Friday, September 19, 2008

[Interview] Robert Gould

Robert Gould is an author, an art editor and a freelance web developer.

His blog novel, A Change in the Weather centers around Scarlet and Thomas who move from the city to start a new life in a small English village. The brother and sister soon find that things are not as they seem, and that the nearby Bracken Wood holds a secret which is about to be revealed.

In this email interview, Robert Gould talks about his concerns as a writer.

When did you start writing?

My first proper attempt at writing started at school when I was 12 years old. Thankfully it was never finished.

About three years ago, I had a few ideas for a novel I wanted to sketch out. I remember I used an old iBook, and it was a science fiction story, but I eventually relegated that to a folder and forgot about it. It's still on my laptop somewhere, and I'll probably go back to it when my current project is finished.

I started writing A Change in the Weather directly after that, when the ideas were just flowing and wouldn't stop. I got mid-way through it and then stopped for about six months (primarily because my baby daughter came along and I had my hands full for quite a while!) Then I decided to transfer the story to WordPress, and publish it chapter-by-chapter online as a blog novel.

How would you describe your writing?

Third person, multiple points of view, modern fairy tale, blog novel, with lots of fantasy and mystery thrown in for good measure.

I remember my own childhood, and my friends and I would play in the fields near our home, explore the graveyard and along the local steam railway line or go for long summer hikes in the country. We'd have the greatest of times, and it was this sense of adventure that I wanted to get across in my writing, because sometimes kids these days just don't know what they're missing.

Who is your target audience?

I don't really consider myself to have a target audience, although young adults may find A Change in the Weather more to their liking than, say, 'older' readers.

What motivated me is an altogether harder question. I suppose one aspect was my childhood, which involved lots of reading and escaping into fantasy worlds from authors such as Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Lloyd Alexander and Ursula K. Le Guin.

I'll also admit to playing a bit of Dungeons & Dragons too -- so Gary Gygax was a big inspiration. Role-playing was all about escapism and exploring imaginary worlds. I liked the fact that anything was possible.

Who influenced you most?

If you're talking about authors there are quite a few. In particular J. R. R. Tolkien, Neil Gaiman, Mervyn Peake, Terry Pratchett, Alan Moore, Jorge Luis Borges, H. G. Wells, George Orwell, Jules Verne. The list goes on. But mostly Tolkien though. His world-building and detail he managed to cram into The Lord of the Rings cycle was phenomenal. The races, the languages, the history, the myths, the locations, the maps; it was quite an achievement.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Not being able to write, being stuck, or writing yourself into a corner that in order to get out of, you find that entire chapters need to be re-written. To go back and re-write whole passages that you spent a long time crafting is the worst part.

Needing to write an idea down when you're in the car or some other place where you can't actually write is a big frustration. Trying to remember it afterwards can be a pain too...

Do you write everyday?

My goal is to write everyday, although that isn't always practical -- especially where family life and writing overlap.

I also have a full-time job as an art editor and freelance web developer so I tend to relegate my writing to the night time, snatching some writing time as and when. Needless to say, it is a very slow process, and it isn't always the best solution, but I'd rather take my time than rush it.

How many books have you written so far?

There's only one at the moment, and that isn't finished.

I've written roughly 100,000 words, over 65 chapters so far. My target is 100 chapters or so. The first act of the book covers 50 chapters, and another 50 is my goal for the second act.

What is your book about?

A Change in the Weather centers around the life of a brother and sister -- Scarlet and Thomas -- as they move from the hustle and bustle of the city to start a new life in a small village hidden away in the English countryside. Soon it becomes apparent that things are not as they seem, and they find that the nearby Bracken Wood holds a secret ready to be discovered.

I’m currently looking for a publisher, but as the novel is still being updated, I suppose this will have to wait until it is completed. I would dearly love to write full-time, but at the moment I'm quite happy to continue in this way.

Which aspects of the work did you find most difficult?

When I began, I had trouble getting inside the character's heads, although as I continued to write, this became easier and easier and each character took on a distinct personality.

What did you enjoy most?

Definitely all the aspects of building the world; the maps, the locations, the myths, the characters, their motivations. Everything about creating the world was enjoyable, and this is a process that is continuing even as I write. Sometimes I'll go back to chapters and re-write them slightly, or elaborate on certain parts of the plot -- the fact that it’s a blog novel makes it a very elastic medium. The important part is making the descriptions believable.

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

Definitely the fact that this work will get finished. The others just didn't feel 'right' and so I lost interest in them eventually. A Change in the Weather is different in that it has spawned so many ideas and plot directions.

What will your next book be about?

Once A Change in the Weather is completed, I'll be working on a prequel to it, set against the turbulent times of the last crusade in 1291 when the city of Acre fell.

In addition, I've got a prequel to the prequel planned, and this is set two thousand years before present and deals with events that are only hinted at in the current story.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

The fact that I always wanted to write a novel and never thought I would.

They say that everyone has a story to tell, you just have to dig your heels in and make sure it gets written.

More at OhmyNews International.

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[Interview] Clive Collins, author of 'Misunderstandings',Conversations with Writers, September 5, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Interview _ C. Y. Gopinath

C. Y. Gopinath has worked as a journalist, a film director, and a community development worker.

His books include Travels with the Fish (Harper Collins, 1999) and the novel, Book of Answers.

In this email interview, C. Y. Gopinath talks about his writing.

When did you start writing?

44 years ago. I was twelve, living in Delhi, and I wrote a James Bond spoof for a national youth magazine called JS. After college, I went to work for JS as a traveling reporter, won a national award at 19 for Best Indian Journalist under 35. I’ve been writing since then, but journalistically. Fiction is a new bend in my road.

I never really thought I’d be a novelist, although I’ve toyed with the seed of the idea of my first book for nearly 20 years -- a man who doesn’t want to make the world a better place, just wants to be left alone.

Here’s how I got yanked into novel writing, by a young man I’d never met: In 1998, a collection of my travel writing was published in India by Harper Collins, and enjoyed critical acclaim as well as some moderate sales. In 2004, the copyright reverted to me, and thinking that the book had a little more life in it than 2,000 copies, I sent a chapter out to some 700 American literary agents. No one bit, of course, though a few were kind enough to murmur words of encouragement.

But one day in 2005, I received mail, and then a call, from a young literary agent called Nathan Bransford, to whom someone had forwarded my chapter. He’d liked it, and wondered if I had any plans to write fiction. I’d just come out of angioplasty and was feeling quite fragile those days.

I told him I probably could not write fiction, but over some weeks, Nathan persuaded me to try. That’s really how I wrote this opus. Nothing like someone who believes in you to put some wind in your sails.

How would you describe your writing?

They say an author’s first book is autobiographical.

To the extent that I have woven together themes and melodies that have been part of my life, it is autobiographical. But this book, to me, uses social satire to lay bare the absurdity of where we, as a species, have brought this planet and ourselves.

Through the eyes of a man who’s trying his best not to get involved in the madness, we see how ridiculous we’ve become.

Who is your target audience?

Your question presupposes a rational process that wasn’t really there. I’m more of the tell-a-joke-and-see-who-laughs school.

I know that my parody will resonate with a certain kind of person, both in India and outside.

As a writer, though, I am focused on my words, not on my readers.

Who influenced you most?

If you mean which writers have influenced me, that is a difficult question, because one is always watched by a panel of one’s muses. In my case, it’s [Vladimir] Nabokov, John le CarrĂ©, and Gerald Durrell, as unlikely a chamber orchestra as you could put together.

If you meant which human being has influenced me the most in this writing, I’d say without hesitation that it’s this 27-year-old literary agent whom I’d never met and who, for some reason, devoted sizable chunks of his time and persuasive powers on a remote writer. He really kept the faith for me till I began to feel it.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

The dominant themes in the Book of Answers have of course emerged from my work and life. For example, the importance of questions has somehow been a recurring theme, one that has acquired increasing depth and meaning over the years.

When much younger, I used to write a satirical column in India called Dr Q, who was this hot-air scholar of false erudition. The questions were made up mostly, but the poker-faced answers, both technical and profound, were entirely made up.

In my work in development in Kenya, questions took on greater value and we developed several tools and processes to deepen the quality of people’s enquiry. I developed a framework called the Continuum of Enquiry, which suggested how people’s questions and information needs change as their sense of proximity to HIV increases.

It seems somehow climactic and fitting that my first fiction work is about a sealed book with answers to all the world’s important questions.

Do you write everyday?

Writing the Book of Answers has been a great discovery for me of how language, memory, imagination and meaning interact.

I write often but it has not been a daily discipline. Let’s say my work permits me to write in stolen packets of time -- in transit lounges, late at night at home, in taxis, and so on.

I separate writing time from thinking time, and have noticed that my characters and storylines develop most energetically when I am walking, something I do every day. The characters then seem to take on a life of their own -- they walk, they talk, they interact, say unexpected things to each other, and suggest developments.

It’s a strange feelings, to be an onlooker while my own characters tell me where to take their story.

The sessions have become easier over the three years the story took to develop.

It took me a long time to find my writer’s voice, perhaps most of two years. But once I found it, the story and the details began to flow.

Story-telling is a fractal process -- the level of details one needs seems not to be different whether you are looking at a chapter or a paragraph -- or even a sentence. That has been a wonderful thing to realize.

How many books have you written so far?

My only other book, published in 1997 by HarperCollins India, is called Travels with the Fish. It is a tongue-in-cheek travelogue of my mishaps and discoveries in diverse countries all over the world, as narrated to the Fish, a skeptical armchair traveler whose main knowledge of the world comes from the National Geographic.

What is your latest book about?

The Book of Answers took me just about exactly three years to write, starting around March 2005. It’s my first fiction work, but its provenance goes back deep into my life and my work and thought.

It’s the story of an Indian man -- half Bengali, half Keralite -- called Patros Patranobis who inherits a locked metal-bound book with, purportedly, answers to all the world’s pressing current problems: wars, inequities, suffering, corruption etc. But Patros, in common with about 99% of humanity, does not think one man can make any great difference to anything. Besides, all he wants is a quiet life with his partner, Rose Jangry. He sells the book off within days to a junk store. And that’s how the story gets going.

It’s about how a locked book turns into a deadly weapon in the hands of a corrupt politician and a self-appointed godman.

While Patros watches, helpless, the country is riven by a series of Orwellian legislations. The more Patros tries to rectify the harm he has unwittingly caused, the more he is targeted by the new draconian laws.

The Book of Answers will hopefully be out later this year. It is right now in the submissions stage, and my literary agency, Curtis Brown Ltd, is handling the process.

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

The trickiest bit was finding the voice.

In my first draft, I used the first person voice, but began to review that after several people told me that the writing sounded too flowery and verbose. Perhaps, I thought, I was trying too hard to sound ‘literary’ in my eagerness to appear authorly rather than journalistic. With just over 150 pages done, I went back and rewrote the book in the third person.

This got me an earful from my literary agent, who said that I had ‘killed’ my voice, the one thing, in his view, that set my writing apart from others’ he’d seen. “Anyone can write journalistically,” he wrote to me. “But you had a unique and compelling voice. That’s gone now.”

At that time, I was moderating a meet-up group of writers in Bangkok, and sought their opinion on first versus third person. Apparently, they agreed with Nathan. So I went back and rewrote the entire book -- close to 270 pages by now -- again in the first person.

I think this painful process became the one that polished my writing with every iteration.

In the first person, you can only write about what you see, hear and think. There is no God’s-eye-view, you are not omniscient as in the third person. I had to jettison huge tracts of my third person writing, and figure out new ways to reveal those details to the reader. This entire process was probably the most difficult part of doing this book.

What did you enjoy most?

To realize that the process of writing fiction generates its own facts was a wonderful discovery.

Of course, the details always emerge from one’s own life, and to that extent, most of the times I can pinpoint where I borrowed narrative from my life experience. But the magical moments are when you suddenly see a bit of story that is not in the least bit familiar to you from your own life story -- and you realize that something fundamentally creative has happened there.

Another wonderful aspect of this process for me has been watching the story play itself out in my head. My mind is most active when I am in motion, so my evening walks are among the most fecund periods of my day.

There was a stage when my characters acquired a personality and life of their own, literally ‘enacting’ entire scenes in my head, seemingly with no help from me. This was always a thrilling time -- it was as though the characters were telling me what they should do next.

I remember Thomas Harris, author of the Hannibal Lecter books, saying something like this when explaining why he had written yet another book, this one on the childhood of the cannibalistic protagonist. At that time, I remember laughing and thinking, This man was just exploiting the franchise with a new book, giving the lemon one more squeeze. How can characters dictate [a] story to the author? But I must say that I am [now] a little less skeptical of this process.

What sets the Book of Answers apart from other things you've written?

The fact that it is fiction, for one. My only other book, Travels with the Fish, was a rollicking travelogue that compiled traveler’s tales from my many years of quixotic traveling. It was, in a sense, easy writing.

Humor is quite effortless for me, and I could draw all the facts I needed from my personal experience. More wickedly, I could fabricate my own life story where the details were murky, and no one would be the wiser.

To counter this, I set up a skeptical listener, the one I was telling the stories to, the so-called Fish. The Fish was an armchair traveler who matched my accounts with what his readings of the National Geographic had told him the story should have been.

It was a useful device: I wrote with forked tongue and had the Fish to alert the reader when I was crossing the thin line between fact and fiction.

In the Book of Answers, the problem was the reverse: I had to avoid any semblance of reality even though I was drawing upon it. Events and personalities had to be viewed through a distorting lens so that their original details could not be discerned by any reader.

What will your next book be about?

There are several ideas. One book, provisionally titled The Book of Maltruism or perhaps just The Maltruist, builds itself on the theme of unintended harm caused by intended good when people with ideas and notions of how the world ought to be set about ‘improving other people’s lives’.

Another theme is about a person so overwhelmed by the bottomless abundance of knowledge in today’s world, and so deeply frustrated that he will never know it all, and that you could go through your entire life without meeting a single other person who knows the things that you know -- that he begins to fill his ignorance with false erudition. He makes up knowledge, becoming a poseur, a professor of punk wisdom. I have the character -- I am yet to develop the story.

More at OhmyNews International.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

[Interview] C. M. Barons

C. M. Barons was born in Rochester, New York.

He studied journalism at SUNY New Paltz and graduated with a BA in Communication Arts.

An extract from his first novel, In the Midst Of (New Age World Publishing, 2008) is available on the Leicester Review of Books.

When did you start writing?

I wrote my first short story while in grade school. It wasn't until high school -- by way of two especially inspiring educators that I began to write on a regular basis. In my senior year I became active with the student newspaper, initially as photographer, however my interest quickly shifted to writing.

I continued my interest in journalism through college, majoring in Communication Arts. After graduation I was employed as sports editor for a small-city newspaper.

I think the newspaper experience fueled my eagerness to be in print. I don't see it as ego-gratification; it's a matter of completeness. In the same sense as music requires performance -- stories need to be told.

What did you do to achieve this end?

Writing my novel was a four-year project. Once it was complete, I sampled a handful of trusted readers who assured me that my manuscript was worthy of publication. At that point I sought publishers that accepted unsolicited manuscripts. Three publishers were afforded a look at it. The third publisher agreed to publish.

Primarily -- I took my 520 page first draft and mercilessly excised every unnecessary word. The final draft weighed in at 359 pages. One, essential skill-set I possess comes from having been an editor. Being able to distance oneself from one's writing and accede to the reader's perspective is invaluable. To the best of my knowledge the publisher's editor altered two sentences in my manuscript.

How would you describe your writing?

I categorize my writing as "literary fiction". My disposition toward imaginative plot elements and devices that interrupt chronology and employ motifs both mythical and literary seem to confirm my placement.

Who is your target audience?

I don't know as I differentiate my audience. I recognize that my novel is not going to appeal to everyone. On the same note, I refuse to condescend to readers in general. I do not talk down to children, and I certainly wouldn't talk down to an adult.

One reader commented that they kept a dictionary on-hand when they read my work. It wasn't a criticism, and the vocabulary did not impede finishing the book. I do not aim to inflate my writing with "big words" nor do I intend to restrict myself to a sixth grade vocabulary.

Who influenced you most?

Richard Brautigan is undoubtedly my greatest influence. His ability to encapsulate a complex idea in a simple manner -- especially his tendency to do so in a surprising manner never fails to impress me.

Brautigan was a poet, story-teller and novelist. He moved transparently between mediums because he could transform a mundane event into a literary event without appearing the charlatan.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I am a very tolerant individual. I revel in meeting new people who confirm that variety is indeed the spice of life. That lends a certain latitude to my writing -- I can like my heroes and demons, alike.

My ability to embrace human strength and weakness abets my ability to project multidimensional characters that stand above the stereotyped good-guy/bad-guy shallowness.

Experience also feeds my imagination and lends the potential for a richness in painting my storyboards.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My three concerns are honest characters, true-voice dialogue and challenging scenarios.

I think the easiest part of writing is theme development. The labor begins as characters become animated. The writer must not only keep the characters vital, distinct and maturing -- they must be challenged and in turn challenge the reader while exemplifying the theme. A tricky business that I am still perfecting.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

I think the greatest challenge is keeping "me" out of my stories. I have no desire to proselytize and my books are not autobiographical.

Sometimes I simply manufacture a character that is diametrically opposite of myself. Most often I maintain a pure personality for my characters. In my mind I can see them, recognize their voices and predict their behavior based on "their" values -- not "my" values.

Do you write everyday?

I write everyday. It is often not a manuscript. I contribute to numerous blogs, websites and letters columns, etc.

How many books have you written so far?

Currently I have one title in print: In the Midst Of (New Age World Publishing, 2008).

What is the book about?

In the Midst Of is a coming of age piece. It is written in retrospective: a middle-aged man focusing on a lost friend from his college days.

The setting is the 1970s. The themes involve friendship, bonding, balance in lopsided relationships. The book features numerous literary, musical and cultural allusions.

Which aspects of the work did you find most difficult?

The difficulty was presenting the narrator, Brian -- his backward glance is dominated by a more powerful personality, Hollis.

Hollis is influential, especially upon Brian who is impressionable.

Since Hollis only exists in the past, it is Brian who must grow from the experience of revisiting the past. Modifying his feelings vis-a-vis Hollis requires modulation of devotion that corrodes with time and scrutiny.

How did you deal with this?

It was particularly difficult because not all of the novel is chronologically presented. Individual scenes required a sophisticated timing that I tinkered with throughout.

Which aspects did you enjoy most?

Writing dialogue did not come easily to me. Once I could "hear" my characters voices, that all changed. I had to tell some of them to shut up!

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

It is the largest, fictional piece I've written.

In what way is it similar?

It reflects the same leanness that is my signature.

What will your next book be about?

I'm toying with a thriller.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Overcoming the inertia -- the writer's hymen is an idea that one hasn't the ____ (fill in the blank) to complete a lengthy work. Once that myth is dispensed with, it's like a sailor with only red skies at night.

This article has also been featured on OhmyNews International.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

[Interview] Taylor DiVico

Taylor DiVico was born in Syracuse, New York.

She has an undergraduate degree in Philosophy from the University of Rhode Island and a Masters Degree in Education from Syracuse University.

Her books include Existing the Moments (Dorrance Publishing Company, 2008), a novel -- and Vast and Hazy, a collection of poems that is due to be released in 2009.

In this email interview, Taylor DiVico talks about her concerns as a writer.

How would you describe your writing?

I would describe it as meaningful and hopeful in terms of it being relative to people’s lives and experiences.

Also, it is controversial and thought-provoking because it does push limits and ask the reader to contemplate and suspend a certain disbelief in the accepted norm, to philosophize, and to walk away with the idea that life is a vat of endless possibilities.

Who is your target audience?

I don’t write with the intent of having a target audience.

I think people from all walks of life can relate to certain scenarios or characters within my books. I do feel that my writing can be taken on various levels of thinking or open-mindedness.

My goal is for it to be universally enjoyed.

Who influenced you most?

It’s hard to pinpoint one influence because I’m an avid reader. I laugh with the cynics and cry with the saints, and my own writing seems to fit somewhere within the gray area of that pretense.

I’m most influenced by those philosophers and writers that have made me question. To name a few… John Irving, Ayn Rand, Dan Brown, Simone de Beauvoir, Jack Kerouac… and the infinite list goes on.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I think just having so many experiences with the abundance of traveling and moving that I’ve done, combined with the amazing people I’ve met along the way has given me vast material and characteristics to ponder and create with. I have this bond with life and trying to really understand it and live it well, which I tend to analyze through certain characters or events in my books.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My biggest fear is that I won’t be able to have my passion be my career and as a result, will live some tortured, angsty existence filled with cynical banter, multiple cats, and dimmed lighting.

I jest, kind of.

I have many concerns, some vain, some not. I deal with them by pushing myself really hard, by self-promoting, by not limiting myself to only writing novels, and by listening to feedback.

In the end, I hope people can connect to the story and get something out of it that will positively affect them, whether it is the entertainment value of a book or a new perspective on life.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

The biggest challenges I have are focusing ones.

At times, I just have too much going on at once and I get overwhelmed, which generally leads to my mind shutting down and blocking anything worth writing.

I deal with it by forcing myself to relax. Usually exercise helps me, but sometimes I just need to plop in front of the T.V. to zone out and get my mind to stop racing against time.

When did you start writing?

I loved writing from a really young age. It had always been a passion of mine, but I came into my own as a philosophy major, most likely as a result of having to explore so many in-depth concepts. Writing allowed me to understand and meditate on what I was learning.

A few years later, I subconsciously began sculpting and crafting my own style of fiction with philosophy as an ongoing backdrop.

Oddly, I hadn’t thought about being published until Existing the Moments was finished. I was wrapped up in the writing of the story to the point that making it available to the general public hadn’t crossed my mind.

When it was complete, I felt a bit sad that the journey was over. I suppose that in order to keep the story alive, the next step (publishing) was inevitable. I went about it at the coaxing of friends and family, naively -- being that I knew nothing about the process itself.

I started by buying the Writer’s Market books and studied how to write queries to agents and such. Then, I blasted out a bunch of queries for the next year or so, to no avail.

At a pivotal point of discouragement, I was contacted by a subsidy publisher and decided to go forward with them a year after the initial contact, working three jobs at one point to bring my book to fruition. I figured I would make my writing my own business and put all of myself into it, which has proven to be the right decision thus far.

Do you write everyday?

I try to write something every day, whether it is part of a novel, an article, or a music review.

My novel sessions are the most ritualistic ones, and start out with my coffeemaker, late-night hours, and adrenaline.

I go into my office after having everything else that could be a distraction out of the way (cleaning, paying bills, walking the dogs etc…) and then I just get into the zone. It could last for ten minutes or hours on end. I never break out of the zone until that exact moment that I know I’m done.

Likewise, I try not to force a chapter out because it usually ends up getting tossed or completely rewritten anyway.

How many books have you written so far?

In Existing the Moments (Dorrance Publishing Company, 2008), a determined young artist, Maria struggles to make sense of what her life has become. As she faces unbearable losses in her life, her memories save her from falling apart. For what is a memory, but a piece of the soul that remains when all else is lost?

Existing the Moments is glorious and tragic -- full of the delights of living, but also the desperation of the wounded spirit. As she replays the little factions of time that make up the filmstrip of her life, she sees those moments through her memories and rediscovers a life and love that can be compared to no other.

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

My strength is that I’m creative, making the writing of a book much less daunting than the promoting and publishing of it.

I find the publishing part to be the most difficult because I’m not a business-minded person and I don’t enjoy trying to play the part. I just feel that having to handle the business end takes up precious hours of writing time.

It’s just not realistic to think that I could be whisked away to a far-off place with only a laptop, so I deal with the reality of being my own business by trying to learn the ins and outs of promotion and publishing, and by reminding myself that this is an all-encompassing job and it’s all or nothing. Then, I throw myself into it. Time is always fleeting, though.

This is a difficulty I’ll forever be plagued with.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

I enjoy the writing and creating aspect of my work the most. I’m generally at ease and balanced when I’m writing fluidly. Nothing makes me happier than typing away and then backtracking and editing days later to really clean up the thought or chapter. I get really involved in the story and the dimensionality of my characters.

I like picking out suitable names for characters and ways for them to interact with regard to their philosophies and traits. I think I appreciate this most because I have these tireless creative juices flowing, and I need to be able to direct them and put them to use. Otherwise, I feel miserable and grumpy, and kind of useless when I’m uninspired.

Getting into your own head to come up with a story is both cumbersome and fruitful. I appreciate both circumstances.

Writing is the great joy of my life. It defines me, in a sense.

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

I think Existing the Moments is distinguishable in its raw telling of the basic human emotions that we all experience at one point or another in life… love, pain, anger, loss, happiness, cynicism, idealism… they’re all there in a sort of Ying and Yang tale about a person struggling to understand life itself and the hand she’s been dealt.

Existing the Moments stands alone as my only novel written in first-person point of view. I thought it necessary to have the book simulate the memoirs of main character, Maria Vittalini, that this would allow readers to really connect and feel on a deeper level. It’s a very special book, maybe because it’s my first, but more likely because of its exploration.

In what way is it similar?

Well, everything I write has a sort of dramatic flair and closeness to life with lots of human interaction and philosophy. Existing the Moments is like the poster-child for my non-linear writing style and use of philosophical themes.

Also, it really highlights the dimensionality of characters, which is a common feature of my books.

What will your next book be about?

Probably, a book of poetry will be next in line at the request of my eighty-one year old grandmother who has been begging me to publish my poems.

I have this compilation of poems, some that have been published in anthologies and such.

In addition, I have lots of awesome photos from my many travels, so I’m currently working on putting it all together in one nature-esque book of prose. After that… well, I am currently working on three new novels, one which is almost finished. I can’t be sure which will be the first released, so we’ll all just have to wait and see.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

My most significant achievement is the completion of my first book. While the publishing of it was great and all, the actual writing of the last page was beyond words. It was like the end of a soul-searching journey.

I was overcome with emotion and after that, a sense of happiness in knowing what I was destined to do with my life. I found what makes sense to me in this life and it begins and ends with writing.

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Monday, September 8, 2008

[Interview] Andrew Feder

Andrew Feder was born in Hollywood, California and grew up in San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles.

He lived in Israel for a number of years and has worked, among other things, as a grape farmer, a contractor and owner of a construction company, a driver, an assistant director in the film industry and as a graphic artist.

His books include When The Angels Have Risen (Authorhouse, 2005) and The Heretic (Authorhouse, 2007).

In this email interview, Andrew Feder talks about his writing.

When did you start writing?

Well, I began writing in my early college days when I wrote some short stories. Later I began writing editorials in op/eds in local papers. In the early nineties, I re-continued my writing with poems and screenplays which later evolved into writing novels.

In 1997, when I completed my first novel, I began looking for an agent which, not until 2000, that it bore fruit with a publisher. But in 2001 due to the tragedy of 9/11, my contract with [the] publisher was canceled, but I continued writing and finally, in 2005, I became a published author.

How would you describe your writing?

My writing is an easy read with a lot of satire while maintaining a sense of reality while pulling the reader into the novel as if he/she was experiencing the events as they unfold. You will also find that I incorporate many messages -- throughout my books -- that question our society, our religions and our politics.

I have no targeted audience when I begin writing. I just create.

My motivation was the gripping dark events that we as humans have allowed to continue. The very demeanor of humanity, from mass to individual, with its lack of self-worth and self-love -- under the illusionary reins of fear and guilt and lies and ignorance -- compelled me to write…

Who has influenced you most?

I would say Kurt Vonnegut’s style greatly influence my style. I love the way he creates a story and takes [you] where you least expect and finally hits you straight in your face approach.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I have always incorporated some of me in my books. Whether it’s my spiritual and/or physical experiences, I try to place [or] jell them within the story.

My books will always be from the heart -- contrary to the kind that is strictly mechanical. You know, the writing that is phony as a three dollar bill or [as] superficial as the city of Las Vegas. Since writing is an art, it should always come from within -- from the heart.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

After it is completed and published, the work really begins with publicity, because unless you’re a top five writer in a top five publisher or a well-known celebrity, it will be a long climb uphill.

My biggest challenge would be probably having some sort of patience while being organized.

Also, this may sound strange, but in my lifetime or this lifetime, I have overcome many obstacles but I have persevered by learning my lesson. It’s the healing process… So now, for me, it’s having patience and maintaining organization.

Do you write everyday?

I generally write in bunches. First I have an idea and then, like an artist, I sketch it out. And then I leave it. And then, like I am in a movie, I write what I see and feel and so on…

It is not a mechanical method, so I am not some kind of, like, Borg in Star Trek. It’s a creative process! I simply enjoy the experience and while doing so, I paint my canvass.

How many books have you written so far?

When The Angels Have Risen was published in 2005 by Authorhouse.

The Heretic was published in 2007 by Authorhouse.

Spirit will be released in 2010.

What is your latest book about?

The Heretic is the sequel to When The Angels Have Risen.

After questioning his bizarre dreams and unexplained sudden knowledge of ancient Greek, Jerry Fletcher is regressed to his past lives. Under his regression, Jerry finally becomes aware that during Alexander the Great’s military campaigns he was Aias, the historically unwritten hero.

Aias was not only Alexander’s untold mentor and great true friend but was also notable for being a true maverick and an inspiring military hero. Alexander the Great often compared Aias to both Illiad’s Hector and Achilles but in one.

Alexander the Great and Ptlomey simply thought that Aias was perhaps a God reincarnate from Olympus. Alexander simply called him an Aries incarnate. His enemies simply called him, “Aias the Decapitator.” And Aristotle simply called him The Heretic.

How long did it take you to write the book?

It took about a year's research, but only about a month to write the first version. And about six months later, The Heretic was completed.

I was published with Authorhouse in a two book deal -- the first novel, When The Angels Have Risen in 2005 and The Heretic, earlier in 2007.

I chose Authorhouse, because they gave me full control of book design and final output especially when my first book with them was so controversial. They also were well-distributed worldwide, and I felt this was very important in today’s world economy and the doors I wanted to open.

The disadvantage of selecting Authorhouse was them being known as a POD/self-publishing company. Though I was on separate contract, some reviewers and media would put you on second shelf for this bias.

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

The very balance of detail while maintaining a good flow was probably the most difficult especially when writing an accurate, detailed, historical fiction.

Which did you enjoy most?

When I played with Aias’ personality, with his arrogant demeanor, yet displaying his ingenuity [that] was quite enjoyable. But I would also have to say the battle scenes though they were quite gruesome -- Hell, it was fun… Like being there and experiencing…

Oh yeah, did I mention the love scenes?

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

This was my first historical fiction while most I’ve written were in present or future times.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

The fascinating responses that I have received intrigued me thus far, but when my messages have created a quantum-like wave of light which has opened the minds of the many while giving an enlightening affect -- this would be my most satisfying element. The elixir of giving a great sense of self-love and self-worth while motivating for a greater understanding is a reward onto itself.

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Friday, September 5, 2008

[Interview] Clive Collins

Clive Collins is a lecturer at the University of Tokyo in Japan.

He has also taught at The Open University in Northern Ireland and at the University of Sierra Leone's Fourah Bay College.

His books include the award-winning short story collection, Misunderstandings (Marion Boyars Publishers, 1993); the novels, The Foreign Husband (Marion Boyars Publishers, 1989) and Sachiko's Wedding (Marion Boyars Publishers, 1990; Penguin Books, 1991) as well as the blog novel, The Fat White Woman.

In this email interview, Collins talks about his concerns as a writer.

When did you start writing?

As a child I was telling stories before I was able to write them. My mother was a wonderful storyteller and passed the gift (or is it a curse?) on to me.

I loved essay writing when I was at school, the greater the scope for using my imagination, the better.

I was blessed in having some wonderful teachers for English and also for history. In particular, I remember a man called Jack Pearson, who taught me English for three years at what used to be Alderman Newton's School for Boys in Leicester. Then, when I got to university, the head of English was the novelist, journalist and critic Walter Allen.

In time, Walter became a friend as a well as a teacher. He was always an inspiration. I dedicated my first published novel to him. Unfortunately, he wasn't that keen on the book!

How did you decide you wanted to be a published writer?

I wrote a short story in my second year as an undergraduate and thought that it was good enough to be published. It never appeared in print but I was able to submit it and a couple of other pieces for consideration as part of my degree.

The work received praise from Walter Allen and the poet Andrew Waterman, another of my teachers. That was the point at which I thought I could be published and probably it was also the point at which I wanted to be published.

After two years as a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh I got a job teaching in Sierra Leone, West Africa. I was in Sierra Leone from 1974 to 1980 learning how to teach, stumbling through life and trying to complete my dissertation for Edinburgh. During my last year in Sierra Leone, I began what I knew could turn out to be a novel. Three years later, it was. I was living in Tokyo by that time.

On my first trip back to the U.K., I contacted a literary agent whose name I had been given by a friend. The agent took me on the strength of that first manuscript. He wasn't able to place the novel and then disliked my second but, with the third, which he did like, he placed me with Marion Boyars, who had not long split with John Calder. She had a brilliant list. I used to appear right after Jean Cocteau.

How would you describe your writing?

That's a very difficult question and I'm going to duck it by saying that if I could describe the writing I do, I wouldn't be doing it.

Who is your target audience?

I know that writers are supposed to know the audience they write for, but I don't. I might be more successful if I did.

I think I write for people who enjoy straight ahead fiction with a strong narrative and well-rounded characters.

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

Again, this is a difficult question. I don't think that I am consciously influenced by anyone -- I hope I'm not, certainly. At the same time, however, there are writers whose work I admire.

I re-read [Charles] Dickens regularly. I'm a big fan of Henry James, Edith Wharton and Joseph Conrad. It may be unfashionable to say so, but I still read D. H. Lawrence. I think he is one of the most important writers in English.

I think The Great Gatsby is almost perfect.

I admire Bernard Malamud's work, particularly A New Life, The Assistant and Dubin's Lives. I think that Penelope Fitzgerald was a wonderful writer, one of the very best. J. L. Carr's A Month in the Country is a flawless gem of a book.

I'm a big fan of William Trevor's work.

I finished reading The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen just last week and found myself wondering why I bother. The quality of her prose is stunning.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

I don't consciously have any concerns as a writer. I have a story, an idea, an image, a phrase. If other people can see concerns in the stories then fine, but they aren't why I start writing.

A good friend from my time in West Africa reads what I write more or less as I write it. A few weeks ago I sent her a copy of Carr's A Month in the Country. After reading it she wrote to say how much she had enjoyed the novel.

Her first feeling, she said, was "… a sort of exquisite sadness, and regret. A feeling that life can be beautiful but some people just are not allowed inside and have to stand on the periphery where it is not always so beautiful. That’s how I feel when I read your books."

Perhaps that answers this question and the one before as well.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

It would be disingenuous of me to say that my personal experiences have not influenced my writing.

In terms of setting alone I've written novels the action of which takes place in countries where I have lived. I also write about experiences that I've undergone, but I try very hard not to write thinly disguised autobiography; my second novel, for example, is narrated by a Japanese woman. In fact, I feel most comfortable writing in the voice of a woman or from a woman's point of view.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

The biggest challenge now is to keep writing in the face of rejection by publishers. I deal with this with the support of a few people who know me and know my work.

The novelist and non-fiction writer Richard Beard was my colleague here in Tokyo for two years. When he came out he had four novels in print and a book about Rugby Union (Muddied Oafs) just about to appear. I hadn't published anything for ten years by then, but Richard treated me as a fellow writer. In fact, he got me working again.

The Irish poet, Andrew Fitzsimons is another great support.

How many books have you written so far?

I've written eight novels and two collections of short pieces, but only two of the novels and one book of short stories have been published.

The Foreign Husband (Marion Boyars Publishers, 1989) is a story of expatriates in Tokyo and what happens when one of them becomes involved with a deeply damaged young Japanese woman.

Sachiko's Wedding (Marion Boyars Publishers, 1990; Penguin Books, 1991) -- the novel is narrated by Sachiko Miura, a Japanese woman, during her wedding party. She recounts her life from her earliest years right up to the moment of her marriage, a life she has lived in a country where there "are no women … only daughters and wives." Those words from Takeshi Ebisaka form the epigraph to the novel and pretty much sum up the life of the central character.

Misunderstandings (Marion Boyars Publishers, 1993) -- the stories are set in Colorado, Leicester and Tokyo. The central group of stories, all set in Tokyo, attempt to do a Japanese Dubliners. I think that the stories included in this book, particularly "A Slight Misunderstanding" and "A Blue Ribbon", are the best things I've done.

Do you write everyday?

Yes, I try to write a minimum of five hundred words every day.

Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays and Fridays, I write in any spare moment I can find. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays I write in the morning.

Usually I go into a Starbucks coffee shop close to where I work. I sit down, take out my Palm and the little wireless keyboard that goes with it, my notebook. I drink the coffee and get started by reading through yesterday's writing. Once that is done I get going on the new stuff, often working from notes but just as often, sailing along unguided. The sessions always end when I reach a point at which I can safely break off and am confident of being able to continue from on the following day.

What is your latest book about?

My latest book is called Cheap Music. It took a long while to write as it began as a growing collection of short fictions. Then, last summer, I realized that many of the stories were really about the same character at different points in his life.

I decided to try and turn the stories into a novel by folding them into a novella I had written.

In terms of narrative form, this is the most ambitious thing I've ever attempted. My agent didn't like the book at first but he put me in touch with a wonderful editor, Joan Deitch, who gave me some very constructive criticism and advice.

The book is just about to start doing the rounds of publishers. Last autumn, I entered it in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. There were thousands of entries. Cheap Music made the equivalent of the long list of one hundred, which I thought was pretty good going for what is a very English piece of work.

The whole manuscript was read and assessed by Publishers Weekly. Of Cheap Music, the reviewer said that this "story of growing up timid, fatherless, bullied and Irish in post-war England restores a vanished era entirely … The controlled blend of humor, portent, and pathos is nearly flawless …".

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

The novel has a large number of narrators. The big difficulty was in making clear to the reader just who was talking and when.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

Recreating the sort of world that I had grown up in but yet making sure that it was a fictive one.

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

The narrative modes. I've done third person and first person, omniscient narrators, dramatised narrators, but this has the lot and it was dizzying trying to pull them all together. I doubt I ever would have managed to do so without Joan Deitch's advice.

In what way is it similar?

The book grew out of the last two stories in Misunderstandings, so, in that way, it's similar in terms of setting and character. The MacNamara family from "Telling Stories" reappears in this book and the reader follows Stevie, the boy at the centre of "Telling Stories" into his late middle age.

What will your next book be about?

I'm now working on a book set in the first two years of the 1960s. It's about a young man, a saxophone player, who gives up his place at London University to hang around the murkier edges of the Soho music scene.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I now understand that just getting published was a pretty significant achievement, but, really, winning half of the Macmillan Silver PEN Award has been the pinnacle of my career so far. I value the award because books submitted for consideration have to be nominated by writers who are members of English PEN. The judging is done by writers. The publishing trade plays no part in the process at all.

More at OhmyNews International.

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