip, returning to the world of editing and publishing. And it’s an easy enterprise, too. Working with Jarrid Deaton, a good friend of mine who founded and worked on Cellar Door with me earlier in the decade, has always been a natural fit. For instance, we are able to weed out material for publication without consultation because our tastes run so closely together. We have just have fun and do our thing and don’t analyze the process any more than needed.
DE: You’re making the move to print on the one-year anniversary and lined up some big hitters. Talk about this upcoming issue and the things (printing presses, etc.) involved w/ print that aren’t involved with online publishing. How are things coming along?
SLC: If I would have thought of a lineup I wanted for the first print issue of Wrong Tree, a wish list so to speak, the folks we’ll have included would match it very closely. Many excellent writers and also a wide range of work from them, as well. There are several flash pieces from such technicians as Matt Bell, Roxane Gay, xTx, and Rusty Barnes to name just a few, in addition to a 12,000 word science-fiction story from the ultra-prolific Stephen Graham Jones. Then there’s the excerpt piece “Outlier” from Charles Dodd White’s recently accepted novel LAMBS OF MEN due out in the fall from Casperian Books. Throw in an interview with author Joey Goebel, who writes like a force of manic nature, and the mix is an extremely satisfying one. As for print vs. online, there is certainly more work involved in getting a print issue out. I contracted with a small press in Massachusetts to print Cellar Door at a fair cost per copy but have switched for Wrong Tree at much the same price and far less boxes at the post office. I’m happy with the situation; needless to say, as is my postmaster.
DE: Ha, I’m sure he (or she!) is. You and I have commiserated over our obsessions with getting published and the angst involved when waiting to hear back from editors. Why do we do it? Help me understand! Seriously, I know you have a few jobs and a family and of course the editing so how do/WHY do you keep at short fiction? I often think of quitting (again) for good (my last real time quitting I went about five years, only writing a few stories). Ever think about quitting for good and just focusing on the fam, wrong tree, and your jobs?
SLC: The quick answer for me is that writing without attempting to share it with others is like talking to the wall. Publication, or presentation through readings or other outlets, is the means by which we offer our individual view of the world around us. It’s what keeps me reading, that one certain view, that one particular insight that could have come from only that author. The waiting process is burdensome to say the least, though. I keep about twenty submissions out as often as I can and send them in a rotating sort of system that helps me from going for very long between rejections and so forth. We’ve talked a lot about this process to be sure, but what I’ve not mentioned during our many discussions is that a lot of my recent publications came as a result of a strange game that sparked up between myself and Jarrid. In March, I think, we set out to see who could accumulate the most rejections. There was a point system put in place. One point for each rejection and minus three points for each acceptance. For at least two months or longer this was the mindset. It was freeing. I can remember pumping my fist when I topped him in points for a rejection I received from Storyglossia about three weeks into the competition. Eventually we lost track of who had the most points and I realized somewhat suddenly that I had fallen into a world full of cool writers, cool stories, and tremendously active journals in the process. I’ve never actively attempted to stop writing and focus on other things any more than I do normally. I suppose there were times I should have, but my writing process is fairly relaxed, so that helps. I may go months without writing a word and, when this happens, I don’t push it. I don’t adhere to the old standby that a writer should write everyday. For some it just doesn’t work that way. I write when I have a story I want to share or when I want to read something I’ve not yet found elsewhere. In that case, I’ll write it myself. It’s sort of a practical approach in that way, I guess.
DE: What’s it like to be a journalist? How does that help/hurt your fiction? I majored in JO and creative writing in college and sort of like the blend. I note a lot of your stories blend historical figures/events into your stories. Is that something you hope to continue doing?
SLC: I’ve worked as a journalist for more than a decade to pay bills. That’s the only reason–that and the fact that writing is the only trade skill I have, so to speak. I can’t weld or build things. I keep the two worlds of journalism and my creative work separate, but do often place historical figures, etc. into my short stories. This probably stems from my first introduction to reading, a set of about two-hundred books called Childhoods of Famous Americans Series. I loved that collection of books and checked out each one multiple times from my local library between the ages of about ten and twelve years old. The history part stuck with me and so I’ve plugged that into my creative work. I’m sure I’ll continue doing it. I’ve just recently been thinking a lot about Muhammad Ali tossing his Olympic gold medal into the river in protest of racism. Apparently at least one scuba team a year dives and attempts to locate this thing. It’s little gems like this that keep the wheels turning. Thanks crazy river diving folks for the story fodder.
DE: Talk to me about your >kill author piece. I loved it. Tell us about the set-up and when you decided to send to them. It’s one of the best things they’ve published as far as I’m concerned.
SLC: Thanks for the kind words, Dave. I’m glad you liked it. Sending “Gratch’s Abstract Action” to >kill author was one of those moments when I happened to see a new journal crop up. I was shopping this story around, and they were on the list. It appeared in the first issue so I didn’t have a chance to get a real feel for their aesthetic, but I rolled the dice. The story is outlandish but it’s interesting to note that it’s one of those “historical blend” pieces. There is actually a man who is currently serving a term for a white collar crime who files lawsuit after lawsuit, each one more insane than the next. One of his lawsuits was recently filed in a federal court in Kentucky and it happened across our desks at the newspaper where I work. I wish I could take credit for some of the more zany aspects of that story (i.e., the Steve Irwin stingray “We Didn’t Start the Fire” bit, etc.) but most of them are actual claims this inmate has stated in lawsuits all across the nation. I know his name, but I’m not going to say it. I really would rather avoid being included in his next attempt to bring a lawsuit against some random football stadium. But those lawsuits are hysterical to read should you happen across one. I was thrilled when >kill author accepted it and that journal has since become one of my favorites.
DE: Yeah, they are one of my favorites too. Oh, sheet, I forgot to ask, when will the new issue of Wrong Tree become available? What’s the best way for folks to order…through the website?
SLC: We’re aiming for this month, December, but I’m also prepared for first issue bugs, that sort of thing, so a definite date is hard to pin down. But December has been the target all along, and with the issues to follow there’ll be a set order to things and we’ll be able to give readers a far more exact time frame for publication. The issue, like all the rest to follow, will be available to order at our website,, but there’s a good chance readers will be able to get their hands on a copy at Amazon as well.
DE: Do you see yourself and Jarred continuing Wrong Tree for a long time?
SLC: I like to think we’ll be doing this for a long time. When we finally had to bite the bullet and admit that Cellar Door Magazine was folding in 2005 it was gut-punch to be sure. I had thought CD would just continue onward forever, scorching a path and publishing names. But that experience taught me that the average lifespan for an independent journal or magazine is pretty damn short and the best anyone can hope for is to get that next issue out. But, for the record, I’m going to say that Wrong Tree will be around for a long time to come. In fact, I’d love to see the day when we can step back and exist solely as founders while some hungry young mavericks take the wheel and continue the work. That would be interesting, I think, to see where things would go from there.
DE: In closing, do you envision yourself still writing short stories/flash 10 years from now?
SLC: Without a doubt. I once had a nagging idea that I should write a novel, prove to myself that I could run the marathon, and so I did. I’ve written three novels and learned a lot from that process. The short run down of those three stabs at the form would be that they were, respectively, horrible, then bad, and then finally okay. That’s how they came out. I was happy with the third to have written an okay novel and so I’ll probably try again, but short fiction is my mainstay. Ten years from now I’ll be writing shorts and flash pieces and trying like hell to keep myself entertained.
DE: Ha, yeah, I’ve written one shitola novel and started/stopped/started/stopped/started/stopped a second one. Even though it’s all over the place, it’s much better than the first. But yeah, short fiction appears to be my thing, if I have a thing. Thanks again, man, appreciate your time.

4 responses to “Interview: Sheldon Lee Compton Takes on the Wrong Tree and Wins

  1. I love that you cite the series Childhoods of Famous Americans as inspiration for your work, Sheldon! Now I have to go find them.


  2. Pingback: PANK Blog / We Always Know Where You Are·

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