Are there any occupational hazards to being a writer? People laugh when I say writing is hard on your body. They imagine me sitting comfortably in a chair for hours, typing away, but that’s precisely the problem. I don’t want to die like the French novelist, Balzac, who was plagued with health problems because he often spent over 14 hours at a time at his desk, writing and chugging coffee, for years. It’s bad for your heart. I also have carpal tunnel, so my wrist splints are a must have. I have several sets scattered around the house in case I misplace them.
Have you ever tried writing outside of your “comfort zone”? If so, what were the results? I’ve written about things that have made me uncomfortable. What works for me is to strip down the emotions so the writing and sentimentality isn’t overwrought. Get the facts on paper first.
Are the names of the characters in your writing important? What about the titles? How do you choose them? Character names convey history and context, so they’re important to me. I usually do an internet search by nationality and popularity. The best titles make a statement as well as lead to questions. I look for clues in the text. (A reader wrote me that she actually screamed out loud when she read the scene that led to the title of my book In the Context of Love. That’s a win!)
To what extent is your fiction or poetry autobiographical? Have you ever seen yourself as a character in one of your stories or poems and, has that been a help or a hindrance? My fiction is not autobiographical, although I use my personal experiences as fodder. The main character in my novel has a lot of my personality, although her circumstances are different. I found it helpful in working out what-happens-next as far as behavior. Her mother and grandmother were loosely based on my mother. Her love interest was based on my first boyfriend… oh, boy, this is sounding more and more autobiographical… I swear it’s not!
Has a child, the family pet or another animal ever “eaten” your manuscript? If so, please, tell us that story! I’ve had a computer program, Scrivener, “eat” a manuscript. I wanted to save the Scrivener file on a jump drive to use on a Macbook laptop when traveling. The process I used somehow corrupted the original files. Luckily I had saved earlier versions, but until I found those files, I was tearing my hair out. I deleted Scrivener. I don’t dare use it now.
Who are your favorite authors? Please list a few and their titles, so we can go look for them at our local library! Jane Hamilton’s The Book of Ruth and Disobedience are among my favorites. Michigan writer Bonnie Jo Campbell blows my eyeballs back in my head, especially her brutal short story collection, American Salvage. Anne Tyler excels in writing about quirky people, especially in The Accidental Tourist. Currently I’m trying to get to all her books. My all time favorite book is Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. The father-son relationship is so poignant that passages in that book still bring me to tears. The most recent memoir I enjoyed is Michigan native Molly Brodak’s Bandit: A Daughter’s Memoir, about her attempt to understand her relationship with her narcissistic bank-robbing father. He was arrested for robbing several Detroit banks when she was 14. I’m a school teacher. What can you offer to help me prepare 6th graders to appreciate writing, now and for the rest of their lives? Learning how to write well helps you to organize your thoughts. When you write, you spill all your ideas onto paper and then edit them so that they make logical sense when you’re all finished. You can’t do that when you talk! Writing (and reading) exercises your brain in ways that playing a video game does not. It will make you think smarter.
Do you ever write naked? The closest I ever am to writing naked would be writing in my pajamas. Why would I want to write naked? I’d get chilly.
What was your favorite scene or poem to write, and why was it so enjoyable? There’s a scene in my novel In the Context of Love where the narrator, a young woman, meets her new husband’s family for the first time at a restaurant. They are a whacky bunch of characters, so the conversation quickly went sideways. The mother is self-centered and clueless, the father is a crass bigot, the brother-in-law is a braggart and a drunk. It was great fun to let the conversation get dark while also showing the stress that the character endured as she tried hard to understand this group of unlikable in-laws.
Name a topic that you refuse to write about, and tell us, why won’t you write about that topic? I think you can write about anything as long as you do it well, but I cannot address suicide in my fiction. It’s too personal for me, having lost an adult son to suicide. Maybe someday I will.
What is your best advice for beginning writers? Think of your chapters as publishable excerpts, and submit them to literary journals and contests. Sometimes judges offer valuable feedback, and publishing credits establish credibility. Writing a synopsis is a great exercise that will help you further develop your story, plus a synopsis is necessary for querying agents and publishers. If possible, work with a reputable story editor or other writers on structure, plot and characterization. Take a couple weeks off and then return to revising with fresh eyes. Once you feel you have a well-crafted manuscript, research agents and publishers and start sending out those queries. Lastly, don’t let rejection deter you. Be determined.
What’s the worst advice you ever received from another writer? The only thing I can think of is “Write what you know.” It’s so limiting.