If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make?
I would love to have Margaret Atwood over for dinner. Ina Garten has this recipe for a mushroom risotto that is so, so layered and beautiful. It’s hearty and filling, and it’s impossible to have one serving. I would serve it with a roasted chicken seasoned with herbs de provence and lemon and a side of salad dressed simply with some Italian spices, a “good” olive oil (to quote Ina) and a splash of balsamic vinegar. I’d definitely make a dessert. I’d my aunt’s cheesecake, which is light and fluffy and the most temperamental recipe, but so worth the effort.
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?
The thing that scares me most is probably that what I’m writing isn’t good. I am the worst about self-editing as I go, and I have to force myself to not self-edit. One of the ways I do this is by writing in one-hour increments. I only write new material and stop mid-sentence. When I return from a break, I allow myself a few minutes to skim what I’ve written to get back into the zone. I don’t know if this really helps with my fears, but it does help me get the writing done. As far as combating my fears, I have to remember that how my work is received is out of my hands, and being a control freak makes that mindset difficult, but it’s the only way to stay sane.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character?
I have two literary crushes. One I’m not embarrassed about and one I find completely shameful. First, I love Mr. Darcy. I know it’s cliche to say that Mr. Darcy is my crush, but friends, he is. Elizabeth is his perfect match and the way they spout off at each other is incredible. My other, embarrassing crush, is Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights. He’s a terrible person, but his obsession with Catherine is just insane. He takes love to another level--an unhealthy one. I always joke with my students that if Heathcliff came knocking on the classroom door to take me away they’d have to text my husband to tell them what happened to me. I usually get a healthy dose of teenage eye rolls.
What books are on your nightstand?
Currently, I have several on my nightstand: Brave New World, Station Eleven, Homegoing, and The Power.
Favorite punctuation mark? Why?
I love the semi-colon. I was once told by a professor I deeply admire that I should never use the semi-colon in my writing because I wasn’t using it correctly, so I made it my mission to get it right. I guess now the semi-colon is my favorite out of spite. I’m petty, y’all.
What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did?
The Great Gatsby. I just taught it last semester for the first time in a long while. Good grief, it’s so good.
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgments?
The mug that houses my Earl Grey or coffee. It’s a Mary Poppins mug and the handle is the shape of her bird umbrella. It’s fantastic and makes me happy.
If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write?
The world needs your story.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It honestly depends on what I’m working on. I find fiction to be energizing unless I’m working on a hyper-emotional scene. There were a few scenes in With All My Love, I Wait that really took it out of me. When I write nonfiction, especially when I write about my mother, I find my energy is sucked right out of me. My husband has found me sobbing on several occasions.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
All the self-editing, and all the self-doubt. I’m sure established writers experience self-doubt and find themselves self-editing early on in drafts, I think a more seasoned writer has the ability to snap out of it a little more easily.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Procrastination. I am so bad about it. I can find any excuse to not write. It’s terrible.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
YES! When I finished graduate school at Florida Atlantic University, I was really burned out. I went straight from my bachelor’s to my masters program, was teaching full time, planning a wedding, and my mom sick with cancer. After learning so much about writing, I found it a lot harder to get into a book.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
What a great question. I don’t know if feeling emotions strongly is the thing that makes a writer a writer. I think it probably has more to do with identifying a character or perspective and being able to play with language. So, I guess, my quick answer is yes.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
Courtney Watson is my best friend (I hope folks read this the way Claire of Clueless would say it). She is a supremely talented fiction and nonfiction writer. She is also a professor of writing, and she makes me a better writer by being a cheerleader, but also asking me questions about what I send her that helps me pinpoint where I need to tighten up my prose or rethink a character’s choice. She is the best, and I love her forever. Victoria Fedden is also a very close friend of mine. She is the author of a beautiful memoir titled This is Not My Beautiful Life. She is also incredibly talented. Victoria helps me think about my characters and language. I will say, both Courtney and Victoria, who I met in grad school, always have the best book recommendations, and the three of us share a deep passion for good food, which informs all of our writing. We also love the same TV shows which we discuss at length. They both make me better by giving me the necessary intellectual stimulation I need to grow.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I definitely want each of my projects to stand on their own.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
The biggest change has definitely been with my confidence. I am so bad about self-editing and hating everything I write, but now that my novel is going to be out there in the universe and on bookshelves, I have to wonder if maybe my writing isn’t so bad.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
I think my $55 a year subscription to Duotrope has been a great investment.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
I think Joseph Conrad. I always tell my students about how I wrote a parody of Heart of Darkness when I was in high school because I hated the novel so much. Then I had to read it again in undergrad and again as a first-year high school teacher to prepare lessons for my IB seniors. Rereading it, and subsequently reading again almost every year for the last decade has helped me learn to love Conrad. I’ve read his other novels and especially enjoyed The Secret Agent in recent years. It did take teaching him to some bright, young teenagers for me to realize he’s pretty great.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
I didn’t speak English until I was about 3 or 4. My parents spoke to me in Italian. We also lived in Montreal, where most speak French--my father was a high school French teacher forty years. On Sundays, when my family would get together for Sunday lunch after mass, we would all be switching languages to best express our thoughts. I remember being about 8 or 9, after my family moved to Florida, and realizing how much weight words had because I would often find myself struggling to verbalize my thoughts in English. Feeling paralyzed and unable to communicate really drove that message home.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I don’t know if it’s “under-appreciated” because it’s fairly new, but I really, really loved The Power by Naomi Alderman. I enjoyed it so much and loved how beautifully done it was that I’m teaching it this year.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
I’d probably be super-cliche and pick an old Corona typewriter as a mascot or maybe a fountain pen.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
I mostly think a deep sense of gratitude.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Currently, I have about four half-finished books. What a hot mess…
What does literary success look like to you?
What’s the best way to market your books?
I think social media. Having a following on Twitter and Instagram is super-helpful. And while followers help, it’s the interactions with people on social media that make people want to buy your book.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I can’t quite pin-point what is the most difficult thing.