SCRIBE, the blog of the
Writers’ League of Texas.
How do you deal with ups and downs of the publishing business?
I climb in bed with cookies, nonfat milk, and fall asleep watching bad TV. After three days of feeling sorry for myself, I call my friend and novelist Carol Dawson, who talks me out of the depths.
How do you balance writing with work and family?
I don’t. With the exception of going to my cousin’s football games, I go into hibernation when I’m writing. It’s the only way I can live in the world of my “characters.” “Characters” is in quotation marks because I write nonfiction, meaning I write about real people, not characters.
What is your writing routine and where do you write?
I usually begin my writing day with my first meal of the day – sitting in a restaurant reading and editing the previous day’s work. That lets me know where to start when I get home. Then I go into my office and write. Too often I can only stay at one writing spot for an hour before I lose my writing mojo. So, I might work at my desk for an hour, then move to my dining table for an hour, then to another restaurant for an hour, and so on.
Do you outline or just start writing?
I wish I could outline. I know that doing so would make me a better and faster writer. But I can’t seem to do that. I have to just write, then cut, cut, cut, cut, and cut…often 200 pages or more just to find the story within the words. That’s why I say outlining would make me a better and faster writer.
Do you have trusted readers you turn to as you write, and if so, who and what stage?
I let a few people read a few pages when I’m feeling rotten about my work and need encouragement. Other times I let a few people read a 100 or more pages when I know my work is rotten and I need help figuring out what the problem is. The problem with either is finding people who will give you honest feedback in words that aren’t overly positive or emotionally damaging in their negativity and people who are knowledgeable enough about the business of writing to understand what you need.
The Fast Five
1. What are three things in your office/writing space that would surprise someone who popped in?
I’m not sure there’s anything in my office that would surprise someone. The utter mess and chaos? The five legal boxes and 24 notebooks of sex research? The Baylor University visits Trinity Baptist Church, Alor, Setar, Kedah, Malaysia banner? Can we say guilt/y?
2. What book first influenced you as a child?
I’m not sure I can name one. But I loved The Cat in the Hat – the rhythms, the rhymes, the surprises. And it’s not a book, but the Dennis the Menace comics where he went to Hollywood and Hawaii impacted me profoundly.
3. What time of day do you write?
Whenever I need to, but I don’t hit my stride until very late afternoon.
4. If you could have a beer or coffee with a writer living or dead, who would it be and why?
At this point in time, Jeannette Walls, because I think The Glass Castle is the penultimate memoir and I know she struggled with it. Thanks to novelist Amanda Eyre Ward, I did get a few minutes to chat with Jeannette, but I’d like an hour or two.
Come to think of it, Jeannette’s opening to The Glass Castle is my favorite opening line. “I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.” WOW! Characterization and conflict in 27 words! And I’m hooked.
5. Beer or coffee?