If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make?
Nicola Griffih and P. Djèlí Clark. We could talk about using history in our writing, and the stories we’ve found while doing research for our work. I think I’d find some kind of interesting menu or recipes from historical sources to try--maybe using The Historical Cooking Project (http://www.historicalcookingproject.com/).
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?
Losing files or ideas. Lots of backups and lots of making notes as I go through the day. I keep a notebook on my nightstand for those late-night or dream-source ideas, of which I have a fair number. I think I’m often working out ideas in my subconscious as I sleep.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character?
I’ve been going through my library trying to come up with a good answer to this, but...plenty of characters and authors I love, but none I could say I had a crush on. I would, though, happily spend time with the Rabbi’s Cat from the books of the same name, or the Disreputable Dog from Garth NIx’s Old Kingdom series.
What books are on your nightstand?
I always have a bunch of to-read books on my Kindle because I review for NetGalley. Recent favorites have included Binnie Kirshenbaum’s Rabbits for Food; Michael Zapata’s The Lost Book of Adana Moreau; Orlando Ortega-Medina’s The Death of Baseball; and Charlotte Nicole Davis’s The Good Luck Girls. I read widely in terms of genre.
Favorite punctuation mark? Why?
I love the semi-colon; it lets me join together all sorts of things and create clarity at the same time.
What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did?
I was That Student in school, who not only read everything assigned but often read different editions or translations and critical commentary so I could be a plague and/or delight to my teachers, depending on the teacher.
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgements?
If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write?
Just write. It doesn’t have to be good or polished or pretty, but in order to get there you have to commit some time--even tiny amounts will do--and write. I used to call this the Put Ass in Chair (PAIC) method of writing, but I’m looking for more elegant phrasing. See? It’s a continual process. ;)
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
I enjoy writing, not just having written. On good days, when my hands are cooperative or the dictation software is working well, it energizes me to put the right words on the page.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Not reading enough because of the fear of imitating other writers. We learn through imitation and thinking about what other writers do; reading is essential for writing.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Nothing, really: I always have projects to work on and sometimes moving from scholarly work to creative work or vice versa let s my brain work on one thing in the background while I do another more consciously.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
What is that? No. I’m always reading.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
This is a really interesting question, and there is an easy answer in that a lot of writing is the craft of passing--as an expert, as a person of a different race or gender or sexuality or religion, as someone writing about lived experience. But there is a more complex answer if you read this question as one that is asking about autism and the fact that autism is framed (wrongly) as a lack or deficit of emotional capability compared to neurotypical people. As an autistic writer, I think I engage with language in ways that neurotypical writers don’t, but I don’t lack an understanding emotion or what society deems appropriate emotional responses to situations; rather, I simply write about emotion or from a point of emotion differently.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
Elizabeth Keenan (Rebel Girls) has offered me good advice about the writing world, and making the jump from scholarly writing to fiction, and has been a great role model for how things are done. Michelle Lee has also offered me insight into balancing scholarly work and fiction.
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?
My work will always be interconnected--as the sole author, how can it not? I think it would be very difficult for a writer to create such disparate works that they would not have any connections at all. From the perspective of creating deliberate connections, I think that the themes and issues that concern me and figure in my writing are consistent, and I’d certainly like readers to read my work with the idea of connectedness in mind, but I’m not developing writing projects that are connected to the point that readers can’t understand later books or pieces without having read earlier ones.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
My first book was scholarly. From going through the publishing process with it I learned about being very clear about audiences and approaches, creating a framework and explaining it (if necessary) at the beginning, and reifying that structure throughout without being tedious. I’ve also worked in publishing and had been a developmental editor before I began publishing my own work, both scholarly and creative, and that helped me create processes of working through difficult or complex text and ideas.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Possibly my first typewriter, an Underwood No. 5 manual, which I took to boarding school at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. When I was very young, I could never write as quickly as I thought, and often became frustrated by having trouble getting my words down fast enough. The manual typewriter--which cost $10--gave me the ability to write much more quickly than I could with handwriting, allowing me to write more fluidly. More recently, dictation software has been a good investment.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
Kate Atkinson. I just wasn’t a fan until I read her non-Jackson Brodie novels and was utterly transfixed. I went back and have been enjoying the Brodie books much more.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
I remember the sweetness of learning to read and, as a child, using that to gain knowledge no one else among my friends or family had, and that was power.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Cassandra Clarke’s Our Lady of the Ice is a stellar novel that asks essential questions about humanity, family, and loyalty in a beautifully developed and fascinating alternate Earth. Megan Campisi’s Sin Eater goes beyond creating an altered early modern period that loosely mirrors our own and is a thriller that is also an examination of women’s labor and relationships. I also want there to be more love for Michael Zapata’s The Lost Book of Adana Moreau, a gorgeous celebration of Latinx SFF writers and traditions.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
My spouse says my daemon (a la Philip Pullman) is a raven: curious, determined, attracted to shiny things--meaning always finding new things to be interested in--and always collecting new information and ideas.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
Friendship, good music, pride.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I two and a half chapters of a novel that I doubt I’ll ever finish. I might be able to use sections of it in future project, though.
What does literary success look like to you?
Does my work move the reader? Does it give them reason to laugh or cry or think or relate? If it does, that’s success. When I’m writing lyrics or libretti, success is when a performer tells me that they enjoyed singing my words, that the words I chose were good ones for the scene or emotion, and I think it’s similar for Protectress and my other work as well--I chose good words.
What’s the best way to market your books?
I’m still learning about this! Digital and print promotions to indie bookstores, co-ops, feminist bookstores, women-owned bookstore, and book clubs; to local libraries and poetry and fiction organizations, like Lone Star Literary Life; ads/sponsorship on podcasts involved with books, poetry, mythology, and so on; Goodreads giveaways, maybe.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Gender isn’t binary, but a spectrum. I try to avoid gender essentialism and stereotyped concepts of gender. It can be painful and enraging, though, to write about the power of toxic masculinity and to consider how characters infected with it might think and act.
What did you edit out of this book?
A song about Athena and Pallas written in the style of Lucinda Williams and sung by Aphrodite. It was fun to write and I could hear it as a nice ballad, but ultimately it wasn’t necessary for the story or character development/explication.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
This is hard, because so many of the careers I’d be drawn to require writing in some way. But if I really couldn’t write, I think I’d be an interpreter. I’d learn lots of languages and get to study a wide variety of topics so that I could serve as an interpreter in fields that interested me.
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