The Write Prompts Gets a Face Lift

It has been four years since the Write Prompts Lens had a new look and almost three years since the sister blog had a theme lift. It seemed like it was about time.

At first I planned to get the woman who has done most of my headers to create one for the Write Prompts blog but she has since moved on to other projects. I put it on hold for a few weeks while I searched and debated on a theme then came across a twitter friend who put a new header up on her blog. I liked it so she put me in contact with the busy artist. We talked about a few ideas but we really could not flesh out a solid look so we parted ways.

I had this red typewriter in my graphics cash for some time for “future use” and one day just started playing with the banner. I ended up with a header that is very simple and straightforward but I really like it. The Write Prompts blog was never very flashy so the change is not incredibly drastic.

The theme I am using is Thematic Theme Framework and it is not like your typical pop in and go theme. The Thematic is used as what is called a “parent” theme for its guts and whistles; then I had to create a “child” theme which controls the finer details like the red titles and dashed lines. The purpose of this type of theme allows you to make changes to a theme safely without them disappearing every time the original theme gets an update. If it sounds convoluted that is because it is. It was a serious headache for this self-taught html/(minimal)css girl. There was definitely a high learning curve and I only made very basic changes in my child theme. I will probably continue to make more tweaks as the year progresses but for the most part I think it will be good for a few more years.

I wanted to use the same typewriter over on the lens so I chopped it and brought it over. The old man in the library was the original image and quite small by Squidoo standards these days. This lens has been getting longer and longer over the years. Squidoo used to have page breaks that helped with loading time but they did away with them last year so basically everything was on one very long page. I tried to tidy it up a bit but it is still pretty long.

Overall it has been more time consuming than I had planned but I am happy for the learning experience and to have it done.

Story in Literary Fiction

“Resources for Writers of Literary Fiction”

The Literary Fiction website at BellaOnline is solely for readers who enjoy literary fiction but writers may also gleam information (what is a writer who doesn’t read) from the site especially from the interview section. I don’t normally feature websites for writers because there is a “writing” section in BellaOnline’s career section (see related links below). And it is so rare to find a website with a focus of encouraging writers to write only literary fiction. Bill Cole emailed me recently to let me know about his website, Story in Literary Fiction.

The main categories of this website are essays, interviews, stories to read for pleasure, workshop advice and a study guide. Of all the categories I believe essays category is the most helpful to beginning writers and writers requiring a refresher. There are essays on story, character, momentum, narration, drama, motivation, credibility, point of view, and dialogue. The essays are short and sweet without a lot of fluff in between. The workshop category is also quite useful with articles on how to choose a workshop, working with literary agents and how to critique a manuscript.

An interesting feature of Story in Literary Fiction is the “study guide” which is designed to give literary fiction writers a better understanding of the website, how to use it to their advantage, the content it features and hopefully, in the end, improve the visitor’s writing.

Story in Literary Fiction feels like it is still growing. There are a limited number of interviews, stories for reading pleasure (can be read or listened to), and a few books for purchase. For those interested in writing Literary Fiction it is a good stepping stone along the way to improving writing skills.

Visit Story in Literary Fiction as a writing resource.

This piece was initially published in 4/21/2009 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Mary Shelley – In Brief

Mary Shelley is the British author behind the 1818 novel, Frankenstein (The Modern Prometheus), about a scientist with insane notions of building a man from leftover human body parts. It’s a novel written by a woman ahead of her time. It asks the same moral question we ask today when it comes to science and technology: “Just because it can be done, should it be done?” It also brings into the light our responsibility for such actions.

Buy at Art.com

Shelley was only eighteen at the time she started writing Frankenstein. It was her first novel and is considered a masterpiece, which is rare for any woman. She wrote Frankenstein during the French and Industrial Revolution when science and technology were coming into their own; creating a myth reflective of the time she grew up in but still containing many aspects relevant to today.

Mary was surrounded by death so it is not surprising she would write a book about creating life and losing it.

Her Parents

Mary Shelley was born in London in 1797. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a feminist pioneer and wrote one the first woman manifests. She died giving birth to Mary. Her father, William Godwin, was a novelist and founder of philosophical anarchism. When Mary was 3 or 4 her father married a woman named Claire who already had two children of her own. Mary never really developed a motherly bond with her.

Her Lover

After schooling Mary returned home to find Percy Shelley working with her father as a disciple. He was a great romantic poet and she fell in love with him easily despite the fact he was already married to another woman and had one child. Percy was into ‘free love’ and was often unfaithful. It was also rumored that he was a nudist, atheist and vegetarian. Of course, her relationship with Percy was not supported by her father; so she snuck off to be with him in Switzerland along with a bunch of his writing friends including Lord Byron who had his own scandalous behavior. Percy died in 1822 in a boating accident during a storm while they were living in Italy.

Her Son

After many ill attempts, Mary had one surviving child with Percy. Percy Florence grew into a respected man who married, worked as a writer and cared for his mother. Mary was devastated by Percy’s death was forever worried that her son would die a horrendous death like his father.

When Mary moved back to England in 1823. She had lost everything so she stayed with her father and his family. She continued to be a writer and publish her husband’s works to help support herself and see to Percy Florence’s education. She had three more successful novels, poems and short stories. She also wrote about feminist figures for encyclopedias. It was not until Percy’s grandfather died and her son became a Baron that she was able to live in resemblance of comfort.

Her Contribution

It is said that Mary Shelley never contributed to feminism like her mother had but I disagree. She is a perfect example that a woman can have a family and be an intelligent contributor to society. After her husband died Mary took care of her family by earning a living with further writing.

Mary understood science and technology and was able to create a world that everyone deemed possible and is still enjoyed decades after her death. She wrote what is considered one of the best novels of all time. A feat not many feminists (or not) can claim.

In 1851 Mary Shelley, the “creator of the modern myth of science” died in London at the age of 53 from a brain tumor, leaving behind a literary legacy she would never have fathomed in her short lifetime.

This piece was originally posted on 9/29/2007 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

More Reading Bookmarks

Since you loved the last set of bookmarks so much I created a couple more. These ones star Manny the Bookworm, a long time book lover.

Bookmarks make great simple gifts. They can be decorated with bits of sequin, ribbon, leather, colored paper or a multitude of other things both fresh or recycled. Get creative!

These days bookmarks are used for so much more than marking your page. In come circles they have become collectors items. There are even groups that spend their time exchanging bookmarks with other collectors from around the world.

Bookmarks can contain messages from advertising like business addresses or motto. Or they can offer inspirational quotes. Some just contain beautiful images from animals to nature to inanimate objects.

These two bookmarks are meant to be fun. Feel free to print them out, cut them up, laminate them, embellish them, and add them to your bookmark collection.

Manny-the-Bookworm-Bookmark-One Manny-the-Bookworm-Bookmark-Two

Maria Hyland on Carry Me Down

Readers and writers often wonder how a story or character is developed by an author. Not all writers write or create the same way. In a recent interview Maria Hyland took the opportunity to discuss the character development in her latest book Carry Me Down. Specifically, she was asked, How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? Where do your characters come from? Where do you draw the line?

Carry-Me-Down-Book-CoverMaria Hyland: It is impossible to answer the question, ‘Where do your characters come from?’ If I could answer this question, my job would be an easier one. Besides hard work, the day-to-day of slogging it out, there is, ultimately, a great and necessary mystery involved in the writing of fiction. And even when the writing process is not mysterious, it is almost impossible to describe. But I will endeavour, here, to tell you a little of the process of writing Carry Me Down.

John Egan, the main character in Carry Me Down, began as a man on the eve of his 40th birthday. He was on an aeroplane (I like aeroplanes) and he was terrified of flying. He gripped his seat and remembered the story of Batouti, a pilot who committed suicide by losing control of his 747 passenger aircraft at 38,000,000 feet; killing all on board (I am interested in aeroplane crashes).

John Egan was in an aeroplane because he was on his way to the BBC in London to record a live demonstration of his gift for lie detection (I am fascinated by lie detection).

Much later, I wrote a flash-back scene, and John Egan became the child; the perverse, strange, sad and sometimes mad character that he became. And so, I began with an idea and surrounded the idea with a few good things that interest me.

I posed a question: What would happen if somebody was, or believed he was, a human lie detector? I put my nervous character on an aeroplane and began to write, but it took me three years to come anywhere near a satisfactory answer. By the end of writing, the aeroplane was gone, John Egan was 12, and the Guinness Book of World Records had become a dominant feature.

I write about things that interest me, but I don’t write about myself, not directly; not in any true autobiographical sense. I write, instead, about things that concern me. And so, while not directly autobiographical, my obsessions, preoccupations, fears and fantasies are rampant in my fiction.

But the characters are neither me nor anybody I have known. I would never use somebody I know as fodder in fiction. I will never, and have never, used my family or my friends for fictional stuffing.

I am reluctant, even, to use stories that people tell me. I recently wanted to use a true story told by a friend. I wrote a long letter to that friend and asked for her permission to use it. She gave it.

My interview with Maria Hyland was originally published 10/16/2006 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Read M. J. Hyland – Author Interview.

M. J. Hyland – Author Interview

Even though her first short story was published when she was seventeen Maria Hyland didn’t follow the writing bug until after she went through the trouble of becoming a lawyer. Recently recognized on the Man Booker Prize for Fiction shortlist (Carry Me Down), this London born, Australian educated author of two novels, lives a rather simple life. When I asked her about an official website she explained she didn’t even own a car! She currently resides in Rome on a scholarship with plans to return to Manchester in February 2007. Gee, I wish my life was that simple. Please enjoy getting to know M. J. Hyland.

Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?

Maria-Hyland-AuthorMaria Hyland: I knew I would write from an early age. My first short-story was published in my final year of high-school and my first job was in journalism. I was a poor journalist. The facts made me sleepy. I preferred a world more like Kafka’s or Gogol’s; the only kind of headline I wanted to read, or write, was, ‘Man wakes to discover he is a cockroach’ or ‘Man finds his own nose in a hot, bread roll.’

Moe: What inspires you?

Maria Hyland: Many things inspire me, especially great films. Most recently I was inspired by the film, Darling, directed by John Schlesinger, starring two of the finest actors of all time: Dirk Bogarde and Julie Christie. Great films inspire me to write vividly and they remind me of the importance of character-specific detail.

Moe: Every writer has a method that works for them. Most of them vary like the wind while some seem to follow a pattern similar to other writers. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Maria Hyland: My writing routine is strict and rarely changes. I write for six hours a day, six days a week and, after I’ve written, I read, eat and, at night, I often watch a film. Before I sleep, I read and write some more. If my writing is going well, the novel and its characters are the first thing on my mind when I wake. I am boring.

Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

Maria Hyland: I begin my novels with an idea and a character. Once I have an idea and the coat-hanger on which to hang the character’s coat, I concoct a few organizing themes or fictional pre-occupations; motifs, recurring images and an underlying mood; a few vital things that will inform the fictional dream and the novel’s atmosphere. It took me three years each to write How the Light Gets In and Carry Me Down. I don’t go out much.

Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

Maria Hyland: I don’t plan heavily. I don’t map the book. I certainly don’t know how a book will end. I don’t want to know too much in advance. I want to be surprised, allow for the maximum number of sudden but logical shifts, and, in this important way, I hope the reader will be as surprised as I am. I am afraid of writing a predictable book.

Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?

Maria Hyland: I don’t research until the end. I write the book first. I make it all up first; tell the fictional story I want to tell. I don’t want the invention of a story to be encumbered by facts. I concoct a fictional world first and, much later, check-in with the boring world of facts. For Carry Me Down I called upon the help of my aunt Pauline in Dublin (for the Ballymun setting) and my cousin Anne McCarry in Wexford (for the Gorey setting). But this fact-checking and concern with historical and geographical accuracy didn’t occur until very late in the process; in the final six months.

Moe: Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?

Maria Hyland: I have never suffered from writer’s block. I don’t know what it is. I sometimes procrastinate, but within a few days of not writing, I feel murderous and sick.

Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?

Maria Hyland: I hope, above all else, that when somebody reads one of my books, that they might think I have told a good story well.

Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?

Maria Hyland: Three things I have learned? ONE: Never write with an audience in mind: thinking about an audience is likely to make your writing self-conscious and stiff. TWO: Never write in a hurry to get published. THREE: Never read bad fiction; it’s more contagious than the common cold.

Moe: How do you handle fan mail? What kinds of things do fans write to you about?

Maria Hyland: I rarely receive fan mail but I like it when I do and always send a hand-written note in reply.

Moe: What’s your latest book about? Where did you get the idea and how did you let the idea evolve?

Maria Hyland: Carry Me Down, my latest book, is about lies and lie detection; it’s also about fascism of thought, madness, the desire for fame at any cost and, if I say any more, I’ll give the ending away.

Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?

Maria Hyland: I like reading great books: serious, strange, dark, bent, mad, vivid and atmospheric books. I often like books about madness. I like books with a strong and unforgettable atmosphere. I could read Kafka every day and not read another author and I’d probably be quite content. Just me and the cockroach and a cup of milky tea.

Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Maria Hyland: When I’m not writing, I read, watch films, eat and listen to music. I also smoke, drink, walk and talk. I fantasize about meeting dead musicians.

Moe: New writers are always trying to gleam advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

Maria Hyland: Suggestions for new writers? Don’t write with an audience in mind. Don’t be in a hurry to get published. Don’t read bad fiction.

Carry-Me-Down-Book-CoverMoe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

Maria Hyland: If I wasn’t a writer I’d be a dead musician or a French film-maker.

Moe: What is your favourite word?

Maria Hyland: My favourite word is MERDE. Spoken in either French or Italian. In both cases, there’s a wonderful internal rhyme with the word, WORD.

My interview with Maria Hyland was originally published 10/16/2006 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Read Maria Hyland on Carry Me Down.

Janet Aylmer – Author Interview

Mr. Darcy, from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, continues to be an icon for many readers and writers but most only know him from the perspective of Elizabeth Bennet. Wouldn’t it be nice to know Mr. Darcy’s point-of-view? Janet Aylmer, a long time Jane Austen enthusiast didn’t stop at wondering. She penned Darcy’s Story in the dashing Fitzwilliam’s perspective following the same events from Pride & Prejudice. Janet, who has been writing for own pleasure for ten years, also wrote –In the Footsteps of Jane Austen; Through Bath to Widcombe and Lyncombe. It’s amazing she has time for anything with four children and a spouse to occupy her days in Bath, England. I hope you enjoy getting to know about this author’s writing life.

Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Were you a good writer as a child?

Darcys-Story-Book-CoverJanet Aylmer: I was thought at school to be good at English Language and English Literature, and have never found writing difficult. I have a law degree and a PhD, as well as two professional qualifications, so am very experienced in essay writing and assimilating large quantities of information. When I was working, I did a great deal of written work dealing with large amounts of detailed information and condensing that into concise and easy to follow reports.

Moe: What inspires you?

Janet Aylmer: Telling a story and/or explaining a subject competently that other people may need or want to know about.

Moe: Every writer has a method that works for them. Most of them vary like the wind while some seem to follow a pattern similar to other writers. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Janet Aylmer: Two or three concentrated hours a day are the best method for me. I skim what I have most recently written, before continuing with my task.

Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

Janet Aylmer: Three months would be a reasonable estimate. I do not revise a great deal.

Moe: When you have your idea and sit down to write is any thought given to the genre and type of readers you’ll have?

Janet Aylmer: Yes, it seems a courtesy to a potential audience/readership to avoid arrogance and make a book accessible and enjoyable.

Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

Janet Aylmer: I plan generally, but then let the story/theme develop from there.

Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book?

Janet Aylmer: I read thoroughly about people and places that are relevant, and keep careful notes where appropriate.

Moe: How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? Where do your characters come from? Where do you draw the line?

Janet Aylmer: I doubt that there are many writers whose work is not partly influenced by their own personality and interests. In the case of Darcy’s Story, it was a constraint not to change Jane Austen’s theme and outcome, but it would have been quite wrong to “compete” with her by putting different words into characters’ mouths for scenes which she had already described from the heroine’s point of view.

Moe: Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?

Janet Aylmer: No, not really. I suppose that is because for so many years I needed to write to “time deadlines” for my job, and therefore could not indulge the luxury of having writers’ block. Having said that, I have always sought to give myself some spare time at the end of a task, to give myself adequate time to reflect/review.

Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?

Janet Aylmer: An extra dimension on a subject that may already interest/intrigue them, and hopefully pleasure in having read the book.

Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?

Janet Aylmer: 1. Gratitude that so many people have enjoyed my books and value them – with readers from more than 40 countries around the world in the case of Darcy’s Story.
2. Not to worry too much that some people seem to want a different story/more sex/more length/less length etc. – everyone has different expectations and all are entitled to their opinions, good or bad.
3. Pleasure that something I enjoyed doing (writing the books) has continued to interest people – for more than 10 years (Darcy’s Story was first published in the UK in 1996).

Moe: How do you handle fan mail?

Janet Aylmer: I always write back personally to everyone who writes to me. The first “fan” letter that I ever received in 1996 was from an older lady from Sheffield in England, who wrote two full sides of paper, starting with the words “Darcy’s Story is an absolutely wonderful, thoughtful book; what an inspiration it was to write this story.” I also had a very interesting correspondence with a lady from Finland, who wrote the most wonderful English in “a Jane Austen style”, and yet could not get any of her own books published.

Moe: What’s your latest book about? Where did you get the idea and how did you let the idea evolve?

Janet Aylmer: My latest (factual) book was inspired by a walk that Jane Austen took with a friend in 1801 when she was (unwillingly) house hunting in Bath with her mother after her father retired. She passed through the valley where I live, and I decided that it would be interesting to write what she would have seen in Bath at that time, and what changes there have been since.

Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?

Janet Aylmer: I am very fond of Georgette Heyer’s novels, especially Frederica. I should like to emulate her by writing enjoyable novels with interesting characters and a touch of humour, as she did so often. I also enjoy history books, and books about how people can analyze their own thoughts and actions, and have a more enjoyable life as a result.

Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Janet Aylmer: Eat well in good restaurants, when I can afford it. Travel, especially in France. And enjoy the company of my family and friends.

Moe: New writers are always trying to gleam advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

Janet Aylmer: They must first of all choose – is the book to be one other people might want to read, or is it to be one they really want to write? Or can they write a book that combines these two very different aspects. There is no need to compromise your principles if you don’t want to do so. But writing is a solitary business, and I find a lot of self-discipline is needed. It is great to see one’s own book in print, and even better to know people enjoy reading it. So if you want to get your book into print, try to write something that others might want to read – test out your ideas on friends and family, and be prepared to make some modifications and changes if necessary.

Moe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

Janet Aylmer: A historian.

Moe: What is your favourite word?

Janet Aylmer: Curiosity.

My interview with Janet Aylmer was originally published 9/23/2006 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Test your knowledge of Jane Austen.

Amanda Stern – Author Interview

An assistant in the independent film industry, a professional comic, a television producer, an editor, and a curator highlight some of Amanda Stern’s background. Despite the varied career choices she has always fallen back on one constant, writing; having done so since she was eleven. Currently she’s a full-time writer, and looking for the next great experience. Her writing (fiction, non-fiction and poetry) has appeared in publications such as Swink, Venus Magazine, St. Ann’s Review and NY Today. The Long Haul is her first novel. She lives in the historic Fort Greene area of Brooklyn, New York where she’s working on her second novel, The Guthrie Test.

Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer?

Amanda-Stern-AuthorAmanda Stern: In some ways it was a process of elimination. I have been writing since I was a child. I was a playwright in high school and I wrote (bad) screenplays in college and then started writing poetry and short stories in my twenties, and yet, somehow I was always clamoring to have a different career. I wanted to be a filmmaker for a long time but I never made any films, I just wrote them. After a particularly difficult time in my life I found all I was doing was writing. I couldn’t seem to stop. I would stay up all night and write and I realized then, although it would be incredibly hard to survive, it was what I had to do.

Moe: What inspires you?

Amanda Stern: Other books, other authors. Really good conversations with friends. Art. Trying to understand the way other people see the world.

Moe: On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Amanda Stern: It depends and it also changes. I go through phases and right now I’m in a phase where I write at least three to four hours a day. When I’m at an artists’ colony (where I am writing this from) I can work as much as six or seven hours a day. A typical day is spent writing, reading and researching. I did have a long phase where I wasn’t working very hard at all, maybe an hour or so a day (and this was without having a full time job, so I really didn’t have an excuse). I find though, that when I go too long without writing, I get depressed.

Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

Amanda Stern: I don’t think it has to do with length of time rather than it does quality of work. If I feel ready for notes then I’m ready to show it to people. The work dictates how I write it. Sometimes I revise as I go, other times I plow through and revise later. It all depends on the style and voice of the work. Right now I’m plowing through and will revise later.

Moe: When you have your idea and sit down to write is any thought given to the genre and type of readers you’ll have?

Amanda Stern: No, none at all. I do not think about audience, ever. As soon as I think about anything other than the actual work I become very self-conscious and it takes me a long time to shed the feeling. I can’t write if I’m self-conscious. I pretty much can’t do anything well if I’m self-conscious.

Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

Amanda Stern: I write freely. I have tried, actually, to plan in advance and it just doesn’t work very well for me. I find if I know what’s going to happen, there’s nothing for me to discover and that’s the very reason I write. Martha Graham said “If I knew what it meant, I wouldn’t have danced it.” And I feel very much the same way.

Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?

Amanda Stern: If I need to do any research at all I do it online for basic things, and the library for more detailed information. I haven’t had to go visit the places I write about because I normally write about people inhabiting places I’ve already been.

Moe: How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters?

Amanda Stern: Some of my characters come from the same place imagination comes from and other characters are just me. Most of my characters are aspects of me, but the people I know or have known are definitely manifested in my work. I’m not quite sure where the line is drawn. I feel a person is free to write about their experiences, about anything that has affected them deeply (or conversely, hasn’t affected them at all). It can get tricky though to write about your own experiences without implicating those who might have shared it with you. The key is, I think, to make certain it’s your story you’re telling and not theirs.

Moe: Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?

Amanda Stern: I don’t really believe in writer’s block. When I can’t write it’s because at the root of it, I just don’t want to. On those days, when I feel I can’t, I have to force myself, as if it’s exercise, because essentially, that’s what it is. Sometimes I’ll read which always gets me enthusiastic or other days I’ll use some time to think or talk things through with a friend. It’s really just a motor and you need to get it started in whatever way you can. Some days though, it’s really okay to just not write.

Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?

Amanda Stern: I hope they feel and have an experience. I could never say what it is I’d want them to feel, since reading is so personal and what you take from books can be so subjective, but ultimately, I hope I was successful in transferring my felt experiences and the way I see the world to the words I chose to describe them.

Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?

Amanda Stern: In my case, it was very helpful and important for me to be involved in the process of publication and promotion. I also learned how to talk about my book without devolving into a monologue comprised of “I don’t knows.” Also, in order to really champion my book, it was helpful for me to see my novel in the third person and not in the first.

Moe: What is your current release about? Where did you get the idea and how did you let the idea evolve?

Amanda Stern: The Long Haul is about an alcoholic, his co-dependent girlfriend and all the consciously bad decisions they make. It’s based on an unhealthy relationship I had that I stayed in far too long (years too long). In that sense it’s an autobiographical novel, yet plot-wise, it’s completely fictional. I was, and still am, interested in the insidiousness of addiction and why people stay in relationships long after they should leave; why I stayed. Letting it evolve was just a matter of listening to what I wanted to say, what I had to say and then dropping the characters into situations that illustrated their inevitable corrosion. There were times I couldn’t stop writing and I would stay up all night getting everything out until the sun came up, the diner opened, and I could get my coffee. I started the book a year or so after the break-up and it took me nine months to write – an entire gestation period.

Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?

Amanda Stern: Fiction mainly. I’m pretty influenced by style. I’m in the middle of a few books right now. I am nearly done with Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and I’ve been reading some Katherine Anne Porter. I also have The One Star Jew by David Evanier, which I’ve begun and think is excellent. And I just finished reading a friend’s book, Ticknor, by Sheila Heti.

Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Amanda Stern: I like having good conversations. I have great conversations with my friends and my roommate. I go to dinners or drinks with people, see films. I’m in quite a heavy reading phase, so I’ve been reading a lot now. And quite often, I just make things. I like to take apart clothes and reconstruct them or make new things out of old things. I recycle things I don’t want to throw out into paintings or clothing. I also play guitar in a non-existent band.

Moe: New writers are always trying to gleam advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

Amanda Stern: Read. Write. Rewrite. Rewrite again. And remember, not everyone is going to like your work, so don’t get dissuaded by rejections. Keep sending your work out.

The-Long-Haul-Book-CoverMoe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

Amanda Stern: Based on where I was headed, I’d probably be working in film, but if this is based merely on fantasy, then I’d like to be a visual artist.

Moe: What is your favourite word?

Amanda Stern: Catastrophist

Originally published at 8/16/2006 at Literary Fiction, Bellaonline.

Visit Amanda Stern at her official website.

Tess Fragoulis – Author Interview

Writing and teaching seem to go hand in hand for many writers. This Montreal based writer/teacher has written her whole life, professionally since 1993 and has three books published (two she wrote and one she’s edited). Stories to Hide from Your Mother (what a great title) is a collection of dark tantalizing short stories “that tell ugly and uncomfortable truths about love, sex, death and cannibalism with a wry smile.” One of the stories, Some Distinguishing Mark, was adapted by the highly successful TV series Bliss. Tess Fragoulis second book Ariadne’s Dream was nominated for the 2003 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. And The Goodtime Girl will soon be in our grasp. Until then, please savour the voice of Tess Fragoulis.

Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you? When did you ‘know’ you were a writer? Were you a good writer as a child? Teenager? Etc.

Tess Fragoulis: I began writing in first grade, without reason or encouragement, simply because I already loved books and stories. I don’t know that I was a good writer as a child, nor would I want to put that kind of judgement onto something so pure and spontaneous, simply something I did to pass the time. If anything, it just proves writing was a natural form of expression for me. I don’t remember drawing or colouring so much, but I memorized stories, nursery rhymes, and eventually, I suppose, tried it on my own. Does that mean the profession chose me? Not necessarily. Just that I always had an interest. It was perhaps always in me. I spent the first half of my life not paying attention to it. It wasn’t until my early twenties it occurred to me I might like to try to write in a more disciplined manner, with a goal. Before that there was no goal, and no real ego about the activity. If anything helped me decide to be a writer, it was lack of real, ongoing interest in anything else (though I am known for being interested in things for brief, intense, periods). And a certain penchant for pleasing myself.

Moe: What inspires you?

Tess Fragoulis: Music, films, a strong image, pervasive memories, sometimes my dreams. Sometimes one small detail can nag at me for a long time, or a series of ideas will brew for a while until eventually they have to be put somewhere if only to leave me alone.

Moe: Every writer has a method that works for them. Most of them vary like the wind while some seem to follow a pattern similar to other writers. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Tess Fragoulis: When I am on a long project, like a novel, I need to work at least 3 hours a day on it or I lose the momentum, the thread, and the courage. I am an afternoon writer, so I like to be at my desk by 1pm. It may seem quite compact and flexible as a schedule, but I need to know I have the whole day free in order to have the energy for those three hours. It requires intense focus. The rest of the day I am either preparing for it, or recovering from it. I am often envious of the male writers who claimed to work 9 hours a day. I figure that was because their wives or mistresses were taking care of all the mundane details of life. Or perhaps they were just moving commas around all day. 3 hours produces a lot of good work. After that, my brain is tired.

Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

Tess Fragoulis: Each book is different, but my novels have taken between 4-6 years. I’m not sure if it makes me fast of slow. These have been big works, 300-400 pages, so the labour of getting all those words, all the story in order is not to be underestimated. Ariadne’s Dream was written from beginning to end, and then revised. The Goodtime Girl was written in segments, not necessarily in order, and I did stop to revise along the way, to sharpen the language. But I think it is better to have the whole work and then to see what it needs, otherwise you are already eliminating paths you might have usefully followed. At a certain stage, pretty far in, I will ask someone to have a look at the work. Usually because I have stared at it so long I no longer know what sort of impact it will have on someone reading it for the first time.

Moe: When you have your idea and sit down to write is any thought given to the genre and type of readers you’ll have?

Tess Fragoulis: I write literary fiction, so the easy answer is I write for an audience that likes literary fiction–like me. Actually, I am my own audience for the most part. Writing stories gives me the opportunity to both tell and read the story no one else is providing for me. My thought is that maybe there is someone else out there like me who will also like it.

Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

Tess Fragoulis: I have done both, but I am more into letting the story develop as it progresses. I never know what the ending is, for instance, until I get close to writing the end. It keeps it interesting for me, surprising. With the historical novel I’ve been working on for the past few years, however, it was important to have some sort of plan because there were so many other variables involved than just characters and my imagination. I needed to rein the story in, and to give myself some sort of map to follow–though I still did not know the end until I got there.

Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?

Tess Fragoulis: With my first book, there was no research. With my second, I was relying very much on memories of places I’d been, but somewhere along the way I returned to the scene of the crime, so to speak, to pick up more fine details. I also had to do some research into mythology, since it was central to the story. My third book required a few years of research because I was entering historical territory. And I did feel the need to go to the places my characters would have gone to, even though these places were completely different some 85 years later. It did not seem possible to just rely on other people’s accounts. I had to walk the walk.

Moe: How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? Where do your characters come from? Where do you draw the line?

Tess Fragoulis: Because it is my brain creating the narrative, the world of my characters, their experiences and interrelations, very much of me, my ideas, my beliefs and fetishes end up in my writing. This is especially true in my first two books, which have some autobiographical elements as starting points. But even in my historical novel, so much of my point of view has gone into the various characters, it would be wrong to say I wasn’t present in them as well. As for where my characters come from, life most definitely, but from a curiosity about certain types of people who I’ve never met as well. In the historical piece, I needed to figure out what it would be like to be a woman of a certain class in 1920s Greece singing for gangsters to survive. As for a line, there is none. Because I am writing fiction, even a real person goes through a transformation and becomes someone else on the page.

Moe: Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?

Tess Fragoulis: I have suffered from writer’s block, and I’ve come to see it as a natural part of the whole process of writing. When in a period of blockage, I try to either be patient and let it pass (freaking out about it only makes it worse), or participate in some other creative activity (improv exercises have worked in the past, for instance), or do some freewriting just to keep pen to paper until a better, more focused moment comes.

Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?

Tess Fragoulis: I hope they are swept away and delighted, disturbed and moved. I was told my first two books are prescribed by bibliotherapists, so perhaps there is some sort of recognition that helps a reader with her own issues. I really hope to take them to places they have not been, and to have them experience my characters, and subsequently their own emotions deeply. I am not a writer for politeness or half-measures. If you read me you must be willing to go all the way. I hope that’s what happens.

Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?

Tess Fragoulis: I have learned that books have their own path and their own timing, which I have no control over. They sometimes end up in the right places, sometimes make a splash at the beginning, and sometimes are “discovered” 5 years later. They have a better expiry date than milk.

I have learned, unfortunately, it is not necessarily quality or originality that gets the attention. There are many other factors at work in publishing decisions, and there are indeed flavours of the month.

I have also learned that the writing process, the secret relationship an author has with the book before it goes public, is far more satisfying than the reception of the finished product–no matter what the reception is. A published book is already the past for a writer.

Moe: How do you handle fan mail? What kinds of things do fans write to you about?

Tess Fragoulis: Well, I haven’t received a lot of fan mail, to tell the truth. A few emails now and then, praising whatever it is they have related to the most. Sometimes they ask favours of me or advice on their writing. I did have one correspondent who was in jail, who wanted a pen pal to tell his stories to. I am more likely to meet my readers at readings. I think correspondence is falling out of fashion. I don’t remember the last time I wrote a letter to one of my favourite authors, for instance.

Moe: What’s your latest book about? Where did you get the idea and how did you let the idea evolve?

Tess Fragoulis: My latest book is about Music, Drugs, and War. It is the historical novel I keep mentioning, and it is the story of a young woman who loses everything because of war, even her homeland, and must reinvent herself on the mean streets of another city.

Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?

Tess Fragoulis:I am a big fan of magic realism. I like lyrical prose. And I like writers who do not pull their punches. I have also become quite a fan of non-fiction these days. Jenny Diski is currently one of my favourite authors.

Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Tess Fragoulis: I love music, dancing, socializing, and shopping for vintage clothing. I obviously read a great deal, and I walk a lot with my dog. I’m a big talker, and I like to listen to other people’s stories. Sometimes I like to lounge around and do absolutely nothing but watch a movie or chat on the phone.

Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

Tess Fragoulis: Be your own toughest critic. Obsessively read the authors you love. Learn to be patient because this is a very slow business. Keep at it, daily if possible. Don’t send out anything you are not absolutely happy with.

Moe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

Tess Fragoulis: I always thought I would be a psychologist, and took some steps towards that in the past. I might also involve myself in the music industry.

Moe: What is your favourite word?

Tess Fragoulis: Tyrannosaurus Rex–because I like the rhythm. My least favourite is poignant.

Originally published 3/14/2006 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Visit Tess Fragoulis’s official website.

Laura Elise Taylor – Author Interview

Creative talent usually comes with more than one outlet. In the case of Laura Elise Taylor, she divides her time between writing in the winter and photography during the “wedding season”. This Canadian author slash photographer was born in Port Credit, Ontario: Mississauga’s Village on the Lake. Being twenty minutes West of Toronto, a well known creative hub for Canadians, it’s no wonder she hasn’t settled on just one outlet. Laura earned a M.A. from the University of Alberta and currently lives in Guelph, Ontario. Although she has had a number of photo shows, A Taste for Paprika is her first published book. I hope you enjoy getting to know this creative adventure seeker.

Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?

Laura-TaylorLaura Elise Taylor: After my master’s degree (in English Lit and Creative Writing), I went off and became a photographer. I made a conscious decision to not write for a living; I was afraid that the addition of the money element would ruin my most precious creative outlet. I quickly discovered that when writing is not a part of my work life, I don’t do it very much…so here I am, a writer after all.

Moe: When did you ‘know’ you were a writer?

Laura Elise Taylor: When someone paid me for something I’d written. I call myself a writer simply because I make half of my living by stringing words together; writing is something I do, rather than something I am. I shy away from the more mystical, glamorous interpretations of the designation. Maybe some day I’ll believe that they apply to me.

Moe: Were you a good writer as a child? Teenager? Etc.

Laura Elise Taylor: As are most children, I was completely unselfconscious in my writing. Even though a lot of it is endearingly silly and decidedly precocious, it’s inspiring to re-read my very old journals and see how free I was with ideas and words.

Moe: What inspires you?

Laura Elise Taylor: Stories. The complexity and quirkiness of human beings. People who have the guts and confidence to know their dreams and follow them.

Moe: Every writer has a method that works for them. Most of them vary like the wind while some seem to follow a pattern similar to other writers. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Laura Elise Taylor: My ideal writing day begins with a half-hour meditation followed by a bit of journaling. This automatic writing warms me up and lets me clear my brain of busy-life clutter. I write until lunch time, after which my brain turns to mush, so I run errands, do correspondence, etc. for the afternoon. Amazing how the ideas develop during the non-writing hours, especially during exercise or house cleaning. My favourite writing hours are from 9pm to midnight. The still, dark, undisturbed night opens my concentration and imagination.

Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

Laura Elise Taylor: It depends on the project. The seeds for my first book were planted in a creative writing class in high school. I completed the book during my master’s year, six years later. However, the text as it now stands was completed in a calendar year, and the chapters were work-shopped as I wrote them. I’ve just started working on a novel, the idea of which again has come from life. At the rate I’m going, it should be done in six months.

Moe: When you have your idea and sit down to write is any thought given to the genre and type of readers you’ll have?

Laura Elise Taylor: Absolutely. All art is all about communication. If I didn’t consider the readers, I would be writing into a void. As much as I need to write for personal processing, what I write for publication I write to the readers in the hope that through the stories we connect.

Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

Laura Elise Taylor: I’m a structure kind of gal. Once I have the story (and that’s the most difficult, most excruciating phase, hands down), I plan how that story will unfold. No details, just general sections. In the writing of those scenes or sections, the overall structure often changes, and that’s exciting. But to jump in without a plan? Couldn’t do it.

Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?

Laura Elise Taylor: Much of my writing comes from personal experience. When I need to research something, I have to set up boundaries, because I often get sucked in by the unexpected things I am learning and look up from the computer six hours later completely disoriented and unsure of what I originally needed. I wouldn’t want to write about a place I hadn’t been to. Besides, choosing a far off place is a great excuse to travel.

Moe: How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? Where do your characters come from? Where do you draw the line?

Laura Elise Taylor: My first book was creative non-fiction, a family memoir that reads like a novel. What can I say? The people around me are wonderful characters, more complex and fascinating than any I could conjure up. That being said, my family would kill me if I wrote about them directly again. Fictionalizing the people and events of my life does allow for the themes to broaden, and to become relevant to more of our lives (that’s the plan, anyway).

Moe: Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?

Laura Elise Taylor: I’m starting to recognize the difference between writer’s block, procrastination, and the natural period of distillation before the writing can begin. For me, writer’s block is just another word for insecurity. Once I have faith in my story, any lulls in the process are either procrastination or a necessary pause.

Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?

Laura Elise Taylor: I hope they find themselves nodding in recognition. I hope they connect with the characters and their experiences in the world. It would be nice if something in the book were useful in casting new light on something in their lives.

Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?

Laura Elise Taylor: Never, ever sign a contract without legal advice. Don’t send your manuscript to the smallest press first, send it to the biggest; you never know what might happen. Talk to as many writers as you can to find out how they are making the business of writing work; have no illusions of wealth-by-the-pen.

Moe: How do you handle fan mail? What kinds of things do fans write to you about?

Laura Elise Taylor: I’m thrilled by each and every email, and respond to them all. Most readers share personal stories about their own grandmothers, their own family history, and thank me for telling a story that needed to be told.

Moe: What’s your latest book about? Where did you get the idea and how did you let the idea evolve?

Laura Elise Taylor: A Taste for Paprika is the story of my Austrian-Hungarian Oma and her experiences before and during the Second World War. She tells those stories—sometimes funny, sometimes sad, often terrifying–to me as we cook and bake the foods of her homeland. The book is also the story of my struggle to connect with my mother, who never speaks of her experiences of immigration to Canada as a teenager and the tragedies that followed, tragedies that shaped all of our lives.

The book I am currently working on chronicles the funny and not-so-funny experiences of a “third wheel,” a woman whose partner is going through a long, drawn-out divorce.

Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?

Laura Elise Taylor: My shelves appear to be full of fairly recent Canadian fiction, books by South Asian writers like Gita Mehta, a whole range of stuff. I’m currently laughing and crying my way through Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris.

Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Laura Elise Taylor: Read, go salsa dancing, get away on canoe and kayak trips into our gorgeous, renewing wilderness, ride my horse, travel whenever I can…

Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

Laura Elise Taylor: Join a supportive writer’s group or workshop. Be kind to yourself. Try to let go of the need to write something amazing and profound; whatever you need to write is what you should focus on, not what you think you should write. Write something every day.

Moe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

Laura Elise Taylor: A biologist, an Outward Bound leader, a musician, a therapist, rich.

Moe: What is your favourite word?

Laura Elise Taylor: Rambunctious. My partner just taught the word to his two-year-old nephew who ran around the house yelling it for the rest of the day.

Originally published 9/15/2005 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Visit Laura Elise Taylor’s official website.