reading

Writing in the Rain: 10 Questions With Noah’s Wife Author Lindsay Starck

Lindsay Starck (Photo credit: Victoria McHugh Photography)

Lindsay Starck (Photo credit: Victoria McHugh Photography)

By Daniel Ford

What the $%(&$&^ was Noah’s wife thinking?

Her husband starts seeing signs during a biblical rainstorm, builds an ark, and tells her to get on (in author Lindsay Starck’s words) “a floating zoo.” It would take a loyal and flinty woman to step aboard and buy into her man’s faith, right?

Starck’s debut novel, Noah’s Wife, not only gives us a better understanding what that woman might have been like, but also provides the literary world with yet another strong young voice.  

The book, which goes on sale Jan. 26, finds our heroine arriving in “a gray and wet town” that has been inundated with rain for “as long as anyone can remember.” Noah’s wife has to grapple with her “eccentric” neighbors, her husband’s “internal crisis of faith,” and, of course, zoo animals.

The author recently talked to me about her early publishing efforts, dealing with rejection, and the inspiration behind Noah’s Wife.

Daniel Ford: Did you grow up wanting to become a writer, or was that something that grew organically over time?

Lindsay Starck: I wanted to become a writer from a young age. I wrote a number of stories, and in middle school I very optimistically sent one off to a publisher. (It was called The Stranded Island Dudes. It featured a group of house pets that went on an adventure to a tropical island. Now that I think about it, I guess I’ve always liked to write about animals!) The publisher, understandably enough, rejected it—and I was so disheartened that I stopped writing creatively for many years. I didn’t know then that rejection is an inevitable part of the writing process.

But I always loved literature. I loved reading books, and I loved writing about them. My writing career as an adult grew out of this deep engagement with books in high school, college, and graduate school. I remind my writing students now that to become better writers, they must first commit themselves to becoming better readers. It’s a cliché, but (like so many clichés) it’s true.

DF: Who were some of your early influences?

LS: Lucy Maud Montgomery, certainly—I read Anne of Green Gables many times over. I also read and reread Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s Greensleeves, a fantastic YA novel in which the heroine eventually realizes that she wants to become a writer. Perhaps that’s where I got the idea! As I recall, Anne of Green Gables was a writer, as well.

DF: What is your writing process like? Do you listen to music? Outline?

LS: I know that some writers prefer solitude, but I like to work in coffee shops—that way I can look up and see what everyone else is doing. My writing is character-driven, so I usually start with the idea of a personality and then build from there. 

Because Noah’s Wife is organized into forty chapters, when I was writing it I assigned each chapter its own Post-It note. (Even this organizational strategy was based on characters: each chapter was assigned to a single character’s perspective, and the notes were color-coded accordingly.) Then I stuck the Post-Its up on a door in my apartment, arranged in eight rows of five, so that I could visualize the storyline. At times, when revising and rewriting, those Post-It notes were scattered all over the place. Editing is a pretty messy process.

DF: What inspired your debut novel Noah’s Wife?

LS: When I began writing this novel, I was in my mid-twenties and my friends and colleagues were beginning to pair off. As I watched people navigate the tumultuous waters of romance and friendship, I wondered over the nature of “pairings” more generally. What makes a marriage work? Why do some friendships fall apart, while others last for decades? What qualities make a good mother, a good daughter, a good neighbor?

The idea of “pairs,” along with my conviction that the flood story was darker and more complex than it often appears to be in popular culture, led me to Noah—and from there, to his wife. What sort of woman, I wondered, would be willing to abandon her community and follow her husband into a giant floating zoo? What if she were afraid of reptiles or allergic to feathers? How could she continue to believe in Noah, if she could not see the signs that he saw? If she were given a voice, what would she say? 

DF: How much of yourself—and the people you have daily interactions with—did you put into your main characters in the book? How do you develop your characters in general?

LS: There is a little bit of me in every character, certainly—I feel as though I share Noah’s wife’s desire to please, Mrs. McGinn’s fear of change, Leesl’s oddly fatalistic sense of hope, Noah’s anxiety over disappointing those who love him.

In general, I piece together characters from things that I’ve heard, stories that I’ve read, people that I’ve known. A friend of mine did take an empathy class in med school, as Dr. Yu does; I imagine Mrs. McGinn’s daughter looking a lot like a former roommate; and at times Mrs. McGinn sounds a lot like my mother. Sometimes I hear sentences that stick with me, and sooner or later I’ll find one of my characters speaking those words aloud on the page.

DF: When you finished your first draft, did you know you had something good, or did you have to go through multiple rounds of edits to realize you had something you felt comfortable taking to readers?

LS: I felt comfortable sending out the draft almost immediately—but I was young and hopeful and a little naïve. When I signed a contract with a publishing house, I assumed that the book would be coming out in a matter of months. But I spent four full years revising the novel after the contract was signed. My editor bought the novel because she liked the writing and she liked the concept, but she knew that I didn’t yet have enough of a real story (plot, tension, etc.) to hold readers’ interest. She also knew that it would take time to find that story. Fortunately for me, she was willing to be patient while I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote until finally the narrative began to emerge. 

DF: How long did it take you to land an agent and publish Noah’s Wife?

LS: Once I finished the manuscript, I bought one of those giant books of literary agents and began making a list of everyone I thought might be a good fit for the novel. I decided to send out five queries per day, every day, until I found someone. I steeled myself for rejection, and I got a lot of it. But I knew I only needed one “yes,” the right “yes”—and after a few weeks, I had it. I found an agent who loved the book and, more importantly, who was willing to work with me to improve it.

Of course, there was a whole other round of rejections when my agent sent the new draft out to publishing houses. But once again, we only needed one good yes. And after a slew of “no’s,” we finally heard it.

It’s a lot like dating, or job-hunting, really. You have to manage a lot of heartbreak and rejection; but when you find the right fit, you know it. And you only need the one.

DF: Now that you have your first book under your belt, what’s next?

LS: Well, since I’m a graduate student by day (novelist by night!), my next task is to finish my dissertation. I’m writing on modernist literature and gossip. But I’ve also begun sketching characters and scenes of a second novel. It may take a few years, but it will come.

DF: What’s your advice to aspiring authors?

LS: Remember that everything is a work in progress. Noah’s Wife only emerged as a novel after years of intensive revisions. I had to cut out whole characters, come up with new plotlines. It was exhausting. And even though the novel is stronger for it, the book isn’t perfect. There are things about it that I would change, if I could. As a perfectionist, this is hard for me to accept—but it’s the inevitable result of growing as a writer and a person.

DF: What is one random fact about yourself?

LS: I used to play the viola. I chose it as my instrument because I knew that viola players were always in high demand—so even if I wasn’t very good (and I wasn’t), people would still ask me to play in groups with them. And they did! 

To learn more about Lindsay Starck, visit her official website or like her Facebook page.

FULL ARCHIVE

Investigating Characters’ Pockets With Academy Gothic Author James Tate Hill

James Tate Hill

James Tate Hill

By Daniel Ford

Author James Tate Hill doesn’t need me to sing the praises of his novel Academy Gothic. In 2014, it won the Nilsen Prize for a First Novel and Publisher’s Weekly celebrated it as a “dead-on parody of academic jargon” and a “mystery worth reading.”

As I told Hill on Twitter recently, Tate Cowlishaw, his snarky, legally blind main character, is my spirit animal. His investigation into the death of the dean of crumbling Parshall College in Grayford, N.C. is both deliciously bizarre and scathingly hilarious. Fans of noir and dark comedy will love every page of this fantastic debut.

Hill answered some of my questions recently about how Jack London inspired him to become a writer, what inspired him to write Academy Gothic, and how it went about making his mystery tale original.

Daniel Ford: When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

James Tate Hill: In seventh grade, when our English class read the Jack London story “To Build a Fire,” I was so enamored that I wrote my own version in which a man ventures into the desert to photograph a rare cactus. After losing his mind in the heat—rather quickly, if memory serves—he meets his demise by impaling himself on the very cactus he had been looking for. Fast-forward to high school, where I stumbled upon “To Build a Fire” again and was no less enthralled. This time, thankfully, it didn’t inspire me to write another awful story, but to seek out some of Jack London’s books. Oddly it wasn’t his famous dog stories—I’ve still never read White Fang—but his dark, autobiographical novel about a working-class writer who finds unhappiness in fame, Martin Eden, which tripped a switch in my brain. Reading that novel brought me the same thrill I had been getting for years from comic books. Every time I sit down to write, I hope against hope that some reader of my work will feel how I feel when I’m reading a book I can’t put down.

DF: What is your writing process like? Do you listen to music? Outline?

JTH: I do 90 percent of my writing in the morning. When time permits, I write every weekday. Aside from a handful of short stories, I’ve been working exclusively on novels for the past dozen years, and forward momentum feels crucial when working on something whose finish line can often seem hypothetical. Since getting my first laptop not that long ago, I’ve done the lion’s share of my writing in public places for reasons I’ll explain below. I used to allow myself the luxury of music only during revision, but fairly recently I developed the super power to write first drafts with music playing, and since then that certain dread that accompanies the blank screen has diminished quite a bit. I don’t outline, but do have destinations in mind. As often as not, however, the destinations I reach aren’t the ones I had circled on the map.

DF: What inspired your debut novel, Academy Gothic?

JTH: I don’t remember which came first, my binging on the novels of Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald or the day my colleague and I arrived to the campus where we taught to find the only parking lot with vacant spaces completely cordoned off. We both started laughing—a little manically, to be honest. Think Walter White when he learns Skyler spent the money he was going to use to purchase new identities for the family. Months before, our offices had been moved from one of the campus’s smallest buildings to the side of a gymnasium that had once been a swimming pool. With state budget cuts coming hard and fast, I imagined what was happening to us hitting a smaller school that much harder. Watching faculty lose their shit, noticing students increasingly frustrated by an ever-evolving curriculum, a plot began to take shape.

DF: How much of yourself—and the people you have daily interactions with—did you put into your main characters in the novel? How do you develop your characters in general?

JTH: I hope none of my former students see me in Tate Cowlishaw’s utter indifference to teaching. People who know me, however, will recognize my visual impairment, central blind spots that leave peripheral vision my only useful eyesight, in the narrator of Academy Gothic. I was 16 years old when doctors correctly diagnosed my rare condition, after which I learned to read with my ears rather than my eyes. I can read small amounts of text with a high-powered magnifier, but I consume my books as recorded audio or digital speech converted from text through a computer or Kindle. I hope I’m not as world-weary as Cowlishaw, but his sardonic sensibility probably isn’t far from my own.

As for the other characters in Academy Gothic, any similarity to actual persons, past or present, blah blah blah. Some similarities to people one knows are inevitable, but I tend to believe writers when they call their characters a composite of different people, some real and most fictional. A writing teacher once told me I should know what’s in a character’s pockets even if we never see inside them. She meant that our characters, even the supporting characters, need to have lives beyond the page, and this advice isn’t far from my mind whenever a new character enters stage left.

DF: How long did it take you to write the novel and get it published?

JTH: I think it was close to its current form after about a year and a half, factoring in edits after feedback from first readers. I spent about six months querying agents with a number of requests but no takers. Naively I had thought finding representation would be easier with a mystery than it had been for my previous project, a weird speculative novel with four point-of-view characters. With Academy Gothic, unlike with previous projects, rejection didn’t lessen my belief in the book, but the energy it takes to keep sending emails into the ether, few of which even receive a form response, can be toxic to the energy needed to write. Thus, I entered Academy Gothic in some book contests and moved ahead with another novel.

DF: Murder mysteries have certain built-in tropes that can steer authors into tired clichés if they aren’t careful. How did you ensure that your tale was original?

JTH: Good question. That aforementioned buffet of Chandler, Macdonald, and other authors who helped define and redefine classic noir made me aware of a certain voice and tone, to say nothing of recognizable characters and familiar turns in the story. If anything, instead of avoiding those tropes—those of murder mysteries as well as those of gothic novels of the eighteenth century—I tried to incorporate some of them and see how they played in a somewhat different context, namely that of satire.

DF: Academy Gothic won the 2014 Nilsen Prize for a First Novel and has garnered positive reviews from a number of literary sources. What has that experience been like?

JTH: The whole process, from the first phone call from my publisher to say I had won the Nilsen Prize to the recent arrival of my own copies on my doorstep, has been surreal. Writers who publish with small presses are grateful for any kind of attention we receive, so when Publishers Weekly and Booklist both weighed in, positively no less, I literally couldn’t believe my luck. I do mean literally. I came upon the PW review during that time-honored writerly tradition of Googling myself—the review had just gone up, my publisher having not yet been notified by PW—and an hour later, trying to send someone a link to it, the review was gone. I genuinely thought I had hallucinated the review. Apparently, different Web browsers use different search engines, and what had shown up on Firefox simply hadn’t yet shown up on Internet Explorer.

What’s been most rewarding is the kindness I’ve experienced from friends, family, and fellow writers. Whether it’s a writer I admire agreeing to say something nice about my book for the back cover, Writer’s Bone asking me to do an interview, or friends I first met on Twitter posting pictures of their copy of the novel, I’m still growing accustomed to feeling so grateful so often.

DF: Academy Gothic doesn’t feel like a book published by a university press. How would you describe your university press experience?

JTH: I’ve been lucky to work with a publisher, Susan Swartwout, who both knows what she’s doing and has a progressive view of the publishing landscape. I don’t know how many university presses would be game for murder mysteries that skewer the state of higher education, but the kind of fiction being published by university presses is certainly evolving. The big five New York publishing houses, not unlike Hollywood studios, are increasingly averse to risk and unknown properties, leaving plenty of projects for smaller presses to snap up. In fact, because there’s so much high-quality fiction and nonfiction out there, the only difference between presses like Coffee House, Graywolf, Sarabande, Tin House, et al., and larger New York houses is their annual operating budgets. Some of the university presses who have been publishing interesting fiction for years include LSU Press, University of Nebraska Press, University of Georgia Press, and West Virginia University Press, just to name a few.

DF: You’re really active on Twitter and your comments about the publishing industry always make me chuckle. How do you balance promoting your work and developing your social media personality with your writing schedule?

JTH: I thank you for the premise of this question, that I have, in fact, balanced Twitter and writing. I cannot, repeat: cannot, write effectively if there is Internet on my computer. I paid $10 for that ridiculous Freedom software a few years ago, a program whose efficacy depends on one’s willingness not to restart the computer. To borrow a phrase from the great Patton Oswalt, my weakness is strong. For this reason in 2011, when I was beginning Academy Gothic, I finally broke down and bought a laptop to take with me to coffee shops and libraries. I can only visit places with password-protected wifi—my poor eyesight prevents me from seeing any posted passwords—and if I ever overhear someone say the password, I have to leave.

That said, I have met so many cool writers on Twitter. If one limits social media to the time one isn’t writing, I don’t see anything wrong with it. Interacting with fellow writers, many of us socially awkward people who wouldn’t be nearly as voluble in person, makes the necessary loneliness of the morning writing time much more bearable.

DF: What’s your advice to aspiring authors?

JTH: Write a book you’d love to read, not a book you think someone else wants to read. Your first draft is the time to listen to yourself. After that, listen to people you trust. By this point, you and your readers should be able to see what you’re trying to do, and if your readers are objective and honest, they are the bridge between first draft and final. Most importantly, though, and this is easier said than done, persevere.

DF: What’s next for you?

JTH: I’m in the line-editing phase of another mystery, this one about a fame-obsessed 15-year-old whose seemingly chance encounter with an unhinged actor turns violent. I’ve begun work on a nonfiction project about the long, strange process of adapting to visual impairment. I hope I’m not done with Tate Cowlishaw, but his exploits finding their way into another novel probably depends less on my interest than that of readers.

DF: Can you please name one random fact about yourself?

JTH: Large sections of my brain are occupied by the show “Beverly Hills: 90210.” In college, my roommates and I played a “90210” drinking game we found on the Internet: Steve raises eyebrows and whisks hands together, two sips! Claire looks too alternative for her own good: three sips! On our radio show, we provided updates to new episodes as well as the reruns. Lest this feel like a hipster’s ironic love of low culture, I’ll state without shame that half a dozen episodes have made me cry. Watch the one where Dylan’s new wife is murdered, his reaction, that moment when Brandon comforts him, that Lyle Lovett song playing over the whole scene, and see if you don’t succumb. Are you truly unmoved by the episode when Brandon leaves the gang after eight seasons for a job across the country, R.E.M.’s “Night Swimming” underscoring the raw emotion of a nation’s goodbye? Well, you must be made of a steelier substance than me.

To learn more about James Tate Hill, visit his official website or follow him on Twitter @JamesTateHill.

FULL ARCHIVE

Free-Range Characters: 7 Questions With Author Justin Taylor

Justin Taylor

Justin Taylor

By Sean Tuohy

Justin Taylor’s short story collection Flings was named an Amazon Best Book of the Month in August 2014 and praised by the likes of The Daily Beast, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly.

Taylor talked to me recently about the authors he worshiped growing up, how he allows his characters to roam freely, and his short story collections. 

Sean Tuohy: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Justin Taylor: From when I was very young. I filled notebooks with stories almost as soon as I learned to write. Later, in early high school, I got into writing poetry, though they don’t really teach poetry in my high school so I didn’t have much to go by other than song lyrics, a vague notion of Beat ethos, and at least one volume of Jim Morrison’s verse. Oy. It really wasn’t until college that I discovered craft, line-editing, revision, etc. But putting aside questions of skill, the fundamental ass-in-chair-pen-in-hand urge was always there in me, as close to instinct as such a thing could possibly be.

ST: What authors did you worship growing up?

JT: Stephen King throughout most of adolescence, which I’ve discussed in some detail elsewhere. Some other genre stuff that came through him one way or the other; he recommended it somewhere, or it was next to him on the shelf. Since most YA writing is designed to encourage binge consumption, writers like R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike—both of whom I actually came to after King, probably because my folks thought it was more age-appropriate for a 10-year-old—primed me for series in general, so I remember reading most of the Anne Rice vampire books, and many of Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series—though both of these gradually dissolved into weird housewife pornography.

Or maybe that was always what they were and it just took me a while to catch on. Where I grew up there wasn’t much “literary” reading going on, so it took me until about halfway through high school to start looking beyond the horror shelf at the bookstore, and then what I found—or didn’t find—was as close to pure chance as these things get. I read Darcey Steinke’s Jesus Saves, The Human Stain, and Our Gang by Philip Roth, a book called The Quartzsite Trip by a guy named William Hogan, which I actually found in the high school’s library, and mostly remember for its weird tone and an abortive sex scene. Those books, and a few others like them, must have been my introduction to the idea that a book didn’t need to live or die by its plot—though Darcey’s book at least had a kidnapping in it. I ended up studying with her when I went to grad school. I think I’ve read all her books. Other than that, there was typical druggie high school stuff: the Morrison, which I mentioned, and Robert Hunter’s collected lyrics, Box of Rain. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, which I am 100 percent certain I read on account of Strauss’s tone poem’s having been repurposed by Stanley Kubrick for “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which itself I had only come around to because Phish used to cover it, though it turned out later that they were mostly riffing on the Deodato remix from “Being There.” A lot of Hunter S. Thompson, Ken Kesey, William Burroughs. I could never deal with Kerouac—he just bored me—but I tried.

Of the books they made us read in school, I remember loving Frankenstein, and Tale of Two Cities. I remember reading and hating Their Eyes Were Watching God, a hatred I now understand as a product of ignorance and fear. All the awful cultural programming of snotty white kids, of middle-class “gifted” students… I complained about that book every minute that we spent on it—have many mortifying memories about mocking the way the characters spoke: black English, hayseed English, whatever sin we were so sure they had committed—but I have never, ever forgotten it. The moment we finished the unit, and I didn’t have anyone to perform my ignorance for anymore, I realized I had actually loved the novel, and more than that, was drawn to it, as one is drawn to a great and mysterious power whose purpose and depth one can sense but not comprehend. It planted itself like a tree in my mind, perhaps like Rilke’s “tall tree in the ear.”

ST: What type of writer are you: outline before you start or just write and see what happens?

JT: I don’t make outlines because I don’t care what happens. I’m interested in language, and in people—who they are and the choices they make, which necessarily at a certain point translates to “the things that they do.” But that’s the least compelling part of it for me. I am an anarchist in my heart, still and always. The characters should go forth and do whatever they want to do, or do nothing. Eventually the author is obliged to impose some kind of structure, even if it’s just a beginning and ending, but within the space of the story the characters are awarded as much freedom as I can possibly grant them. Or rather their freedom is assumed by me to be inherent, and paramount. I honor it as much as I am able given the limits imposed by the form that I am working in and the fact that they are not real.

ST: The characters in Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever pop off the page. How long do you develop a character before putting them on the page?

JT: Thank you. Characters develop by being allowed to roam freely. They do not gestate like babies, but rise like the sun. You hear a sentence or a phrase and wonder who is saying it. To find this out you let him talk some more. You imagine a scene, an event or a landscape, and wonder who is looking at it or standing in its foreground—and go from there. This is less mystical than I am making it sound now. It’s just about—as per my previous answer—being open to surprising yourself, and being willing to write a lot of scratch pages. That’s it.

ST: The paperback edition of “Flings” is coming out at the end of the month. What can readers expect in this new work?

JT: Well the hardback came out last year, so the short answer is a new cover, some nice quotes, and nothing else. Though as NBC used to say during reruns season, “If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you.” My hope is that this will be a second chance for me to connect with new readers, maybe court some folks who were on the fence about the hardcover, but will prove more temptable now that the price is down and the reviews are in.

ST: What does the future hold for Justin Taylor?

JT: Death and taxes? A couple bigger magazine pieces (nonfiction) over the course of the fall, and a new issue of The Agriculture Reader, the tiny arts magazine that I co-edit with my buddy, the poet Jeremy Schmall. Not sure what the release date is for it yet, but we’ve got all the material in and it’s going to be crazy-good—lots of work in translation, several short stories by debut authors, and a small book of haikus included as part of the issue.

ST: Can you tell us one random fact about yourself?

JT: I’m listening to Bob Mould’s "Beauty and Ruin" right now. The record store where he shot the video for “I Don’t Know You Anymore” is like twelve blocks from my apartment. My cat is stretched out on the dining room table, on top of my wife’s laptop. I thought she was asleep but I just looked up and she’s staring at me, kind of intently, which makes sense since it’s a little past her dinnertime, so.

To learn more about Justin Taylor, visit his official website or follow him on Twitter @my19thcentury.

FULL ARCHIVE

Following the Story: 12 Questions With Author Jack Livings

Jack Livings 

Jack Livings 

By Daniel Ford

Author Jack Livings’ short story collection The Dog, which explores contemporary China, won the 2015 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for a debut work of fiction and has received copious amounts of praise throughout the literary landscape.

Livings graciously answered my questions about his writing process, why he enjoys writing short stories, and how his experiences in China inspired The Dog.

Daniel Ford: When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

Jack Livings: In high school I spent most of my time playing basketball and writing bad poems. I had absolutely no sense of how narratives worked, and I knew it, so when I did try fiction, I’d be deliberately obscure or quirky to try to hide my technical failings. By the time I was 20 years old, I had only a loose grasp on how to make a story, but I definitely wanted to be a writer—of course, by then, the question had become, “When do you get to call yourself a writer? When you’ve published a book? When you’re writing a book? When your only means of income is your keyboard?” I still hesitate a little. I write, and I consider that work to be the most important work I do, but I have a day job. Not sure I’m a writer yet.

DF: Who were some of your early influences?

JL: Raymond Carver, Rick Bass, Tobias Wolff. Almost anyone in Best American Short Stories between 1987 and 1992 got my serious attention. They were my first guides to writing fiction—this was when I was in high school. I still remember certain stories. “The Black Hand Girl” by Blanche McCrary Boyd. Michael Cunningham’s “White Angel.” “The Pugilist at Rest” by Thom Jones. Denis Johnson was always in there. Alice Munro. Wolff’s “Firelight.”

It’s funny—there are only a few literary novels I can recall having read in high school. The usual Twain and Orwell assignments, Salinger and Thomas Hardy. It was short stories almost exclusively until I got to college. Then came the novels—Kafka and Nabokov and Joyce and Dos Passos were in constant rotation.

DF: What is your writing process like? Do you listen to music? Outline?

JL: I try to be regular about it—just sit down every morning and do the work—and I usually fail. Getting down a first draft can require all sorts of tricks, like special pencils and sketch paper or index cards or the pen my wife gave me, which is a Parker 51 that I maintain has some powerful first-draft magic. Once I have a draft, I tend to be able to show up at the desk more regularly. I need silence to work. The apartment has to be empty, or else everyone has to be asleep, and even in a quiet room I’ll sometimes put on noise cancelling headphones. No music for me. I’m writing a novel now, and I’m constantly modifying the outline, trying to keep chronologies straight, but with stories I can generally do without one.

DF: We’re huge fans of the short story genre here at Writer’s Bone. What is it about the format that appeals to you?

JL: A story really has to grab you by the collar and not let go—it does have to forcibly arrest your attention, I think, because as readers we won’t give a story the same room to develop that we’ll give a novel. Our expectations are different. We expect compression, which requires a precision in the language that I love. I don’t want to make it sound like it’s an entirely technical process, but to me a story works like a clock. There’s no room in the cabinet for a spare flywheel whirring away at its own pace. All the gears have to mesh, and they’d better all be working together flawlessly or the whole thing will seize up, and I like the challenge of trying to build that. When I’m reading and get to the end of a story, I want to feel like I’ve been dealt an emotional blow. When I’m writing, that’s the reason for all the revision, all the time spent on mechanics—it’s all so I can convey something to the reader that can’t be done any other way.

DF: How did the idea for The Dog originate?

JL: I had been a student in China in the 1990s, but it took me a while to get around to it because I had this idea that fiction needed to be purely fictional—I somehow felt it was cheating to write so plainly from my own experience. I don’t know how or why I developed that crazy idea, and it really weighed me down. I certainly don’t feel that way now. I probably started writing the first story about seven years after I’d studied in China.

DF: How long did it take you to complete the collection?

JL: The stories trickled out over a period of about 10 years. At the same time, I was working on other stories and didn’t really conceive of the “China stories” as a collection until I had five of them. FSG took a leap of faith and bought those five and I promised I’d write three more in the next year. That might be a normal output for another writer, but I’d taken nine years to write the first five. There’s nothing like a deadline, though. One of the stories I wrote during that last year was “The Crystal Sarcophagus,” which is about a team of glassworkers who are given 10 months to build a flawless coffin for Mao. Probably not a coincidence.

DF: Did the ideas for each story originate differently when you were planning out the collection, or did you find ways to connect them during the writing process?

JL: I more or less wrote each story as it came to me, with no larger design in mind. Once they were all finished, though, I tried to arrange them in such a way that the collection crescendos and then spins down to a quieter finish, but I don’t know that it comes across to the reader that way. I wonder sometimes about the efficacy of these large structural choices. I’m not sure I yet know how to properly arrange the entire orchestra, if that makes sense.

DF: How much of yourself—and the people you have daily interactions with—did you put into your main characters? How do you develop your characters in general?

JL: The situations these characters find themselves in are certainly reflections of the emotional and dramatic states I find most perplexing and want to explore. Sometimes I’ll borrow characteristics from people I know, but if I base a character on someone I know, the more I write, the farther that character drifts from the model. The characters in the book who are the most faithful portraits of people I knew tend to appear just for a flash, and usually only because their presence helps characterize the protagonist. They’re details, of a sort. As far as I can tell, developing characters isn’t anything less than the process of writing the story—there’s nothing else to a story but the characters. There’s setting, of course, and philosophical asides, and questions of voice, but for me, those things develop in lockstep with the characters. I don’t know that I’m capable of separating any of it when I’m working on a story. If I change the scenery, that will inevitably change the character who’s walking through it, and vice versa.

It’s been a slightly different process with the novel I’m writing now. The characters seem to be less at the mercy of the language, the setting, and so on. Possibly because I’ve been thinking about them and taking notes on them for years now, these characters feel more like wholly formed entities who exist as themselves regardless of the situation they’re in. They’re the center of the novel’s motion, and the story is entirely theirs, but they’re not woven into the landscape in quite the same way the characters are in the Chinese stories. Working on the novel has been looser experience—for better and worse, I’m not writing with the same formal restrictions I’ve put on myself when I’ve written stories. Part of this came from having felt like I was playing soccer with my legs tied together for the ten years I was working on the Chinese stories. Not only did those have to be formally tight, I chose to write some of them in a voice that came to me as a translation from Chinese, so there were linguistic restrictions. And then I was crosschecking details constantly, something don’t have to do (as much) for a book set in New York, even one set in the 1970s. I told myself when I started the novel that I could do anything I wanted. We’ll see how it turns out.

DF: What are some of the themes regarding China that you wanted tackle while writing these stories?

JL: None, really. The stories come out of my confusion, usually, about how a character got him or herself into a jam. I’ll imagine a situation and then have to write a story to figure out what’s happened. Any larger themes that appear are incidental. I don’t mean to be disingenuous. I can see themes in the book—people acted upon by forces beyond their control is one—but those appeared to me only after I’d finished. There are so many ways to spoil a good story, and writing from the top down is a great one. Starting with a political motivation or some message—for me, at least, that’s a recipe for disaster. That’s an essay or a position paper. Fiction is about people who might live under the umbrella of some larger political forces, for instance, which will be borne out in the way they eat their oatmeal, how they sit in a chair, what they say when someone steps on their toe. As I’m writing, I try to blind myself to certain areas of the story so as not to disturb the currents that flow beneath the surface of the action. When I try to direct my fiction to say something, it always turns out rotten. I have to force myself to follow the story and let the action unfurl and once I’m done, then I can step back and see what my subconscious was up to.

DF: The Dog won the 2015 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for a debut work of fiction and has garnered rave reviews from a variety of media outlets. What’s that experience been like and what are your future plans?

JL: I have been very, very lucky that the book has been written about in some of the places readers look to for guidance. I’m just happy people have been reading the book, and I’m thankful that they have been. I’m working on this novel now, and holding on for dear life. It’s really all I can do to stay on top of it.

DF: What’s your advice to aspiring authors?

JL: I doubt I’m qualified to give anyone advice, but you can’t go wrong by reading lots of good literature, and by trying to understand how it works. If you fall deeply into a section of a book and you’re blazing through it, enjoy yourself but then go back and read it again. And then again, and look hard at the points you found most engaging. Take apart the structure of the passage. Same for the sentences. Look at the punctuation. Check out the rhythm and figure out where it pauses for breath. Apply any information you have at hand to the passage to better understand its mechanics. The second part of this is, read the classics whether you like them or not. Part of learning to write is discovering that it can be a real struggle and requires intellectual and emotional stamina that we don’t naturally possess, and there’s no better training than working your way through something you’re not crazy about, but need to get under your belt because you want to be a serious writer. Why do we need to get these things under our belts? If for no other reason than not to reinvent the wheel. I’m not speaking from a high pulpit here—I’m only repeating what I tell myself all the time.

DF: Can you please name one random fact about yourself?

JL: My left leg is longer than my right.

To learn more about Jack Livings, visit his official website.

FULL ARCHIVE

Pouring Gasoline On the Fire With Horror Author Joe Hill

Joe Hill

Joe Hill

By Sean Tuohy

Twisted, dark, funny, and filled with a heart (dark heart, maybe), Joe Hill is an author whose stories are filled with characters so full of life that they fill the seats beside you. His stories are injected with so much humor and original prose that you are instantly brought to another world. 

Hill's novels cover the gamut of storytelling: Heart-Shaped Box is about a former rock star who buys the suit that a man died in and is haunted by his ghost; Horns features a young man who wakes up to find out he is growing horns from his head and then develops dark, magical powers; and NOS4A2, in which a young woman uses her powers to fight a supernatural evil.

I was lucky enough to speak to Hill about his writing style, his next book, and what books are currently cluttering his nightstand table.

Sean Tuohy: What authors did you read growing up?

Joe Hill: The first writer I really fell for was Arthur Conan Doyle. I had a deal with my parents: bedtime was at 9:00 p.m., but I could stay up an extra half hour if I was in bed reading a book. I soon discovered a half an hour was exactly enough time to read a Sherlock Holmes story. I read them all, over the course of about three months… The Sign of Four and the other novels usually required a week to finish. It’s possible I owned a Sherlockian Calabash pipe and sometimes wandered the house, gumming it thoughtfully, and looking for things to detect.

I loved Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe novels, which were full of slaughter and betrayal.

I read comics without discrimination or judgment: good comics, bad comics, hilariously bad comics. For a year or two I was very emotionally wrapped up in the soap opera of Chris Claremont’s X-Men. I once stalked Chris Claremont at a Boston SF Convention.

I was (and still am) a big fan of Tabitha and Stephen King. I’ve read both extensively.

ST: Was there one book that you connected with above all others?

JH: I read The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs over and over. It is, in some ways, like the perfect Harry Potter novel; it just happens to have been written about 30 years before J.K. Rowling got started. A lonely orphan discovers he’s related to a wizard and must learn how to cast spells himself, so he can defeat the doomsday plot of a terrible sorcerer who has returned from the dead. Sound familiar? But instead of Hogwarts, the setting is New Zebedee, Conn., and instead of art by Mary GrandPré, the illustrations were provided by Edward Gorey. I’ve reread the book more than once as an adult and it still retains all its old power. I’m persuaded the novel itself is a perfect, compact work of enchantment.

In a lot of ways, Locke & Key, the comic I wrote for six years, wouldn’t exist without The House with a Clock in its Walls.

ST: When did you start to have ideas of becoming a full-time writer?

JH: Both of my parents are novelists. I started goofing off on a typewriter about three minutes after I learned you could string letters together to make words.

In junior high, I discovered role-playing games, and I was a dungeon master for a couple of years (although the game my friends and I loved to play was not Dungeons & Dragons, but Call of Cthulhu). In high school, though, I was a boarding student at a tony Massachusetts academy, and role-playing more or less ended. Make-believe with a group of friends quickly came to seem a little shameful. I started writing every day, stories of fantasy and horror, to fill the hole.

ST: Do you outline your stories or just sit down and begin to write?

JH: Ah…neither really.

I work very slowly. A short story takes one to three months. A novel might take anywhere from a year to five years. Whereas I generate ideas very quickly, I have a couple decent ideas for stories every week.

When I finally start a story, it’s already been living in my imagination for months, or maybe years. I know the first scene. I have some big set pieces in mind. I know things about the key characters. I almost always know the first sentence. Very little of this is written down, although I might have a couple notes scattered across my journals. But no outline, just an unmapped island that I’ve been visiting in my daydreams.

I think outlines are a mistake. Or at least, I know they’re a mistake for me, and I suspect they’re often a mistake for most other writers. It’s more useful to develop a single interesting situation, and a few characters you want to investigate. Develop someone who has regrets, a strong personal code, a few helpless compulsions; develop someone who can’t control or can’t express their anger; someone who has a distinctive, interesting voice; someone driven, either by their demons or their angels. Drop a really engaging character into a gripping situation, and you don’t need to outline. You can just sit back and watch the fireworks. Outlines choke off any chance of discovery, of surprising yourself.

ST: Last year, the movie “Horns,” based on your novel of the same name, was released in theaters.  How did it feel seeing the world and characters that you created on the big screen?

JH: In some ways I like the movie better than the novel. I’m proud of the novel. I worked hard on it, and I think it’s fun to read, that the pages turn quickly, that it explores interesting themes and ideas. But I had a nervous breakdown while I was working on it. I was terrifically depressed. My marriage ended. It was a sad, confused time for me, and my feelings about the book are wrapped up in a lot of personally unhappy memories.

The movie, on the other hand, is a lot of fun. Daniel Radcliffe and Juno Temple gave it everything they had, and their moments together are beautiful and heart-rending. Alexandre Aja got the book’s atmosphere of lush summery romance, and also its sick sense of humor, and managed to capture both things on the screen. In the end, it didn’t do well in the marketplace, but I think it was always a tough sell. In some ways I’m surprised it got made at all. It’s the least commercial thing I’ve ever written: a weird horror-satire, a surreal, “Twin Peaks”-sy riff on The Metamorphosis.

Late in the game, a PR person came up with the world’s best tagline: Horns: Grow a pair. I wish I had thought of that. If we had slapped that line on the cover of the book, we would’ve sold a billion, billion copies. Sigh.

ST: Do you have any rituals you have to complete before or after writing?

JH: Um, besides routine procrastination? Like lots of modern writers, I’d so much rather screw off on Twitter than actually do my job.

Which doesn’t make a lick of sense. When I sit down to work, and I finally begin to build sentences, it almost always makes me feel good. I like myself best when I’m writing. Or maybe that’s not quite right: maybe I mean I know myself best when I’m writing. Or have a chance to visit with my best, smartest self.

I get up every hour to make a cup of tea. That’s the one ritual. It takes three cups of tea to get through a normal day of work. Then I’ll have a fourth, late in the afternoon, when I sit down to read.

ST: Are you still a reader? If so, what are you reading now?

JH: I’d give up writing for a living before I’d give up reading for pleasure. I think of myself as a father first, a reader second, and a writer only a distant third. I love other people’s sentences much more than my own, and I hope I never get tired of a good story.

I’m usually reading two or three things at once. At the moment I’m working my way through a big heavy collection of short stories by Irwin Shaw, the tenth book in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series, and Carl Gottlieb’s The Jaws Log.

That’s a pretty good representative example of what I might be reading in any given month. The short story might be my favorite form; if I have a favorite genre, it’s not horror but historical fiction; and I read a broad range of non-fiction, from history to true crime to pop cultural analysis.

I just finished David Mitchell’s novel, Slade House, which is out this October. It’s his most surprising book yet, and maybe the last book in the world anyone would’ve expected him to write: a red-in-tooth-and-claw supernatural horror thriller. It’s a little like if Wes Craven hired Umberto Eco to reboot “Nightmare on Elm Street:” erudite, witty, as finely wrought as a Fabergé egg, but also unrepentantly terrifying.

ST: What advice do you give to aspiring writers?

JH: Over the years, I’ve had a lot of good advice from some brilliant writers. But I never really learned that much from all the kind, well-meant suggestions and clever tips. They didn’t stick with me. Just about everything I learned about writing a good book I learned from reading lots and lots of good books. I studied the novels I loved. I read them over and over, sometimes with a pen and highlighter, taking notes. Once, I spent a month rewriting the first five chapters of Elmore Leonard’s The Big Bounce, just to get the feel of his sentences.

ST: What does the future hold for Joe Hill?

JH: I’m the guest editor for the inaugural edition of Houghton-Mifflin’s Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy. That’ll be out this October. And I’ve got a new novel, a dark modern fantasy called The Fireman, which will be out in the summer of 2016. It’s about a plague of spontaneous combustion; it’s my version of The Stand, soaked in gasoline and set on fire.

ST: Can you please tell us one random fact about yourself?

JH: I have never lost a game of Boggle.

To learn more about Joe Hill, visit his official website, like his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter @joe_hill.

FULL ARCHIVE

The Gravedigger's Keeper: 11 Questions With Author Tania James

Tania James (Photo courtesy of the author) Photo credit: Melissa Stewart Photography

Tania James (Photo courtesy of the author)
Photo credit: Melissa Stewart Photography

Tania James’ novel, The Tusk That Did the Damage, is both a page-turner and an emotional character study. I should say three character studies to be exact, including a broken, yet resilient, elephant named The Gravedigger.  

I’ll have plenty more to say about the book in tomorrow’s book recommendation post, but in the meantime enjoy the author discuss her early influences, how she developed the idea for The Tusk That Did the Damage, and her thoughts on elephant poaching.   

Daniel Ford: When did you decide you wanted to be a writer and how did you develop your voice?

Tania James: It never occurred to me that one could define herself professionally as a writer, until I met two working writers when I was sixteen. They were the poets Frank X Walker and Kelly Norman Ellis; I took their creative writing class through a summer arts camp. It also helped that they were African-American. Somehow the fact that they were minorities, like myself, gave my own point of view a sense of validity. I didn’t develop my voice back then, so much as discover that I had a yearning to develop that voice.  

DF: Who were some of your early influences?

TJ: My parents and two sisters have marked my writing in ways so profound I can hardly articulate the impact, even to myself. But if we’re talking literary influences, I think of Jane Eyre as a book that opened my eyes in a certain way. That was the first book that made me wonder about the author behind it, her point of view, her intentions. I remember reading Beloved in high school and then systematically reading every Toni Morrison book I could find in the library. I’d never done that before—really delved into an author’s entire shelf. I don’t know how Morrison has influenced my own writing, but I can remember burning up with this desire to move someone else, a reader, as deeply as she moved me.

DF: What is your writing process like? Do you listen to music? Outline?

TJ: With this book, I did listen to music occasionally, just to cue me up for a certain voice I was trying to get inside. The novel moves between three different voices, so a song could help get me a particular mood. And I did draw up some outlines and timelines for the end of the book; the three threads follow different chronologies, but then interconnect around a climactic moment at the end. But I don’t sit down and outline the whole book before writing it. It’s more helpful to me to outline as I go along, so I can keep straight what I’m doing, or have just done.

DF: Where did the idea for The Tusk That Did All the Damage originate?

TJ: In 2011, my husband and I moved to Delhi for seven months. I was there on a Fulbright fellowship, and he was opening the India offices of his international NGO, Namati. He was focusing on enforcement of environmental law, and so his reading tended toward the subjects of conservation and wildlife. He kept quoting to me from a book called Rewilding the World by Caroline Fraser, in which she describes how a number of young male elephants had raped and killed rhinoceroses on South African game reserves. People in that area had never seen anything like it before. Fraser’s book led me to Dr. Gay Bradshaw’s Elephants on the Edge, in which Bradshaw suggests that this unusual aggression could be linked to post-traumatic stress in those elephants, who had themselves been victims of extreme stress when they watched, as calves, their entire herd being gunned down. As with humans, these traumas ripple outward and into adulthood.

There is something very recognizable about that wounded form of madness; you could call it human but it’s not exclusive to humans. It suggests a complicated mind at work, which is what got me interested in the subject of elephant behavior and psychology.

DF: You employ an innovative multi-narrative structure that includes an elephant (one of the most endearing characters I’ve come across this year)! What made you settle on that structure?

TJ: Thank you! I guess my interest in elephants began with those two books I mentioned, and spread to the question of human-elephant conflict. To me, the story of the elephant in India is inextricably twined with the humans who live around and amongst them, as captors and keepers, as farmers and forest guards. It’s a fascinatingly knotty subject, and to me, the most interesting way to depict that knottiness is to include two human perspectives.

DF: Despite having to service three characters, you provide a wealth of information and backstory to each one while telling an ultimately tragic story. How did you go about developing these characters, and did they change at all during the writing process?

TJ: I don’t really know my characters when they first appear in a story. They’re sketchy, even to me. It’s with every draft that I’m adding layers of detail and experience, digging away and trying to figure out who they are. It’s all kind of mysterious to me, especially when they say or do something surprising. But it’s the surprising elements that draw me in further.

DF: How has the global issue of elephant poaching changed over time, and when did you first become passionate about it?

TJ: Like many people, I’ve been troubled by the upswing in poaching, but it was through the writing of this book that I was confronted with some very stark realities. I was shocked to learn, for example, that the Unites States is currently the second biggest market for ivory imports, second only to China There was a worldwide ban on ivory passed in 1989, but it contained a great many loopholes). The recent increase in demand has fueled the ivory trade in parts of Africa, like Zimbabwe and Tanzania, where local management has a tough time keeping up with well-funded, well-armed terrorist groups. On the demand side, the United States has responded by tightening up the ivory ban; China has passed a one-year ban on ivory imports.

In India, these days, poaching elephants is less of an issue, because the tuskers (who are all male among Asian elephants) have been greatly reduced. But this reduction means a skewed male to female ratio, which means breeding rates are low. So, it’s a grim picture throughout the world. The more you learn, the harder it is to remain neutral.         

DF: The reviews for The Tusk That Did All the Damage are overwhelmingly positive, including a glowing review in The New York Times Book Review. What has that experience been like and how do you manage writing and promoting your work?

TJ: That’s a good question—how to simultaneously write and promote—and one that I’d like someone to answer for me! I think it’s just harder this time around because I have a one-year old at home, so I’m trying to figure out the book/baby balance. Of course there is no balance, but I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and not get too antsy to start something new until genuine inspiration strikes. I’m keeping my ear to the ground though.

DF: You now have two novels and a short-story collection under your belt, so what’s next?

TJ: I don’t know, which is kind of an exciting and nerve-wracking answer.

DF: What advice do you have for up-and-coming writers?

TJ: I have a handful of reader friends whose advice I rely on heavily, even when it’s tough love time. I think it’s important to find those writerly mates who have your back, as you have theirs.

DF: What is one random fact about yourself?

TJ: When I was seven, I played Mary in our church nativity scene but my little sister crawled into the manger, thereby busting through the fourth wall and ruining my stage debut.

To learn more about Tania James, visit her official website, like her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter @taniajam

FULL ARCHIVE

Hollywood A-Listers Join Forces With Young Storytellers Foundation to Encourage A Life-Long Love of Creativity

By Stephanie Schaefer

The creative arts provide fulfillment and foster imagination in kids young and old, however, unfortunately, the arts are typically the first classes to get cut by strict budgets in the public school system. If last week’s Reading Rainbow Kickstarter news was any indication, millions of Americans agree that literature opens the doors to a world of knowledge.

The Young Storytellers Foundation (YSF) aims to promote childhood literacy though the art of storytelling. This California-based organization uses tactics such as group exercises and one-on-one mentors to provide children in public schools the opportunity to write stories and see them brought to life through performances by well-known actors.

I recently had the privilege to talk to Pilar Alvarez, education director of YSF, about the powerful impact creativity can have on a child’s life.

Stephanie Schaefer: First of all, can you tell me about the mission of the Young Story Tellers Foundation?

Pilar Alvarez: Our mission is to inspire children to discover the power of their own voice. We do that through our main two educational programs, Script to Stage and Young Movie Makers. Both programs use group exercises and mentoring to provide under-served children in the public school system an opportunity to create stories and see them brought to life through performance.

SS: When was the organization founded and how has it expanded since then?

PA: YSF was founded in 1997 by a group of young film students who, in response to cuts to creative arts educational programing, decided to create a free and volunteer based program that they could bring into public schools. The organization began with our founders working with students at one public elementary school. This year our Script to Stage Program is currently implemented at thirty-two elementary schools. A few years ago we added another program, Young Movie Makers, which we have brought into four junior high schools.

SS: Do you think the push for STEM in public schools has taken focus off of writing and the creative arts?

PA: Not necessarily. Right now public schools are working hard to prepare their students to be career and college ready by applying their knowledge in an engaging and hands on way. The arts are a fantastic vehicle for achieving that. My background as a teacher is in theatre, which provides many opportunities for students to physicalize the concepts they are learning in other subjects. One of my favorite teaching moments was acting out the process of photosynthesis with a group of second graders.

SS: Can you describe the initiatives, such as the Young Movie Makers and Script-to-Stage program?

PA: Script to Stage is a nine to 10 week program where we pair fifth graders with mentors (mostly from the entertainment industry) who guide them through the process of creating their own screenplay. Each program has a head mentor who leads the sessions and group exercises that help facilitate the creative process. At the end of the program we bring in professional actors, that the students cast, who bring the screenplays to life at our Big Show.

Young Movie Makers is a program where junior high school students work in small groups to write, direct, shoot, and edit their own movies. Students have an opportunity to work creatively in groups and build their collaborative and communication skills. Each group is paired with a high school mentor who helps the group with their movie making process. It’s also a wonderful leadership opportunity for the participating high school students.

SS: I’ve read the YSF scripts often attract celebrity actors and actresses. Who are some of the well-name stars who have performed at the “Big Show?”

PA: Too many to name but a few of them include: Jennifer Aniston, Max Greenfield, Rashida Jones, Mindy Kaling, Ed Helms, Ben McKenzie, Adam Brody, Dustin Hoffman, Jonah Hill, Leighton Mester, and Casey Wilson. That’s just some of the talented actors who have worked with us. It’s a long list, my apologies to anyone left out. We’ve been really lucky to have many celebrities who see the value of our programming and help bring attention to our work by performing in our shows. We also do a Big Show once a year with members of the crazy-talented cast of "Glee."

SS: How can other, non-famous creative artists contribute to the cause?

PA: The heart of YSF is the amazing volunteers who work with our young writers as mentors by guiding them through the process of creating their own screenplays and actors who bring their stories to life. Our volunteer community is an amazing collection of generous and talented creative people. If anyone reading this is interested in mentoring they can go to www.youngstorytellers.com/mentor/. If you want to perform go to www.youngstorytellers.com/perform/. The application process is very simple, you can do it all on our website.

SS: What has been your most memorable moment working with the organization?

PA: I love watching our young writers at the Big Shows. The Big Shows are an amazing celebration of our talented writers and an opportunity for them to see their work brought to life. It’s difficult for me to pick just one moment because each student responds to that experience differently. It’s an amazing moment where all of their work comes to culmination. The students see their words brought to life and the impact that their script has on the audience. I hope that experience helps them understand that what they have to say and contribute can affect others around them.

SS: We ask all contributors to name one random fact about themselves. Do you care to share an interesting anecdote about yourself?

PA: The arts really saved me as a young adult. When I was in junior high school I had a really low sense of self. My self-worth was mainly dependent on peer approval; it was not based on my own skills and intelligence as a person. I couldn’t see past that moment in my life and so I wasn’t motivated to try in school. The drama program at my High School really pulled me out of that when I started acting in shows and had the opportunity to take on leadership positions. I felt successful and valued for what I had to contribute and as result started doing better in school and received a scholarship to a liberal arts college.

To learn more about the Young Storytellers Foundation, check out its official website, like its Facebook page, or follow the organization on Twitter @youngstory.

The Writer's Bone Interviews Archive

Heroine Worship: 9 Questions With Thriller Writer Seeley James

Seeley James

Seeley James

By Sean Tuohy

In a market place filled with similar plot lines and leading characters, it is always refreshing when you discover an original voice from an author who has a true desire to tell a real story.

Seeley James brought readers to the edge with his Pia Sabel thrillers and brought the fiction world a leading female character that broke the mold. James has never fit in to the crowd of standard thriller writers, always setting himself part by writing hardened thrillers with true heart to them.

He took a break from creating a new thriller to sit down and talk about his writing process, his passion for writing, and his future.

Sean Tuohy: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Seeley James: As long as I can remember. In school, I wrote what today would be called flash fiction: short, satirical reflections on school life. When teachers would assign creative writing projects, I would write a batch of them and sell them to my friends for $10.

ST: Your Pia Sabel thrillers are fantastic reads. Where did this idea come from and how long did you have the character of Pia before you started writing?

SJ: The character was inspired by the resilience of my first daughter. When I was 19 and single, I adopted a 3-year-old girl and raised her up (long, boring blog about it here). When she graduated to adult life, and my second daughter began to exhibit similar character strengths (I married at 36 and started over), I reflected on how resilient young women can be in the face of my many parenting mistakes. I started to write stories featuring a similar, but larger-than-life, heroine. At first I wrote YA stories about a teenager, but I never had the right voice for that genre, so I brought Pia Sabel up to age 25. That journey has been about nine years total.

ST: Pia Sabel stands out as a female lead because does not pine after any man nor does she whine about how tough things are. She is a very real and down to earth character. When can we see her again in a new adventure?

SJ: Thanks, that means a lot to me. I’ve just published the second novel, Bring It, Omnibus Edition, which consolidated six serials. I’d written the serials because many readers thought Pia was too aloof and should pine, etc. I used the serials to experiment with observing Pia through different lenses. Jacob Stearne quickly emerged as a fan favorite.

While the experiment took longer than I’d imagined or would’ve liked, I learned a good deal about how to present Pia. I’m now about a third of the way into a first draft of the third book and am pleased with the shape it’s taking. I think Blue Death (sneak peak) will achieve the voice and pace I’ve been working toward for a decade. I hope to have it published by the end of summer.

ST: What is your writing process?

SJ: That has evolved a good deal over the last couple years. I’m a trial-and-error kinda guy with a heavy emphasis on error. As I write this, I feel that I’ve hit the better scenario: I keep a fluid, light outline going in Microsoft OneNote that keeps my eight-sequence climax points in focus. I add, subtract, change that outline at the beginning and ending of every writing session.

I write in two-hour blocks, sometimes without moving from my chair (which causes stiff joints in these old bones), and intersperse those blocks with book marketing, wasting time on social media, mountain climbing, lunch with pals, bank robbing, and chasing women. I try to put in three to four writing blocks a day. I think it’s like playing the piano or soccer; the more you do it, the better you get.

ST: Do you do a lot of research before you start writing?

SJ: No. Not a ‘lot.’ I think deep research can be an excuse or a time suck, but rarely a good thing. Stephen King said he spent half a day doing a ride along with a cop and that was all he needed for the rest of his career. I read some name-brand authors who constantly fall into the research pit. They want to regurgitate every detail they’ve learned regardless of how unrelated to the story it really is.

Now that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in research. I do a good deal of research. However, that’s all based on my reading and writing. First, I read a lot of non-fiction. Last year, I read Ali Soufan’s Black Banners (a must read for every American citizen) and decided to make waterboarding a plot point in Bring It. So there was a certain amount of organic pre-writing research (I read plenty of other books that don’t inspire me, but teach me something).

As I wrote Bring It, I looked up memoirs of World War II soldiers who were waterboarded, diaries and court cases, treaties and historical documents, and so on. But I only looked up those texts that were directly related to the scene I was writing at that time. I might spend an hour or two on scene-specific research, but only if it is a critical element. In that case, the scene at the end of Episode III has garnered many accolades in reviews, so I think I got it right.

If you go out and research for days, you’re going to regurgitate extraneous crap that will bore the reader. If you already know certain amounts through your every-day interests, then the research is more natural and specific to the story. The readers appreciate that kind of research.

ST: The ebook market place is a great place for a new writer to publish their work, but how does a writer make their work stand out in such a crowded market place?

SJ: It takes time. The Kindle Gold Rush is over. You have to develop an audience, develop your writing to fit that audience, constantly hone your craft, and participate in genre-specific forums as a reader. If you’re not keeping your ear to the chest of your readers, feeling and hearing the heartbeat, you’ll never stand out. At the same time, you can’t pander to them. Readers don’t like weasel-writers, they like strong, confident, bold writers who know them well.

ST: What is your advice to writers who just starting out?

SJ: Humility is your friend. Listen, try, read, try again, study, try harder. Hire a content editor and a copy editor. Seek out harsh critiques and learn from them. No amount of marketing or advertising or word of mouth will sell a bad book. The art of writing is something we’ll never perfect but can always improve.

ST: If you had the chance to sit down and have a meal with fictional character would you share the meal with?

SJ: Hmmm, good question. I’d like to say something intelligent and witty, like Quasimodo before he pushed Frollo. But I like to be honest and I’ve spent a lot of time with one guy lately: Jacob Stearne, my new leading character. He constantly surprises me. He tells me a different story about his past every day. I have a whole childhood-Christmas-disaster story in my head even though our circumstances couldn’t have been more disparate. Most of these stories have nothing to do with the Pia Sabel novels so I’m always wondering why he brings them up. Maybe he thinks I care.

ST: What is one random fact about yourself?

SJ: Just one? How about a slew: I’ve never killed anyone with malice aforethought. I grew up in a tent in the desert. I hiked the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim in ten hours with a pack of young studs and out-paced the whiny, little brats by a long shot. I’m happily married but not sure my wife is. My friends won’t let me drive their Ferraris because of one simple effing miscalculation. I’m a huge fan of your site.

To learn more about Seeley James, check out his official website, like his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter  @SeeleyJamesAuth.

The Writer's Bone Interviews Archive

Oh Captain, My Captain: 9 Questions With Military Sci-Fi Author Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

By Sean Tuohy

Jack Campbell is the true commander of military science fiction with his award-winning The Lost Fleet thriller series. The interstellar series follows Alliance Captain Jack Geary, who uses his knowledge and wits to command his fleet of ships through enemy space. Using his past experience as a navel officer and his love of true adventure, Campbell takes us through the inner workings of a commanding officer's mindset during edge-of-your-seat battles.

Campbell answered a few of my questions about the fleet, his characters, and the stresses of the writing craft.

Sean Tuohy: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Jack Campbell: I was very young, probably about 8 years old, when I first tried writing. I covered big sheets of paper with large letters, trying to tell a story about what we had done that summer. For years after that, I kept my stories in my head, but finally began writing them down again in high school. The less said of those efforts the better. Then came the Navy, which left little time for things like writing. But as I prepared to retire from the Navy, I finally started writing seriously after decades of thinking about it.

But as long as I can remember, I wanted to write stories.

ST: You were a naval officer for many years. Did this have any effect on your writing process?

JC: Perhaps not the process so much as the content and the art. I wrote a lot during my time in the service, mostly official things like assessments and analysis and reports. I learned to edit other people's work, which taught me how to edit my own. And I experienced so many different things, and met so many different people in so many different places, all of which contributed to what I could put into stories. The experiences that I gained, the things that I learned, made my writing immensely better. I also learned to stick with something until I finished it, and to try other approaches when my first attempts failed. Perhaps most importantly, I had to do and learn a lot of things that I never would have chosen to do. It's the things I learned that I wouldn't have chosen to learn that may be the most important.

ST: What led you to writing science fiction/military science fiction?

JC: My earliest reading was in things like history and juvenile biographies and mythology. One day I stumbled across The Mastermind of Mars in the school library and was amazed that someone had created a completely new history and new people and new myths in an imagined world. This was in the days when sci-fi ruled compared to fantasy, so I started reading more and more sci-fi. There were some brilliant writers, people like Andre Norton, Poul Anderson, and Leigh Brackett, who made me want to write stories like them. I'll never be as good with words as Poul Anderson, and I can only aspire to be as good with ideas as people like Andre Norton, but I wanted to try. And since my interests in history and biography often tended to military topics, and mythology is often about battles of various kinds, that led to an interest in using sci-fi to examine how future battles might be different from now, and how some things might not change no matter how much time elapses. My own Navy career had a lot of influence on my writing about military topics. It's what I know.

ST: The Lost Fleet is one of the best science fiction series currently, where did this story come from?

JC: Thank you! In one sense, the story is the culmination of my writing to date, the end result of what I have learned about telling stories. But the two big aspects of The Lost Fleet were years in the process of development.

Some time ago, another writer who worked in the “Star Trek” universe asked some of us other writers if a long retreat scenario was possible in “Star Trek.” We all agreed that it wasn't, because of the way “Star Trek” handled things like faster-than-light travel. Someone would either get away immediately or they would be trapped. But the question got me to thinking about whether a long retreat in space could work both as a story and as something that made sense in terms of the technology and everything else. The classic example (in every sense of the word) of a long retreat story is Xenophon's March of the 10,000. Could I use that example in a new way? That idea just sat there in my head for years while I waited for some ideas to try out the concept.

Another idea had also been sitting in my mind for some time, this one concerning a common myth in human cultures. That myth is the one about the sleeping hero, some ancient champion who is not dead, but is instead sleeping, and would awaken when most needed. In the West, the most well-known example of this is King Arthur. There is general agreement that these myths are based on real people, actual champions who had done important things in life, but whose accomplishments had been greatly inflated after their deaths. I couldn't help wondering what it would be like for such a person if they somehow did awaken long after their own time, only to learn that they were now thought to be some superhero who was supposed to save the day.

At some point, I realized that the two ideas fit together perfectly. The trapped fleet and the legendary hero who could save it. The hero was not the hero of the legend, but he had to try to be that person, because if he couldn't manage it, the fleet and the people who believed in him would be destroyed. That became the saga of The Lost Fleet and Black Jack Geary.

ST: Captain "Black Jack" Geary is a fantastic hero and strong leader. Is he based on anyone from your time in military?

JC: Geary is partly a composite of some of the best leaders I worked with, commanders like Captain Richard Hayes and Admiral Cathal Flynn. But he also has characteristics drawn from some historical figures such as George Washington and Joan of Arc. He isn't superhuman, and that defines him more than anything. He is human, as flawed as anyone, but he refuses to use his authority to his personal benefit, he won't reach for the power he could easily have, he does not consider himself special, and he has a strong moral center. He also has the strength of character to act decisively, to not give up, and to not reject advice from others. I tried to have Geary embody what Clausewitz (On War) described as both the first and the second kinds of courage; the first kind to act bravely in battle, and the second kind to do the right things off of the battlefield. As Clausewitz noted, the second kind of courage can be more important than the first. 

ST: The Lost Stars is a spin-off series from The Lost Fleet but from the point of view Syndic; what lead you to write this series and what challenges did you find writing from the Syndic's point of view?

JC: Two factors led to the creation of The Lost Stars. The first was that many readers had asked to know more about the enemy in The Lost Fleet books. I had tried to make it clear that the Syndics were not evil clones, but rather people of varying quality, even though all fought for a bad cause. Readers wanted to hear more about that, about the society that spawned the bad guys. The second factor was because I had originally planned The Lost Fleet to be only six books. But as the original series wound to a conclusion, there was a lot of demand for more books. There were plenty of things to write about, but I was worried about growing stale, about becoming worn out writing about the same characters. The Lost Stars was designed to give me something fresh to work with in the same universe, and even with storylines that intertwined with the continuing The Lost Fleet stories. Very different people facing very different challenges, and all of them seeing the universe in very different ways than Geary and his companions did. That has helped me keep The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier books fresh as well.

The main challenge when writing from the Syndic point of view was to keep in mind that what they believed made sense to them. What they did was either (to them) justified, or necessary to survive. These are all people who have done some terrible things, but some of them had to be characters that readers would find sympathetic. They genuinely don't know or understand other ways of doing things.

Some of them want to do things differently, but have to learn how. And they have to live with themselves for what they have done. To some, that is no problem. To others, it is a major struggle.

ST: What is your writing process? Do you have any special rituals you have to do before you begin writing?

JC: The only special ritual is probably the same one shared by most writers—procrastinate by any means possible (I knew one writer who went to the dentist rather than work on a project). Beyond that, I need to be in the right mental zone. In classical terms, I need my muse to be present and active. If that inspiration isn't present, I have to try to get it active by whatever works. Maybe music, maybe playing short games, maybe doing some unrelated research or reading, maybe watching something. My muse (like most, I guess) cannot be forced to come on command. She has to be allowed to approach on her own terms while I'm thinking about other things.

ST: What advice would you give to up-and-coming writers?

JC: First, read. Anything and everything. Second, write. Don't just think about it, don't just focus on one project. Write and write and write. Then submit what you write. Don't keep messing with it forever, changing a few words here and there or dropping a comma. Send it off to someone. Aside from that, I think it is a good idea to visit local conventions where an aspiring writer can meet established, experienced writers who are usually more than willing to offer advice and will talk on panels about various aspects of writing and publishing. But at the end of the day there is no substitute for simply writing and writing some more.

ST: Can you please tell us one random fact about yourself?

JC: I was the armorer on the U.S. Naval Academy fencing team for four years.

To learn more about Jack Campbell, visit his official website.

The Writer's Bone Interviews Archive

Women Reading Aloud Founder Julie Maloney On Helping Female Writers Find Their Voices

Julie Maloney

Julie Maloney

By Stephanie Schaefer

Many writers have trouble embracing their voice from time to time—a challenge that literary organization Women Reading Aloud (WRA) aims to overcome. The group, which empowers female writers through workshops and retreats, was founded in 2003. More than a decade later, the organization has expanded while holding true to its values of authenticity, creativity, and equality among “the writer, the reader, and the listener.”

In honor of Women’s History Month (although I think we should celebrate kick-ass female writers 12 months a year), I chatted with Julie Maloney, founder and director of WRA.

Stephanie Schaefer: Women Reading Aloud sounds like a great project. Where did the idea come from?

Julie Maloney: Eleven years ago, I was sitting with a friend, another writer, and we were talking about the “gaps” in the industry. All of a sudden, I said “I’m starting something called Women Reading Aloud.” Honestly, it just fell from my lips! I knew that I wanted to create a place where women writers felt supported in their creative lives. I had no idea that we would grow to hosting international writing retreats from what began around my dining room table.

SS: Who are some of your favorite authors?

JM: I love so many. I’m a huge fan of Joyce Carol Oates. My copy of We Were The Mulvaneys is sitting on my desk right now. I constantly open it and read a passage to remind myself of what’s working on the page. Also, there’s Elizabeth Strout. Her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Olive Kitteridge, is the only book I’ve read more than twice. It’s a gem. The Irish writer, Anne Enright, moves me every time I read her work; Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, a lean but powerful book, continues to enchant. Only recently, I discovered and read the amazing novel, Stoner, by John Williams. Breathtaking! Of course, I fell in love with D.H. Lawrence in college. Over and over, I’ve read Nikolai Gogol’s short story, “The Overcoat.” Ahhh…and then there’s May Sarton! There are so many beauties out there and I haven’t even begun to name poets like Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, Ted Kooser, and Linda Pastan.

SS: I’ve noticed on your website that the writer’s weekend retreats have been very popular! What role does atmosphere and location play in your creative process? Do you have a favorite writing spot?

JM: I like quiet places but this doesn’t mean that I must have them to write. I can write in the middle of a coffee shop or café, unaware that someone might be sitting naked wearing only a baseball cap at another table! I’m always writing in my head, especially when I’m driving which I do not recommend. I have a room at home that I call my “writing room.” It’s bright with neatly stacked books in every corner, on shelves, in piles. My desk is messy no matter how hard I try to be tidy. When I select a place for a retreat, I pay careful attention to the atmosphere – to the surrounding noise level. Our Writer’s Weekend Retreat is held annually at the New Jersey Shore. We’re one block from the ocean. Writers can slip away and walk and think and be alone or else they can choose to chat up another writer while sitting on a bench facing the water. It’s perfect. We’ve been selling out to 20 writers every year for six years. Our international retreat, held on the magical island of Alonnisos in Greece, also combines solitude with community. Although, it’s interesting how some writers note that the beauty of the Aegean Sea distracts them from writing! One of my favorite places to write in the world is in the New York City Public Library on Fifth Avenue and 41st Street. You can feel the creative energy as soon as you push through the doors.

SS: Can you tell me more about the “Writing and Yoga Program”? It sounds very zen! 

JM: I guess you could say it’s “very zen!”

I work with an amazing yoga teacher who has taught me so much—not only about the physical part of yoga but also about the chakras and how our life force, our prana, guides us. We spend time coordinating programs that fill the full day, alternating between yoga and writing in accordance with the chakras. Writers leave glowing after spending time exploring what lies within by moving to the page. It’s quite exhilarating.

SS: What is one thing you want women who participate in WRA to take away from the experience?

JM: I want women to know that they have a voice that either is waiting for discovery or for further refinement. We must keep on working on it. I always say this in my workshops: It is not as important that the world hear our voice, as it is that we hear our own voice. This requires deep listening to ourselves. The journey is worth the commitment. I have seen women who have never written before attend a WRA workshop series and end up hooked on writing. They write, publish and give readings! The transformation is the reward as is the process of engagement.

SS: Have you faced any obstacles as a female writer? How does WRA aim to overcome those challenges and break gender stereotypes?

JM: I’ve been fortunate to create a creative life that works for me. Of course, the publishing industry is a difficult one and although I’ve read and heard about women facing obstacles, I’ve shaped my world to be kinder. Right now, I’m fighting for a novel of mine to find a home and it is a hard, hard journey, but I’m a warrior. Check back with me in a year! What WRA does is provide a supportive space where women writers can take chances in their work without the distraction of competition. It’s a place intended for discovery without fear of the inner critic.

SS: What advice would you give to young females who want to pursue a career in writing?

JM: Believe you can do it! Surround yourself with people who support your dreams. Sit down and write. Read every genre. Sit down and write. Breathe. Sit down and write. Read. Write. Dream. Connect. Support other writers by buying their books! Attend readings, book launches, learn about the business without forgetting why you write. Do it because you love it!

SS: What is one random fact about yourself?

JM: I am a former dancer/choreographer and artistic director of my own modern dance company in New York City.

To learn more, visit Women Reading Aloud’s official website

The Writer's Bone Interviews Archive

Promising Author Lindsey Palmer On Magazines, Teaching, and Publishing Her First Novel

Lindsey Palmer

Lindsey Palmer

By Stephanie Schaefer

I’ll shamelessly admit that that at any point in time I have a stack of magazines piled up in the corner of my room like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Getting a new mag in the mail each month has the magical power to turn any bad day around. Although iPad apps and the Internet have transformed the industry, there is something about the glossy pages, vibrant fashion spreads, and chic exposés that make sitting down with the latest print issue of Glamour or Marie Claire oh-so indulgent.

In her new fictional satire, Pretty in Ink, up-and-coming novelist Lindsey Palmer details the evolving world of women’s magazines, drawing upon her own experiences as an editor in the field. The debut novel is “filled with juicy gossip and outrageous office politics,” according to Publisher’s Weekly, and Booklist says, “Palmer’s debut contains the authenticity of experience and the salacious story snippets fans of The Devil Wears Prada will appreciate.”

Palmer recently took time to chat with me about her writing process, literary inspirations, and Connie Britton’s (aka Mrs. Coach from “Friday Night Lights”) fabulous hair. I for one can’t wait to sit down with a glass of wine and indulge in the drama-filled pages of Palmer’s new novel. If you’re a magazine fan like me, look for Pretty in Ink in bookstores March 25 (available for pre-order on AmazonBarnes & Noble, and IndieBound), or hear Palmer read an excerpt at Boston’s Trident Booksellers & Cafe on April 16!

Stephanie Schaefer: Did you know at an early age that you wanted to be a writer? Who were your inspirations?

Lindsey Palmer: I definitely wrote stories from the time I figured out how to form sentences. In fact, I recently visited my parents’ house and found a book of stories I wrote as an 8-year-old, which were sort of hilarious. It was full of silly plot twists and what passes for a third grader’s deep thoughts. Still, I’m not sure I thought about what it meant to be a writer until I was much older. Writing is just a mode of being for me, the way in which I’ve always attempted to make sense of the world.

I was always a big bookworm, reading whatever I could get my hands on, but it was in my high school A.P. Literature class when I first encountered novelists and poets who completely blew my mind (and I love this fact because now I teach A.P. Literature): Robert Penn Warren, John Fowles, Thomas Pynchon, J.D. Salinger, Mary Oliver, Wallace Stevens, Toni Morrison, Eavan Boland, and more. I couldn’t believe what these writers could accomplish with the same 26 letters of the alphabet that all of us have access to. In college writing classes, I found a lot of inspiration from the likes of Philip Roth, Grace Paley, Lynn Sharon Schwartz, and Mona Simpson, as well as from my fellow classmates, some of whom have gone on to publish beautiful books (for example, Alicia Oltuski and Ariel Djanikian).

SS: You’ve interviewed some pretty high-profile women—including Michelle Obama and Connie Britton—while working in the magazine industry. Do you have a favorite celebrity moment?

LP: I’m a big fan of NPR’s "This American Life," so interviewing host Ira Glass was a favorite moment. We spoke over the phone, and it was kind of amazing to hear this voice that I knew so well from the show answering my questions. It was a surreal experience, like the radio was speaking to me.

SS: I have to ask—Is Connie Britton’s hair as fabulous as it looks on TV?

LP: Yes, her hair is amazing! As someone who has always longed for long hair but could never really pull it off, I was in awe. And Connie Britton was so lovely and gracious, as was her former “Friday Night Lights” television husband, Kyle Chandler (aka Coach Taylor).

SS: Your upcoming novel, Pretty in Ink, is a satire on the world of women’s magazines. Can you tell me a little more about the novel and how you crafted your characters and plot?

LP: In terms of crafting plot, after working for years at women’s magazines—at Glamour, then Redbook, then Self—I not only felt I knew this world backward and forward, I also believed it would make an ideal backdrop for a novel. Especially in a post-2008 world, in the era of economic meltdown and recessionary downsizing, I thought this world would work really well for a thrilling piece of fiction. On page one of my novel, the editor-in-chief of the fictional magazine Hers gets fired, which sets in motion the kind of upheaval and staff reshuffling that will be familiar to anyone who’s collected a paycheck (or tried to) in the past five years. I lived through this kind of experience, and I took notes. Those notes eventually became the novel. The characters are not based on real people; rather, they’re combinations of different attitudes and traits either that I felt or had personally or that I saw in others. With the cast of characters, I tried to represent the range of perspectives and personalities that tend to make up a magazine masthead.

SS: How did you go about getting your work published?

LP: I wrote another novel years ago, reached out to a slew of agents (whom I found through acquaintances and colleagues, through acknowledgment pages of some of my favorite books, and through random Google searches), and received back a slew of really kind and encouraging rejection letters. So when it came to the second time around, I had those names filed away to reach out to again. I ended up signing with Joelle Delbourgo, who runs her own company and was a wonderful match for me; not only does she have years of experience as an agent, but she also worked for decades as an editor and so brings that editorial eye to the table, too. Her wise feedback helped me reshape my novel from something decent to something I could feel really proud of. Then, she pitched a bunch of editors. The book found a home at Kensington, a small publisher that focuses on smart women’s fiction.

SS: I’m impressed to read that you also have a Master’s in English Education! Has being an English teacher influenced your writing?

LP: It’s been really fun to work with young writers who bring so much enthusiasm and a fresh eye to their work. It’s interesting and inspiring to read their writing, and it’s also useful for me to go back to basics, thinking through how plot and character and setting and pacing work in order to be able to teach it. All of that is the good stuff. The not-so-good stuff is that the reality of having 150 students and teaching three separate courses every day. I have way less free time to write than I used to. I’m hoping I can dedicate my summer to writing.

SS: The editorial industry today is certainly changing. What advice can you give to young, hopeful writers?

LP: Write and read as much as you can. That is the best—and probably only—way to improve as a writer, and good quality writing will always eventually find a home. As heartbreaking as it felt when I wrote my first novel and didn’t manage to get it published, I now see those years of writing and revising as wonderful practice. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without that experience, and I won’t be the writer I will hopefully be in five years without the writing practice I’m doing now.

SS: What is one random fact about yourself?

LP: When I was a kid I twirled baton and competed in Miss Majorette competitions. This has proved to be useful in adult life only in terms of the outfits’ potential for Halloween costumes.

You can learn more about Lindsey Palmer by visiting her official website or liking her Facebook page. 

The Writer's Bone Interviews Archive