If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make?
I love so many authors it’s hard to narrow it down to one. I’d host a series of dinners, and the first invitee would be Rohinton Mistry, who wrote A Fine Balance, one of my favorite books. I’d serve whatever he prefers. I’d also love to dine with Naguib Mahfouz, author of Midaq Alley, another book I love because of his facility with the omniscient narrator and his ability to illustrate the messiness and unexpectedness of life inherent in the arc of the lives of his characters. I’d serve him stuffed grape leaves and pilaf. Alice Munro (love all her work), Joyce Carol Oates, and Frank Conroy whose book Body and Soul is among my favorites and Andre Dubus III, (loved his book, House of Sand and Fog) would make interesting dinner guests. I’d have to host a never-ending salon to break bread with all the writers I admire. Oh--and Philip Pullman! I’d love to have dinner with him and discuss his Dark Materials double trilogies. He is a children’s book author but his books work on many levels that speak to adults too.
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?
The what-comes-next question. It’s a matter of knowing the character intimately because each one reacts differently to the same set of circumstances, but getting to that point of intimacy with character can be scary. I always start by reading the beginning of the chapter or section that i’m working on and stop the writing day with an unfinished sentence so I have an idea of what comes next. I also do rough outlines. I do writing exercises when my mind is totally blank or blocked. I also write from a different perspective other than the one I’m focused on--to reveal other information about characters or other information that the narrator may not know. Not being disciplined enough is scary but keeping disciplined is a way to combat fears.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character?
For a long time, I was crushing on Michael Ondaatje because I loved the sapper in The English Patient. I’ve also long loved the stories Issac Bashevis Singer, for his short stories, which I first discovered in The New Yorker. I admire his boldness. Michael Chabon is another literary crush--I’ve read all of his books, beginning with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
What books are on your nightstand?
Little Axe, by Lauren Francis Sharma
The Death of Bees, by Lisa O’Donnell
Half of the Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead
What I Can’t Bear Losing, by Gerald Stern
Pushcart Prize collections for 2019 and 2018
All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Boerr
The Cost of Living, by Deborah Levy
The Black Book, by Orhan Pamuk
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, by Daniyal Mueenuddin
Favorite punctuation mark? Why?
The semi-colon because it’s an elegant way to connect ideas.
What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did?
The all-girls Catholic school I attended distributed summer reading lists and required book reports at the beginning of the fall semester. I do remember reading books NOT on the list, such as DH Lawrence’s scandalous Lady Chatterly’s Lover, the Women’s Room, by Marilyn French; and all the science fiction books I could pinch off my older brother’s bookshelves.
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgements?
My laptop. It’s a workhorse. I appreciate its steadfastness and its sturdiness.
If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write?
“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” – William Wadsworth
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Energize me. When I’m always energized when I’m writing and it’s flowing.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Not reading enough. Many aspiring writers these days don’t seem to like reading books or know the greats in the cannon.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Not filling the well enough, not getting refreshed and renewed with new ideas from other arts like theater, music, visual arts, and string arts.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Yes when I’m overtired. I often do craft exercise or tackle a character from a different perspective.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
No. Writing that comes alive is about moving readers.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
Susan Muaddu Darraj, author of two story collections and a children’s chapter book series titled Farrah Rocks, is one of my best friends. We bounce story ideas off each other, help each other set writing goals as we navigate the writing life as mothers with child rearing responsibilities and as professional women with full-time jobs.
Jen Michalski is another good friend. We trade stories and workshop them in terms of craft, what’s working, not working. We also look out for opportunities for each other.
I consider Tom Jenks of Narrative Magazine online as my mentor. In addition to being his student in his workshop, I’ve been a reader for Narrative Magazine since 2003.
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?
Each book stands alone to create a body of work that spans worlds, characters, and cultures. My novel, now in progress, is titled Delia’s Concerto, and chronicles the summer of a 15-year old girl, who is a gifted pianist but nothing about her life is working. A second collection of short stories is completed and explores loss and grief. Another work in progress concerns survivors of the Sikh Holocaust of 1984.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
So far, it hasn’t. Maybe that will change when it comes time to promote the book.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
The Writer’s Studio classes in NY and workshops with Tom Jenks, both after having completed Hopkins. I wouldn’t have understood the Writers’ Studio or workshop classes as well without having completed the work at Johns Hopkins.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
Philip Roth. I hated Portnoy’s Complaint. But loved his later book, The Human Stain.
What’s the best way to market your books?
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Trying to write a male character that isn’t passive or feminine.
What did you edit out of this book?”
Dialogue that wasn’t working. Some verbal bad habits that found their way into the narratives. Unnecessary and imprecise words.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
Real estate development or city planner, reusing and transforming defunct properties. I loved writing the real estate, neighborhood, and property stories for the local newspapers and magazines.
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