Could you tell us a bit about your latest release? Gabriela and The Widow is a novel about two women—a Widow and the young Mexican woman who comes to take care of her. It’s story about mothers and daughters and it’s a story about the past being transmitted into the future. There’s a lot of pain and anguish, love and betrayal in this novel. It’s also a novel about story telling and the need to write down our histories.
What have you learned about writing and publishing since you first started? The publishing world changed with the e-book, amazon.com, and create space. Writing and writing techniques have remained constant—Stories are told with action and image. Dialogue reveals character. I’ve learned more about the approach to a novel since I first started in that now I understand that Story is first. Then you look at Structure. Then Style. If I had known this earlier, I wouldn’t have stumbled around in the wilderness for so long. Now, I know to spend more time “writing about the writing” in the sense of discovering character, backstory, time, place, and setting before ever writing a scene. I think now that you don’t write a novel, you write scenes and in the scenes you find hooks that build into stories. I gave up thinking chapters when I discovered that the chapter is an arbitrary structure, just as a paragraph is an arbitrary structure in fiction. The basic unit of fiction is the scene. The basic unit of the scene is the sentence. Every sentence has to do double duty—reveal character and tell story. If I’d known all of that earlier…well, who knows?
Is there anything you would do differently? I’m the product of all my mistakes. Without them, I wouldn’t be who and what I am today. One thing I would avoid is rushing into print. Early success can make it harder to accept the huge gaps between successes later. I’ve also learned that often our ideas are way ahead of our technique so some things you write early in your career would be better written if you waited a while. My first short story came out in Carolina Quarterly. Okay, I thought, that was easy. It took me five years of hard work to get the next one.
Who, or what, if anything has influenced your writing? I’ve had three big influences in my writing life. Jack Moodey, a poet. Thom Gunn, a poet. Natalie Goldberg, a writer. All of these people in one way or another changed the way I write and think about writing. Natalie Goldberg gave me timed writing, what she calls writing practice—writing under the clock to put the internal editor to sleep. Thom Gunn taught me the discipline of the poetic line and the intense, compressed image. Jack Moodey taught me that every poem is an epic poem. He told me that the good poet finds the best line in a poem and then makes everything else just like it. All of this carries over into my fiction—timed writing as a discipline that forces me to finish what I start. Moodey’s epic thinking forces me to turn every sentence into a model that can be the model for every other sentence. Thom Gunn’s discipline of compression and image leads to the realization that stores are told with action and image.
Anything you would say to those just starting out in the craft? Write a lot before you try to publish. Take some writing classes. Study rhetoric. A useful book for this is Writing With Clarity and Style, by Robert Harris. Work only with writers who know more than you do. Beware of the phrase, “I really like your writing but…” Learn about timed writing as set forth in Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Don’t be afraid to fail, and don’t let failure eat you up. Every writer has boxes full of rejection notices, so don’t dwell on them. Don’t wallow in success. And above all, when you do get in print, don’t read your reviews. Hemingway said: “You’re only as good as your last book.” Bill Russell, the basketball legend said: “Money and success only make you a bigger what you were before.” Jack Remick says: “Discipline is your obligation to the gift.”
What are three words that describe you? Disciplined. Curious. Relentless.
What’s your favourite book or who is your favourite writer? Blood Meridian. Cormac McCarthy.
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Genre – Women’s Fiction
Rating – PG
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