Friday, March 30, 2007

[Interview] Ion Trewin, Man Booker Prize Administrator

Author of the 1998 internationally acclaimed Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, Kiran Desai is the first woman to win the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in six years.

The award last went to a woman in 2000 when Margaret Atwood scooped the prize with The Blind Assassin. At 35, Desai is also the youngest woman ever to win the award.

Desai's winning book, The Inheritance of Loss, is a radiant, funny and moving family saga that has been described by reviewers as, among other things, ‘the best, sweetest, most delightful novel’.

The Inheritance of Loss won ahead of Kate Grenville's The Secret River, M.J. Hyland's Carry Me Down, Hisham Matar's In the Country of Men, Edward St. Aubyn's Mother's Milk and Sarah Waters' The Night Watch.

This year judges selected 19 novels from 112 for the longlist. Of those 112 novels, 95 were submitted and 17 were called in by the judges.

Man Booker Prize administrator, Ion Trewin spoke about the prize, the books that made it onto the longlist, and how the prize has managed to establish itself as one of the world's longest-running literary awards.

How did the Man Booker Prize for Fiction come about?

The Man Booker prize came about nearly 40 years ago when it was realized that literature in Britain did not have a prize of the stature of the Prix Goncourt in France. It was felt that such a prize might also encourage more book buyers to read literary fiction.

What are the aims and objectives of the award?

The aims and objective are simple: to select the best novel written in English by a citizen of the British Isles and the British Commonwealth in the year of first publication.

In general, why is it a good idea for writers to take part in literary competitions?

Writers benefit from greater sales - not just for the winner, but [also] for books on the long and short lists that are published during the judging process.

Greater sales not only mean increased earnings for the writer but also wider readership, and the book trade benefits too.

What set the writers and books that made it onto the longlist, apart from the rest?

Those books selected by the judges for the longlist are, in their opinion, of a higher quality — in writing, story, characterization, literary merit — than the rest.

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction is one of the longest-running literary awards in the world. How did you manage to achieve this?

The longevity of the Man Booker prize owes much to the choices of the judges down the years in selecting winning books which have touched the nerves of readers - some winning books have sold half a million copies within a few months of winning. The saying that success breeds success has never been truer.

Will you be able to maintain or sustain this?

To maintain the prize's success needs our constant attention: we must choose judges who believe in the novel as a means of expression, as entertainment, as a vital part of life among educated people. As long as judges are constantly vigilant and choose only the best, the prize should thrive.

Possibly related books:



Related article:

The Booker's new man, by Penny Wark, The Times, June 17, 2004

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

[Interview] Rebecca Goings

Rebecca Goings lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband Jim and their four children, two cats, a dog, and a lizard. She home-schools her children and finds it to be one of the most rewarding things she's ever done. She also writes mainstream and inspirational romances in many different genres, from historical to contemporary, and fantasy to paranormal.

She has written more than 17 books, some of which have been published by Grace Publishing, Champagne Books, and Samhain Publishing.

Since its release on October 1, her latest novel, The B.E.A.S.T. Within has made it to the best-seller list on Fictionwise. It is also the top-selling book for Champagne Books.

Rebecca Goings spoke about her writing, the challenges she faces as a writer and how she deals with these.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

When I was seven years old. I was in the first grade, and the second graders came in to read some stories for us, ones they had written themselves. Well, their teacher had laminated the pages and put spiral binding on the books. They were so permanent that I wanted the very same thing.

When I was in the second grade, I wrote a little poem that won a place in a book called the Nevada Young Writers of 1983. I was presented this book at school assembly, and I even had my picture taken for the local newspaper. That was my first brush with "fame" as a writer, and I loved it. I wanted more!

After that, I was writing short stories and poems all through school, and I won a few awards. I even prepared myself in school by taking creative writing classes for my electives and a typing class to learn the keyboard. I've wanted to be a writer for a long time.

In the writing that you're doing, what would you say are your main concerns?

My main concern would have to be the promotion. It doesn't matter how well you write. If you don't promote yourself, you're dead in the water. It's hard to do effective promotion, as it costs money. So I'm constantly looking for other avenues to explore.

As far as my writing goes, I would have to say I often wonder how real I'm making my books. I don't want them to be cliched and I don't want the characters to come off as fake. I strive for realism when I write, but sometimes when you read your own book many times during your edits, you lose sight of what you're trying to achieve. This is why I have what's called a "crit partner," who reads my manuscript when I'm done and tells me of things that need changing or tweaking.

In the writing that you are doing, who would you say has influenced you the most?

The one author who influenced me to become a romance writer was Johanna Lindsey. The first romance book I ever read was one of hers, and after that, I strived to snatch up any book by her. She's definitely one of my favorite authors. She, along with Kathleen Woodiwiss and Jude Deveraux, are responsible for my love of the romance genre.

With regards to writing my heroes, I'd have to say my husband has influenced me the most in that department. My heroes all have qualities that he does, and even talk like him at times. The biggest rule in writing is: Write what you know!

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

In the same way my heroes are fashioned after my husband, I'd have to say that my heroines are fashioned after me in some way.

I grew up as a very self-conscious child. I was teased a lot, and felt like an outcast. I loved to retreat and be alone in my room. Even now, I have somewhat of a reclusive personality. So a lot of my heroines are self-conscious and the hero has a job in front of him to bring her out of her shell. Obviously, not all of my heroines are the same, but I guess, just like I stated above, write what you know.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face as a writer?

I hate talking about myself. I feel like I'm bragging, and I hate bragging. I don't like to tell people how wonderful I am. But you need to do this in order to promote. You don't have to be condescending when you promote, but you do need to have a certain sense of "this book is great, and this is why you have to buy it." So that has definitely been one of my biggest challenges.

I have a book in print now, and even approaching the manager at a bookstore to talk to them about ordering it for their shelves is a challenge for me. I've never been outgoing. So that's big a hurdle.

How do you deal with this?

I'll take a deep breath and do it anyway.

It's much easier to talk about myself online, because I'm not talking to people face to face. But if I do have to do some face-to-face promotion, I just have to calm myself down, usually give myself a pep-talk, wander the store for a bit, and then work up enough gumption to talk to the manager.

On top of being self-conscious, I'm also very shy. Not a very good combination when trying to sell something.

What's your latest novel about?

My latest novel is entitled In Your Arms. It is a Western historical set in 1875 Texas, about a woman who isn't your true beauty. Her sister is the one who catches the eyes of men. The heroine's name is Lissa Bloom, and she meets a man named Marcus McCaide. He's the one man who sees her and not her sister. But he has his own baggage, as there are things he's done in the past that makes him feel as if no woman in her right mind would ever want him.

So both of these characters are flawed when they meet, and the book revolves about how they deal with their growing attraction. They each need to get over their own insecurities before there can be a happy ending.

How long did it take you to write the novel?

Not long at all. About two months. I've had books run the gamut as far as how long it takes to write. From two weeks to eight years. It depends on how into it I am. If I love the book and the characters, they can tell me their story right away. Other times, trying to write a particular book is like picking the words from your brain with a red-hot poker. Despite being fun and challenging and an absolute blast, being a writer can be extremely hard, especially when your characters refuse to tell you their story.

In Your Arms was published as an eBook (an electronic book) in April of 2006. This book is published at Champagne Books, and you can go directly to this book's webpage.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the novel did you find most difficult?

It was a challenge to write a tortured hero. I felt so sorry for the guy! He wants Lissa so much, but knows he can't have her due to what he's done, and it's heart-wrenching to watch that, even when I know what's eventually going to happen. I wanted to make him happy most of the time, but I knew that didn't fit his character, so that had to be the most difficult thing.

I enjoyed the love scenes. And not just because they're the love scenes, but because they are so tender. And the things Marcus says to Lissa when they are together made me swoon while I was writing the story.

I really enjoy writing about the connection between a man and a woman once they've made love.

What would you say sets the novel apart from the other things you have written?

Well, this book is one of my favorites. I love it so much, because I love the hero. He's such a great guy, even though he thinks he's not. I've also brought the passion up a notch in this book compared to my others. And it's still successful, even months after its release.

I'm also planning a sequel to this book.

I mentioned above that Lissa has a beautiful sister, Shirley. I want to write a fun story about Shirley meeting the man who will "set her to rights" and give her a run for her money. I haven't started that project yet, but I will in the near future.

In what way is it similar?

In Your Arms is similar to my other books because it's a romance.

Really, most of my books are so different, that you have to just say they're similar because they're all romance. I have historicals, contemporaries, paranormals, suspense, and fantasies... Most of those books are contracted but not yet released. We'll see most of these books in 2007. I write all over the board with regards to romance. But I love the historical Western genre, it's my first love, so to speak, and so I'm definitely going to write more books set in the Old West.

Which themes will you be exploring in is your next book?

I'm glad you asked! My next book comes to eBook and print in October 2006 — just a few weeks away. It is the first in a paranormal suspense trilogy. It is about genetically created shape shifters, men who can shift into a specific animal at will.

The first book is entitled The B.E.A.S.T Within.

B.E.A.S.T. is the name of the agency that has genetically altered these men. The name stands for Bio-Engineering to Attain Shift Transformation. The first book follows Noah Carpenter, a man trying to escape the B.E.A.S.T. agency. They are not nice. They torture their experiments. This man can shift into a white tiger at will. He is on the run and meets a woman he falls hard for. But he's being chased by Tam, one of B.E.A.S.T.'s most ruthless shifters, a black panther.

You can find out more about this series by visiting my exclusive B.E.A.S.T. blog. There are two more books scheduled for release next year, B.E.A.S.T. of Burden (about a man who can shift into a wolf) in February 2007 and Nature of the B.E.A.S.T. (about a man who can shift into a cougar) in August 2007.

I'm really excited about these books. They will be published at Champagne Books, look for the first book, The B.E.A.S.T. Within, in October!

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Monday, March 26, 2007

[Interview] Steve Dearden, literary activist

Steve Dearden is a literature activist, consultant, and writer.

He coordinates the Writing Squad, a program for writers between the ages of 16 and 20 in Yorkshire in the United Kingdom, and Light Transports, a project commissioning and publishing writers in journey-sized chunks for free distribution on the transport network.

He also works with a range of literature and cultural clients on project, business, and organisational development. He has written for radio and for magazines in the United Kingdom and Australia. One of his short stories has been translated into Swedish.

Steve Dearden spoke about the work he is doing.

You have been described as a "gamekeeper turned poacher." How and why is this so?

It's a shorthand other people use and I don't recognize. I worked for the Arts Council for nine years, but it was a different beast in Yorkshire at the time. We were part of the profession, we got in there, got our hands dirty, intervened, collaborated, did strategic work, supported exciting individuals with energy and commitment. Again pastoral work in some ways, producer work too, a blend of strategic and focused intervention.

There was the same old bureaucratic shit, but I always saw it as my job to protect my sector from that, not from good business practice, and good policy implementation — they often drove that in any case — but from the kind of policy that is driven by central government rather than artistic agendas.

I've no problems with the government agendas. It's just that they are imposed rather than interpreted by Arts Council officers who have a lot of experience of meetings, little of making art and relating to readers or audiences. I always saw my job as representing the arts to government; now it looks the other way round. Sometimes I think Arts Council Officers seem scared of artists. They certainly don't create many 'big tent' opportunities for us jointly to create and deliver a strategy for literature.

So if people insist on using the analogy I would say that I was never a gamekeeper, always a poacher. If I was being ridiculous I'd say that I was the game.

What unites all the projects you are involved in? What motivates you?

I can't express it better than my mate Ralf Andtbacka, who put it very well in his introduction to my contribution to the Interland project: "... literature seems to be an integral feature of Steve's way of being in the world ... [in] the way he goes about his writing: there is always focus on the process itself, on producing a good text, rather than on the potential benefits of being a writer, all the useless hype. For him, I believe, literature above all signifies empowerment, intellectually and existentially, and this is the key motivational force behind his work both as a writer and a literary activist. "

How do you find the time to do all the things you are doing?

I'm not sure there are that many things, and they interconnect. It helps that I'm doing what I would do if I wasn't doing anything. I don't feel that I "go to work"; rather I work at what I enjoy. Let's keep things in perspective, I am not running a city, nor am I a farmer or a nurse on an A&E ward.

How does all this affect your own writing?

Luckily I write short stories; maybe if I didn't do other things I might discover whether I have the patience and stamina to try something longer. I'd like to. But for now, I book time out, at least six weeks at the beginning of the year somewhere out of the gray and rain. I also spend a lot of time on trains. Movement is good for writing and, of course, working with writers and readers is a great stimulant to writing. I like commissions and requests; they kick things off and the deadlines are good to get things done, but also to stop me editing, editing, editing. I enjoy the honing much more than getting stuff down on the page in the first place.

Of the projects that you are currently involved in, which would you say are the most exciting or challenging?

It would be hard to choose between them and although they're opposite ends of what I do, they are connected.

The Writing Squad is a two-year program for 15 writers, aged 16 to 20, in Yorkshire. We give them a mixture of Squad Days with visiting tutors, one-to-one sessions, and they have their own private website to chat and exchange work on, to stay in touch with each other.

We are on our third cohort, so we also keep developing writers from previous Squads who stick with us. For example this afternoon I'm going to the reading of a play by Nick Payne from the last Squad; we're giving him some money towards taking it to Edinburgh [theatre festival in Scotland] this summer. I'm helping him with the script.

There's a lot of pastoral work, particularly by my co-director Danny Broderick. I could go on for hours about the individual relationships he's built up and the results.

We take a holistic approach, like the best football academies, working on technique but also the other skills our writers will need to play the game. That's the development side, which I love, helping people release the text they're striving for.

In Light Transports, I'm pursuing an idea I've had for a long time: "Why go to all the trouble of marketing and selling new writing to tiny readerships? Why not just give it away?" So I'm commissioning and sourcing journey-length stories — a commute, an intercity — to give away on five Yorkshire mainline railway stations.

I'm also trying to demonstrate, through the choice of writers, my belief that regional literary ecologies are not defined by geography, or by birth or residence, but by the complexion and connections of the people, promoters and publishers who live and work there. That's what gives each literature ecology its unique DNA — so some of my writers on this project live in Yorkshire and others in Calgary, ... Finland, Portland Oregon, Singapore, [and] Guyana — locally grown and locally sourced product, which explains Yorkshire and its place in the world in a way that escapes the stereotype.

The connection with the Squad?

Well, we'll have stories by two, possibly three Squad writers in the mix, their first publication, on merit. That feels very good.

I'm a great believer in giving people chances as soon as possible, supporting them, but throwing them in there, too. It seems crazy to me that you could be captaining your country at a sport, or touring the States in a band, but be branded a Young Person as a writer and excluded from mainstream funding and support.

I realize I haven't answered your question about challenges, but that's boring. Just keeping it all going, I guess, the dull admin and money-raising that underpins these projects. The rewards way outweigh the challenges.

Possibly related books:


Related articles:

Friday, March 23, 2007

[Interview] Kerala Goodkin

Kerala Goodkin holds a B.A. in Hispanic Studies from Brown University.

In 2001, she co-founded the nonprofit Glimpse Foundation and currently serves as editor-in-chief. She has traveled extensively and lived in Bolivia for six months, where she worked as a reporter for The Bolivian Times.

In addition to her work with The Glimpse Foundation, Kerala has been a contributing editor to National Geographic Traveller On Campus and currently serves as translator and public relations coordinator for the Committee of Immigrants in Action. She recently won first place in the Elixir Inaugural Fiction Contest (2004) for her first novel, How Things Break, which was subsequently published by Elixir Press in June of this year.

Kerala Goodkin spoke about her work with The Glimpse Foundation, her own writing, and her plans for the future.

What is The Glimpse Foundation?

The mission of Glimpse is to foster cross-cultural understanding, particularly between the United States and the rest of the world, by providing platforms for young adults to share their experiences living abroad. We run a website and a print magazine, Glimpse Quarterly.

In the United States, our main means of knowing about the rest of the world is through international news - where we hear mostly about death tolls and disasters, and travel magazines - where we hear about great restaurants and tourist hotspots. But few platforms give us a glimpse into the daily lives of people in other countries, hence the name.

At Glimpse, we believe that sharing these daily realities is an effective way to make Americans care about the rest of the world. It makes the world personal. That’s where I think the real power of writing lies: making things personal. This is where hatred, judgment, and prejudice begin to break down.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

Before I could write myself, I used to dictate stories to my father, who would type them up for me on our family typewriter. When I was six years old, I told my parents that when I grew up, I either wanted to be a writer or "one of those people who pushes the buttons on cash registers."

When I started working in the food service industry at age 17, cash register buttons quickly lost their magical appeal. I bartend now, so I guess I'm still pushing cash register buttons, but I aim to make writing my long-term career.

As a writer, what would you say are your main concerns?

Mainly, I just like telling stories. I think stories are one of the most effective ways to bridge divides and truly communicate with people. I don't have any illusions about changing the world, but I really hope that through my writing, I can at least help broaden my readers' perspectives on the world.

Who would you say has influenced you the most?

My parents. They have always encouraged my writing and set examples for me with their own voracious appetite for books.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

Though my parents have inspired me in countless ways, I always joked with them that they gave me the worst thing a writer could have: a happy childhood. But what fascinates me about writing is that stories can arise from the most mundane experiences.

I don't foresee ever writing epic novels. I like to focus on the subtler nuances of human character, experience, and relationships. I have always been the type of person who prefers listening to talking. I enjoy taking public transportation and sitting in public places just to watch people and imagine what kinds of stories they are carrying around.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face as a writer?

Well, my primary concern is that people don't read much anymore. Novels require time and patience, and in our culture of instant gratification, more and more people prefer TV, Internet browsing, and video games to reading.

Growing up, I was only allowed to watch a half-hour of TV a week, and it's one of the best things my parents ever did for me. I prefer curling up with a book almost any day of the week. But I would say the majority of my friends don't incorporate reading into their daily lives.

How do you deal with these?

I'm on a personal mission to get people reading again. But it's easier said than done. If you didn't read for pleasure growing up, it's hard to start now. People these days are so used to controlling their modes of entertainment with the click of a button. I think they find the task of reading an entire book from start to finish almost daunting.

What is How Things Break about?

How Things Break is about that strange time in our lives when we suddenly find ourselves in adulthood and don't quite know what to do with ourselves. Or what some people call a quarter-life crisis.

The book is set in northern Michigan, where my grandparents live. The main character, Nat, is caught between two conflicting desires: to settle down and to escape. As the world around her begins to crumble, mimicking the slow deterioration of the house she illegally occupies, she explores the boundaries of her relationships, her sexuality, and the small town she lives in.

The cast of characters includes a handicapped father who lost both his legs when his wife backed a Buick into him; an eccentric grandmother who steals blueberries; a neighbor whose life mission is to get every hole in one on the town's mini-golf course; a 400-pound blind mother; a brother obsessed with rock-collecting; and a moody boyfriend who fishes using marshmallows for bait.

How long did it take you to write the novel?

Part of the novel was my thesis in college. I was determined not to give up on it - mainly because I had become somewhat attached to the eccentric cast of characters and wanted to see where they would end up.

The problem was, after graduating, I barely had any time. I was trying to get my start-up nonprofit off the ground and was also bartending a few nights a week to make rent. But on the three or four evenings a week that I had free, I made myself sit down for an hour and write.

I had a first draft done within a year of graduating and within the next six months, after passing the novel around to various old college professors and friends and family, I had what I could call a final draft.

Which aspects of the work did you find most difficult?

One aspect I rarely hear novelists talk about is the simple task of keeping track of what you've written! Writing, of course, is much slower than reading, and you simply forget the details you incorporated into previous chapters.

When I read through the first draft, I found I was constantly contradicting myself. First, my narrator had blue eyes, then hazel, then brown, etc.!

Probably the hardest thing for me was being patient and maintaining faith that the novel would come together in the end.

I don't believe in outlines. If I try to conform fiction to an outline, I find it comes across as very forced. I like the element of discovery involved in just letting the novel take its course. But then of course the danger is that you end up with a totally haphazard story.

Which did you enjoy most?

I loved my characters! I really felt a profound sense of loss when I finished the first draft. Especially the main character, Nat — she is someone I would like to meet some day.

How did the novel get published?

Once I had a final draft, I didn't really know what to do with it. One of my old professors advised me to submit it to as many novel contests as I could find. She thought I had a good chance of winning one, and said it would be an easy way to break into the publishing world. So I sent it off to about 25 contests.

Months later, I got a call from Elixir Press telling me I had won the Elixir Press Inaugural Fiction Award. The timing was pretty funny, actually. I was in between bartending jobs, and funds were tight at my nonprofit: my coworker and I hadn't been able to pay ourselves for months. I was flat broke. I was preparing to ask my landlord for an extension on rent, and I got this call from Elixir Press. The prize was $3,000 and publication.

I had to ask them if there was any way I could get the cash prize before the first of the next month! But winning was worth so much more than the money, of course. For years and years, I had said I wanted to be a professional writer, and now it was finally happening.

What sets the novel apart from the other things you've written?

Well, it was my first crack at a novel, unless you want to count a 40-page story I wrote in fifth grade called "The Babysitter of Doom." Actually, I co-wrote that with my babysitter.

I've written a lot of short stories and lately have gotten into short creative non-fiction pieces, but How Things Break was the first opportunity I had to really take my time with a story and let it evolve naturally. Sometimes the tendency with short pieces is to forge ahead to some kind of pre-determined conclusion. After all, you don't have much time to make your point.

In what way is it similar?

Though I deal with serious issues, I like to approach them in humorous ways that everyone can relate to. One of my pet peeves is writers who take themselves too seriously. Though I do believe in the power of the written word to broaden people's consciousness and effect social change, when all is said and done, I'm just telling a good story. Of course, this doesn't mean writing always has to be funny, but it's important for us as writers to keep our work in perspective and maintain a sense of humour.

Which themes will you be exploring in is your next book?

I'm about a quarter-way through the first draft of my next book, whose tentative title is Diary of Spectacular Roadkill. It takes place in Providence, Rhode Island and draws on my relationship with my boyfriend, which is interracial. The book will raise a lot of questions about the state of race relations in this country, but I don't plan on preaching anything. Again, I just want to tell a good story.

Possibly related books:


Related article:

Kerala Goodkin & Dave Francois, National Geographic Weekend Radio, June 14, 2008.