Gone Girls, Found | Talking with Gillian Flynn and Cheryl Strayed

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CHICAGO — The pairing of Gillian Flynn and Cheryl Strayed seems at once too obvious and not obvious enough.

Too obvious because both are female writers who happen to have had best-selling books optioned by Reese Witherspoon and made into high-octane, swinging-for-the-fences films.

And not obvious enough because Ms. Flynn specializes in probing dark, unsavory recesses of the human psyche, like her antiheroine Amy in the 2012 novel “Gone Girl.” Ms. Strayed rocketed to fame the same year with her memoir “Wild,” about her redemptive 1,100-mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail as a brokenhearted divorced 26-year-old grieving the early death of her mother.

Yet the authors share similarities that run deep. Feminists both, they create bluntly authentic, deeply engaging stories through characters that defy stereotypes.

They have also forged roads to Hollywood gold. Directed by David Fincher and adapted by Ms. Flynn herself, the film “Gone Girl” has earned more than $300 million globally. “Wild,” directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, adapted by Nick Hornby and starring Ms. Witherspoon, is one of the season’s most anticipated films.

The first and last time Ms. Flynn and Ms. Strayed met was two years ago at a literary event in St. Paul, and they reconvened on a wintry Halloween here, greeting each other happily with hugs. Ms. Flynn, 43, has a newborn, her second child, and lives with her family in Chicago, and Ms. Strayed, 46, happened to be in town with her husband and two children.

Here are excerpts from their conversation.

Q. Tell me about when you first met, in St. Paul.

A. Cheryl Strayed It was freezing. We went on a hike, and I didn’t have a jacket. It was like “Wild” all over again, with the elements for which I was unprepared. And I remember I was talking about how our books are so different, readers have a different relationship to them. People who read “Wild,” they’re like, “You don’t realize it, but you’re my best friend.”

Gillian Flynn [Deadpan] They don’t feel that way about Amy?

Strayed Maybe it’s a little more like they’re fascinated to know who you are. Who’s the person behind that crazy story?

This question is from a Times reader: “Witherspoon wanted to create better roles for women, but has ‘Gone Girl’ shown women in a better role? Is it empowering or continuing stereotypes?”

Flynn I’ve been asked that a lot, and to me the answer is always: “Of course, it’s not misogynistic.” Women shouldn’t be expected to only play nurturing, kind caretakers.

That’s always been part of my goal — to show the dark side of women. Men write about bad men all the time, and they’re called antiheroes.

Were you surprised that that was the reaction you got?

Flynn I had about 24 hours where I hovered under my covers and was like: “I killed feminism. Why did I do that? Rats. I did not mean to do that.” And then I very quickly kind of felt comfortable with what I had written.

Cheryl, it’s your story, but did you get blowback from people, or was it just more relief at having told an honest story?

Strayed It never occurred to me, not once, that the book would be read as an inspirational tale. I really have no interest in likability when it comes to characters. It’s always about credibility, and to be credible you have to seem human. One of the most difficult things reading about the movie “Wild” was when people started writing about it and me in this shorthand way. I knew they hadn’t read the book, because the things they would say about me were just patently untrue.

What kind of stuff were you getting?

Strayed Often, they’ll say my problems were self-inflicted. And really the two biggest problems I began the trail with were the opposite of self-inflicted: the dead mother and the abusive father who wasn’t in my life. Those were my two most significant wounds, neither of which I inflicted upon myself, both of which I had to heal in myself.

It’s interesting what Gillian is saying. I think the lazy interpretation of Amy is she’s this evil psychopath and she’s all darkness. I think so much of the reason “Gone Girl” is so successful is that all of those very winning passages where Amy writes about her romantic life, falling in love with her husband, the way she constructs herself as a woman in the world. Those are very recognizable to us.

Flynn I think we wouldn’t have heard as much anger about it if she was more dismissible. She’s understandable, and that makes her a little harder to just write off. She’s not Norman Bates’s mom just sitting there in a rocking chair being evil.

Is there a double standard, where male characters don’t get that level of scrutiny?

Flynn The likability thing, especially in Hollywood, is a constant conversation, and they’re really underrating their audience when they have that conversation. What I read and what I go to the movies for is not to find a best friend, not to find inspirations, not necessarily for a hero’s journey. It’s to be involved with characters that are maybe incredibly different from me, that may be incredibly bad but that feel authentic.

When you were writing the books, did you think, “I’m breaking the mold and pushing the edges of these women characters?”

Flynn A theme that has always interested me is how women express anger, how women express violence. That is very much part of who women are, and it’s so unaddressed. A vast amount of literature deals with cycles of violence about men, antiheroes. Women lack that vocabulary.

Strayed The story I wrote has an ancient tradition in literature, man against nature, the hero’s journey. I was conscious of the narratives that I was both taking part in and also countering because the variation on the theme is: It was a woman, and it wasn’t “versus.” I say the wild felt like home to me. It wasn’t me trying to conquer it; it was me living in it. So much about “Wild” is about acceptance and surrender and vulnerability. To me that’s the greatest strength, not this conquering kind of narrative that we have embedded in our bones.

[To Ms. Flynn:] Is “Gone Girl” the movie being talked about as a feminist film or an anti-feminist film, or is the jury out on that?

Flynn The jury is still out. That’s what’s been interesting: Is it anti-woman? Is it anti-man?

Strayed What do you think it is?

Flynn To me, it’s neither. It’s about two specific people who are battling and who happen to be a man and a woman. I certainly enjoyed playing with those gender roles. Amy is certainly a character who understands every single female stereotype — and uses it. So when people say she’s embodying awful stereotypes about women, I say, “Yes, exactly, and that’s kind of the point.” She knows every trope there is. She’s a storyteller, she’s a studier, and she has absolutely no compunction about using the female victim role, using the femme fatale role, using the girl-next-door role.

Strayed I was so mindful that I had not written a book for women. I think the death of us would be if our films or our books were interpreted in this kind of “You go, girl” thing. And I think the last frontier for women is to say we are fully human, which means that our stories are as relevant to men as they are to women.

Flynn I would love it if I could do an event without a very well-meaning man telling me, “I don’t normally read books by women.” Do you get that?

Strayed All the time. One of the first experiences I had when “Wild” came out was this male radio host interviewed me, and right before we went live, he said, “I picked your book up and I couldn’t stop.” And then we’d go live and he’d go, “Cheryl Strayed has written a great book for women.”

Where does the twisted girl come from?

Strayed I remember, at our event we did together, you told some funny story about being a kid, it was about some early indicator.

Flynn I had a bunch of cousins, all girls, we’d play dress-up, and they’d always go for the princess costumes, and I was like, “I’ll be the witch” And we had this game called Mean Aunt Rosie, where I was basically their evil caretaker aunt.

Strayed I do think those things are like early indicators of what our obsessions are going to be as writers. When I was 6 and 7, when my mom’s friends were going to come over, she’d say “O.K., you’re only allowed to ask three questions.” Because otherwise I would get them in a corner and just grill them about things that were kind of shocking to them.

I wanted to hear from other people what they thought about their wounds, and I was trying to find out in ways that made adults very uncomfortable. I’ve always been the one to ask a question beyond the one that’s appropriate.

I want to talk about that move from book to screen. Cheryl, were you O.K. with Nick Hornby and was that difficult for you, turning it over?

Strayed He read “Wild” the first week it was out. I didn’t know him, and he wasn’t being considered as the screenwriter at that point. He just wrote me the world’s nicest fan email. So when Nick came on the project, I felt he understood the book on a deep level. It was always clear that I would read the screenplay, I would weigh in on it, I would be listened to, and I was.

Flynn Which is huge. You and I both talked about the stories you know about the author going to Hollywood are full of heartbreak. We both ended up with Reese, who is a woman of her word and does really care about writing, loves telling a story right.

You were working with David Fincher, who is known to be thorough.

Flynn I was on the set, but the script was locked by then. We just had a great back and forth, a lot of it by phone, since I’m in Chicago. When you hear David Fincher is going to direct your movie it’s, “Oh my God, I’ve got to step up my game.” But I wanted a David Fincher version of “Gone Girl,” so I was very much inclined to step back.

Strayed With Jean-Marc, I told him: “I give you my book. The only thing I ask is that you make a perfect film.” And he laughed. I gave him my opinions only when he asked for them.

And I told Reese the first time we talked, “You need to make this your story, not mine.”

Now, because I was so much a part of this, I would totally adapt my own book. I would do what Gillian did.

Via: https://nytimes.com/talking-with-the-authors-of-gone-girl-and-wild

Writers and Authors: 5 Reasons to Drop the Word ‘Aspiring’

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There is no such thing as an ‘aspiring writer.’ You are a writer. Period.” – Matthew Reilly

The term ‘aspiring author’/’aspiring writer’ is thrown about in literary circles without anyone giving it so much as a second thought.

It certainly seems like a harmless enough phrase. You’ve no doubt used it yourself, I certainly have. But harmless as it may seem, the term ‘aspiring writer’ is actually quite problematic, and could even be holding you back in your writing career. So the sooner you quit employing the phrase, the better.

Here’s five reasons why you should never refer to yourself as an ‘aspiring author’ ever again:

1. ‘Aspiring’ is an abstract term

Aspirations exist only in thought, not in actuality. To ‘aspire’ is to think, not to do. In this way, the term ‘aspiring writer’ allows for a state of inactivity. Or, as author Chuck Wendig puts it,

“Aspiring is a meaningless, null state that romanticises Not Writing.”

By dropping the term ‘aspiring’ and stating instead ‘I am a writer,’ you confirm to yourself, and to the world, that yes, you are actively working on a writing career. You are writing. You are a writer.

2. ‘Aspiring’ takes the pressure off

By describing yourself as an ‘aspiring writer’, you are essentially stating ‘I am not a writer now, but I would like to be one at some vague point in the future’. In doing this, you are reinforcing the notion in your head that all your writing efforts – all your physical, and actual hard work in pursuing your dreams – all lie beyond the present moment.

The pressure is taken off to write right now. In other words, what you are doing is permitting a ‘diet-starts-tomorrow’ mentality for your writing. But as a little, redheaded orphan once reminded us, ‘Tomorrow’ is always a day away.

Thus, ‘tomorrow’ never comes. So, if you truly want to be a writer, don’t wait until tomorrow, start today.

3. ‘Aspiring’ undermines self-esteem

Think of all the times you have described yourself as an ‘aspiring writer’. How often have you employed the term out of a lack of confidence or self-belief? Because you didn’t feel ‘qualified’ to call yourself a writer. But even if this is not the case, the term itself could be eating away at your self-esteem, without you even realising it.

As we have already established, ‘aspiring’ implies that the state of actually being is a thing of the future. In other words, stating you are an aspiring writer implies that you will not actually be a writer until some, unknown, future date.

In this way, when you use this term to describe yourself, you nurture the subconscious belief that your goal of becoming a writer will always lie just beyond your grasp – just out of reach. Such a belief is extremely demotivating, and can thus undermine your self-esteem.

So the next time you describe yourself, try using a more reaffirming phrase. Don’t say ‘I’m an aspiring writer.’ Say ‘I’m a writer.’

4. ‘Aspiring’ is a term to hide behind

Writing is a very difficult profession. Unfortunately, not all who turn their attentions to the written word succeed. For this reason, those of us who do feel the yearning to construct worlds out of words carry a great deal of anxiety.

We fear failure. We fear others seeing us as failures. And if we admit that we are writers, we must then own up to how much or how little success we have actually found.

Therefore, when we are faced with the judgemental eyes of a long lost acquaintance, probing us with the question, ‘And what do you do these days?’, we feel the need to apologise for the fact that we are not J.K. Rowling. We fear being labelled a failure or pretender, simply because we haven’t sold a million copies of that novel we’re drafting.

So we hide. We hide behind the term ‘aspiring.’ Because if we are merely aspiring, it’s okay if we haven’t found success yet. Because ‘aspiring’ means we aren’t necessarily trying. We are thinking, not doing.

But here lies the problem: if we never accept our title, if we do not stop hiding from our passions and begin at last to pursue them wholeheartedly, we will never find the success we so long for. It’s time we admit what we are. We are writers. No more aspiring. No more hiding.

5. Take yourself seriously

The moment you stop calling yourself an ‘aspiring writer’ and start calling yourself a writer, is the moment you begin taking yourself seriously. This is extremely important, as writers are constantly required to make others believe in them.

We must convince agents, editors, publishers, and readers that our writing is worth their time – that they should take us seriously. But this, of course, is impossible to do unless we take ourselves seriously, first.

So the next time you need to explain to anyone ‘what you do’, don’t shy away and hide. Have confidence in your abilities, and never refer to yourself as an ‘aspiring writer’ ever again. You are a writer. Period.

Via: http://writersedit.com/5-reasons-drop-aspiring-aspiring-author/

Exploring the Human Animal | An Interview with Crime Fiction Novelist Nick Kolakowski

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Author Nick Kolakowski loves crime fiction. From his work with ThugLit, Crime Syndicate Magazine, and his latest novel A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, it’s easy to tell that the author truly values the hardboiled crime-fiction genre and knows how to write it well.

Kolakowski sat down with Sean Tuohy of Writer’s Bone recently to talk about his love for the genre, the seed that created the storyline for his new novel, and “gonzo noir”:

Sean Tuohy: What authors did you worship growing up?

Nick Kolakowski: I always had an affinity for old-school noir authors, particularly Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson. What I think a lot of crime-fiction aficionados tend to forget is that a lot of the pulp of bygone eras really wasn’t very good: it was all blowsy dames and big guns and writing so rough it made Mickey Spillane look like Shakespeare. But writers like Chandler and Thompson emerged from that overheated milieu like diamonds; even at their worst, they offered some hard truth and clean writing.

ST: What attracts you to crime fiction, both as a reader and a writer?

NK: I feel that crime fiction is a real exploration of the human animal. You want to explore relationships, pick up whatever literary tome is topping the best-seller lists at the moment. You want a peek at the beast that lives in us, crack open a crime novel. As a reader, it’s exciting to get in touch with that beast through the relatively safe confines of paper and ink. As a writer, it’s good to let that beast run for a bit; I always sleep better after I’ve churned out a lot of good pages.

ST: What is the status of indie crime fiction now?

NK: I’d like to think that indie crime fiction is having a bit of a moment. A lot of indie presses are doing great work, and highlighting authors who might not have gotten a platform otherwise. Crime fiction remains one of the more popular genres overall, and I’m hopeful that what these indie authors are producing will help fuel its direction for the next several years.

Not a whole lot of authors are getting rich off any of this, but writing isn’t exactly a lucrative profession. There’s a reason why all the novelists I know, even the best-selling ones, keep their day jobs. We’re all in it for the love.

ST: What is your writing process? Do you outline or vomit a first draft?

NK: I keep notebooks. Over the years, those notebooks accumulate fragments: sometimes a line of two I’ve overheard on the subway, but sometimes several pages of story. Usually my novels and short stories start with a kernel of an idea, and I start writing as fast as I can; and as I start building up a serious word count, I begin throwing in those notebook fragments that seem to work best with the scene at the moment. It’s a haphazard way of producing a first draft, and it usually means I’m stuck in rewrite hell for a little while afterward as I try to smooth everything out, but it does result in finished manuscripts.

I simply can’t do outlines. I’ve tried. But outlining has always felt very paint-by-numbers to me; once I have the outline in hand, I’m less enthused about actually writing. But I know a lot of other writers who can’t work without everything outlined in detail beforehand.

ST: Where did the idea for A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps come from?

NK: A long time ago, I was in rural Oklahoma for a magazine story I was writing. It was early February, and the land was gray and stark. Near the Arkansas border, I saw a Biblical pillar of black smoke rising in the distance; as I drove closer, I saw a huge fire burning through a distant forest. This would be a really crappy place for my car to die, I thought. It would suck to be trapped here.

So that real-life scene rattled around in my head for years. Eventually I began depositing other figures in that landscape—Bill, the elegant hustler, based off a couple of actual people I know; an Elvis-loving assassin; crooked cops—to see how they interacted with each other. The result was funny and bleak enough, I thought, to commit to full-time writing.

ST: You referred to A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps as “gonzo noir.” Can you dive into that term?

NK: I love crime fiction, but a lot of it is too serious. That seems like an odd thing to say about a genre concerned with heavy topics like murder and misery, but more than a few novels tend to veer into excessive navel-gazing about the human condition. As if injecting an excessive amount of ponderousness will make the authors feel better about devoting so many pages to chases and gunfire.

But real-life mayhem and misery, as awful as it can be, also comes with a certain degree of hilarity. You can’t believe this dude with a knife in his eye is still prattling on about football! A reality television star might dictate whether we end up in a thermonuclear war! And so on. With gonzo noir, I’m trying to blend as much black humor as appropriate into the plot; otherwise it all becomes too leaden.

ST: Your main character, street-smart hustler Bill, is on the run from an assassin and finds himself in the deadly hands of some crazed town folks. Why do writers, especially in the crime fiction genre, like to torture their characters so much?

NK: Raymond Chandler once said something like: “If your plot is flagging, have a man come in with a gun.” I think a lot of current crime-fiction writers have a variation on that: “If your plot is flagging, have something horrible happen to your main character. Extra credit if it’s potentially disfiguring.” It’s an effective way to move the story forward, if done right, and how your protagonist reacts to adversity can reveal a lot about their character through action.

Done the wrong way, though, it becomes boring really quickly. Take the last few seasons of the TV show “24.” Keifer Sutherland played a great hardboiled character, but subjecting him to the upteenth gunshot wound, torture session, or literally heart-stopping accident got repetitive. When writing, it always pays to recognize the cliché, and figure out how to subvert it as effectively as possible—the audience will appreciate it.

In A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, Bill has done a lifetime of bad stuff. He’s ripped people off, stolen a lot of money, and left more than a few broken hearts. I felt he really needed to really pay for his sins if I wanted his eventual redemption to have any weight. Plus I wanted to see how much comedy I could milk out of a severed finger (readers will see what I mean).

ST: What’s next for you?

NK: I’ve been working on a longer novel (tentatively) titled Boise Longpig Hunting Club. It’s about a bounty hunter in Idaho who finds himself pursued by some very rich people who hunt people for sport. I’ve wanted to do a variation on “The Most Dangerous Game” for years, and the ideas finally came together in the right way. It’s an expansion of my short story, “A Nice Pair of Guns,” which appeared in ThugLit (a great, award-winning magazine; gone too soon.)

ST: What advice do you give to young writers?

NK: A long time ago, the film director Terrence Malick came to my college campus. He was supposed to introduce a screening of his film “The Thin Red Line,” but he never set foot in the theater—unsurprising in retrospect, given his penchant for staying out of sight. However, he did make an appearance at a smaller gathering for students and faculty beforehand.

All of us film and writing geeks, we freaked out. Finally one of us cobbled together enough courage to actually walk up to him and ask for some advice on writing. He said – and you bet I still have this in a notebook – “You just have to write. Don’t look back, just get it all out at once.”

I think that’s the best advice I’ve ever heard. It’s easy to stay away from the writing desk by telling yourself that you’re not quite ready yet, that you’re not in the mood, that somehow the story isn’t quite fully baked in your mind. If you think like that, though, nothing is ever going to have to come out. Even if you have to physically lock yourself in a room, you need to sit down, place your hands on the keyboard, and force it out. The words will fight back, but you’re stronger.

ST: Can you please tell us one random fact about yourself?

NK: I like cats and whiskey.

To learn more about Nick Kolakowski, visit his official website or follow him on Twitter @nkolakowski.

Via: http://www.writersbone.com/exploring-the-human-animal-with-crime-fiction-novelist-nick-kolakowski

Author Interview: Tor Udall

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Today on Writers Blog, an author interview from Tor Udell about her debut novel A Thousand Paper Birds, which took six years and eight drafts to bring to publication – proving there is hope for the rest of us yet! A delightful interview, and a novel I will be picking up in the bookstore.

About the Author

Tor Udall studied theatre and film before co-founding a dance-theatre company. She spent most of her twenties directing, writing and performing. She lives in London with her husband and young children. @TorUdall

A Thousand Paper Birds is her first novel and is an intimate portrait of five inextricably linked lives, spanning one calendar year at Kew Gardens. After the sudden death of his wife, Audrey, Jonah sits on a bench in Kew Gardens, trying to reassemble the shattered pieces of his life. Chloe, shaven-headed and abrasive, finds solace in the origami she meticulously folds. But when she meets Jonah, her carefully constructed defences threaten to fall. Milly, a child quick to laugh, freely roams Kew, finding beauty everywhere she goes. But where is her mother and where does she go when the gardens are closed? Harry’s purpose is to save plants from extinction. Quiet and enigmatic, he longs for something – or someone – who will root him more firmly to the earth. Audrey links these strangers together. As the mystery of her death unravels, the characters journey through the seasons to learn that stories, like paper, can be refolded and reformed. Haunted by songs and origami birds, this novel is a love letter to a garden and a hymn to lost things.

The Interview

A Thousand Paper Birds is your first novel but with your career in dance and theatre, I wonder if perhaps storytelling is in your blood?

I think ‘creating experiences’ is in my blood. Capturing a mood, a glance, a moment. Having come from a dance background, which is all about communicating a feeling, the things unsaid, the push-pull of an encounter, I had to work hard to move away from a series of images and sensations to something with more narrative drive. I could, however, fall back on my theatre years to explore character motivations, the importance of an arc. I think, primarily, it is imagination that has been my fuel and anchor. Imagining different worlds, the infinite possibilities. Trying to make the familiar unfamiliar.

 

How long has this story lived with you?

It started in 2003 when I first moved to Kew and began jotting down notes about the Gardens. I was working on a different novel at the time so didn’t take much notice. Over the years, different threads began to form – including origami and the question, ‘Who is Harry Barclay?’. I was always struck by the abundance of life in Kew in juxtaposition with the commemorative benches. All those dead people who had ‘loved spending time in this garden’ only made me more aware of the beauty of the place and how fleeting the moment. This rub of death and life began to fascinate me. I started writing the novel in 2009 and it took six years and eight drafts before it reached Bloomsbury.

 

Loss and grief are central themes of the story, and your writing doesn’t shy away from the sensitive subjects of suicide and miscarriage. There’s a beautiful line where Jonah feels he ‘is clutching a newborn child, holding the exact weight of hope in his arms.’ Were you conscious of speaking about grief that is often kept hidden?

Yes. I suffered recurrent miscarriages between my first and second child, so I felt qualified to explore this difficult and often unspoken subject. Grief for an unborn child is real and yet intangible. I’m always interested in exploring the things that are in the mist, that you can only see the vague shape of – perhaps an outline here or there, the rest erased, amorphous. So I wanted to see if I could bring that yearning into being.

A close friend committed suicide when we were in our late twenties. It’s one of those things that leaves its mark on you and it turned up in my writing, unbidden. I think many of us have had some whimsical notion of suicide at some point – but I think there’s a huge chasm between thinking it and doing it. I’m really interested in what that is. The space between.

I have also witnessed friends die of terminal illness – and I’m interested in the grief of a dying person. I remember a day when there was a sudden downpour – a proper, constant dousing – and my neighbour, who knew he didn’t have long, walked out of his house with his umbrella and stood in the middle of the road just taking it all in. How do you say goodbye to that last rainfall? I think one thing the book tries to do is stretch that final moment. If I could press pause between my penultimate heartbeat and my last, what would my thoughts be?

 

The book remains hopeful, the idea of redemption ever-present – perhaps because the setting at Kew Gardens is so beautiful. Did you always know you wanted to set A Thousand Paper Birds there?

Yes. Kew always came first. I was living in a bedsit near the Gardens with only two windows that were so high I couldn’t see out of them. So if I had writing time, I would take myself off to Kew and set up my ‘office’ – which was always one particular bench by the lake. Eventually this became Audrey’s bench. If the weather was dreadful, I would seek refuge in the Palm House and perch on the hot pipes, surrounded by banana trees and palms. In later drafts, I would write in different locations depending on which character’s storyline I was working on; each character has a particular place that resonates.

 

The rhythm of the book was another source of joy for me; could you tell us a little about the structure and timespan the book is set over?

As a dancer, rhythm is vital to me: the rhythm of the sentences, the words, the chapter. It is important to me where the comma is, the dash. It’s Fred Astaire in a graceful spin, his arms wheeling, then a pause – oh, how important the pause is – before he stamps, shuffles, stamps again. Writing IS a dance.

As for the structure, I was weaving two timelines and five character perspectives. At first I worked in narrative order, then in deeper drafts I took the thread of just one or two characters and worked them from beginning to end, just polishing that particular arc. Then in the next draft I would braid them together again, checking the juxtapositions, the pace … and yes, most importantly, the rhythm.

 

Kew felt like a character in its own right, as did the origami cranes Chloe creates almost compulsively. What are your thoughts about the therapeutic properties of art and nature?

Both art and nature are sustenance to me. At an early age, I learnt from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden that nature has the power to transform. We enter a garden, and if we let it enter us, we leave changed. Ditto for woods, oceans, mountains – even a daisy in the crack of a pavement. It can totally shift my day.

The same is true with art. Many books have saved me. Music has lifted and consoled me. I have stood in front of a particular painting for hours, unable to leave. Often I don’t know why – just that it is making my soul itch. Dance has a profound impact. It touches on things we have no words for. It always breaks me and makes me bigger.

Fusing these two themes, I was interested in how humans strive to create and yet are systematically destroying the most creative thing of all: nature. Harry’s job is to save species from extinction. I’m dumbfounded by the vast variety of Kew’s flora. It’s enough to make you believe in a vast, divine imagination – but perhaps that creativity is coming from the seed itself, the atom. I’m curious about the urge to create that is in every living thing – the bud pushing through the soil, the ambition of a tree to birth an apple. In all of us there’s a striving to create, to be the fullest we can be.

 

I’ve been inspired to try and learn how to make paper birds by your book; are you a dab hand at origami yourself?

Sadly, no. I can do a few birds well. A couple of boxes. But it’s not necessarily about a big repertoire of models, but repeating the same bird again and again. There’s something very meditative about the process. But beyond my dabbling, there’s a whole world out there of origami masters making the most extraordinary things. Scientists use origami to solve mathematical equations. Leonardo Da Vinci, Houdini – many of the big thinkers have been enthralled by its mysteries and symmetries.

I love how many things can be created from a single square. How often can I unfold and refold the paper, changing it from a bird to a boat, a kimono, before the paper frays or tears? This was a metaphor for the writing process: how far can I push the form, fold in the different perspectives, and, particularly, how much can I crease the genres before something rips?

One of the best things about the book coming out is people telling me stories about origami birds being scattered in bookshops, left on trains, stranded at bus stops. People are picking up litter – a ticket, a chewing gum wrapper – and folding it into a gift for the next stranger … and the next. It’s a tiny act of resistance that says, despite everything, I still believe in beauty, in small gestures of kindness. A Chinese whisper.

 

As a destroyer of books myself, one of my favourite scenes is that between Harry and Audrey where they talk about books bearing the imprint of their readers – corners turned, pages smudged, words underlined.  Are you a careful or careless handler of books?

When I was a child, Roald Dahl signed a book for me. My copy had felt tip drawings in the margins, silly faces, doodles. He was charmed by it, saying the book had been well-loved, well lived-in. I won’t fold corners to mark my place – partly because I love matching books with bookmarks, but I will turn down pages to flag a favourite phrase. I underline often. I even scribble in the margins. Perhaps something I’ve read has set off a new thought about my characters, or a scene, so I’ll just begin to riff. It becomes a dialogue.

I particularly love holiday books. The ones that come back double the thickness because they’re bloated with sea water – or perhaps there’s sand in the seams, or an unspecified flower pressed between the pages. There may be dirt from a rickshaw. A squashed bug. My holiday has become part of the book – its story.

Some people might judge it as careless. But I believe the biggest compliment I can give a writer is to show them my copy of their book, all the corners turned, sentences underlined. Look. This is how much I loved this. This is how much I lived it. This is how much I cared.

 

 

 

 

14 Brilliant Authors Who Didn’t Succeed Until After 30

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The art world is always obsessed with writer wunderkinder who bedazzle us with their early life talent. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zadie Smith, Dylan Thomas, Jonathan Safran Foer, Helen Oyeyemi, John Keats: The list goes on, and the list is filled with the names of hyper-talented writers who were published and celebrated well before they hit 30.

If you are still waiting for your novel to find a buyer or for your short story to appear in the New Yorker, worry not. There is no time limit on achieving your writerly dreams. After all, dozens of famous writers didn’t “make it” until their 30s, 40s, 50s and, in some cases, even later than that.

These superlative authors don’t fall into the 20-something prodigy category. So take your time, revise that draft and write, write, write. These names should inspire.

1. Toni Morrison wrote her first novel at 39.

Toni Morrison may be a Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, but she was also a late bloomer. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, wasn’t published until she was 40, while she was working at Random House as an editor. The Bluest Eye marked the beginning of a remarkable literary career that has included iconic titles like Beloved and Song of Solomon, all happening in tandem with an academic career as a Princeton professor.

2. Millard Kaufman published his first novel at the age of 90.

Sure, he wrote his first screenplay at 32 (Ragtime Bear, which featured the first appearance of a character named Mr. Magoo), but his first novel, Bowl of Cherries, was published when Kaufman was 90 years old. He also wrote a second novel, Misadventure, which was released posthumously in 2010. Kaufman is proof that it’s never too late to get a publishing deal.

3. Helen DeWitt published ‘The Last Sumarai’ at 41.

DeWitt was 41 when she finally published her first novel, The Last Samurai. In a fascinating interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books, DeWitt discusses her path to publication which includes a suicide attempt, years in academia at Oxford and then a turn toward the literary world. At one point with hundreds of fragments of abandoned and half-begun books on her computer, she quit her job and spent a month writing a new book, which would become The Last Samurai. After finding early interest, she felt pulled in too many directions and took time off from it before finally finishing and publishing the beloved story.

4. Bram Stoker didn’t write ‘Dracula’ until he was 50.

Bram Stoker, famous for Dracula, didn’t pen his opus until he was 50 years old. He left the civil service after many years to help run London’s famous Lyceum Theatre, writing reviews for free on the side. Though Dracula wasn’t his first novel, it is proof that you can write game-changing novels on the side.

5. Richard Adams wasn’t published until his 50s.

Adams served in World War II during his younger years and, like Stoker, became a civil servant, in what would later become the UK Department of the Environment. He wrote fiction in his spare time and told tales of a rabbit to his children on long car rides. The stories grew and became so complicated that he had to write them down. Eventually, when Adams was 54, a publisher picked up the now-beloved and best-selling Watership Down.

6. Anthony Burgess published his first novel at 39.

The man responsible for the controversial A Clockwork Orange came to writing very late. He served in the military, worked as a teacher, organized amateur theater productions of T.S. Eliot and later joined the British Colonial Service to teach in Malaya. It was there, while ill, that he began to write, and at the age of 39, he published his first novel, Time for a Tiger. Burgess went on to write a great deal more, also composing hundreds of musical works, and even wrote a translation of the opera Carmen.

7. Laura Ingalls Wilder was in her mid-60s when she published ‘Little House in the Big Woods.’

If you read the Little House on the Prairie books as a child, then you likely know the story of Wilder’s life. The daughter of a pioneer family in late 19th-century America, she was a teacher, a housewife and a journalist, and worked for the local Farm Loan Association. What you might not know is that Wilder didn’t publish the first book in her series until 1932, when she was 65. She began writing her childhood memoirs at the encouragement of her daughter. Her original biography, Pioneer Girl, which was rejected by publishers, will be released later this year.

8. William S. Burroughs published his first novel at 39.

A tragic incident led to the late-blooming literary career of William S. Burroughs, beat icon and addict novelist. In 1951, while drunk, he shot his wife, Joan Vollmer, in a game of “William Tell” in Mexico City. Witnesses claimed it was an accident, but while awaiting trial, Burroughs began writing his novel, Queer, which he eventually published in 1985.

His first published novel, Junky, was published when he was 39. In the introduction of Queer, Burroughs mentions how Vollmer’s death was pivotal to his writing: “So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out.”

9. Raymond Chandler published ‘The Big Sleep’ at 51.

Chandler was inspired to write by the Great Depression: After losing his job in the oil industry, he decided to become a detective novelist and is now remembered as one of the greats. The Big Sleep, his first and one of his best-loved novels, was published at the age of 51, earning admiration from writers as diverse as W.H. Auden, Evelyn Waugh and Ian Fleming of James Bond fame.

10. George Eliot didn’t publish ‘Middlemarch’ until she was 52.

Mary Ann Evans, better known by her pen name George Eliot, is one of Victorian England’s most acclaimed novelists. Her first book, Adam Bede, was published when she was 40, and her seminal Middlemarch didn’t come out for another 12 years. She chose the male pen name so that her novels and words would be taken seriously at a time when female writers were associated with romance.

11. Charles Bukowski published his first novel at 51.

Bukowski released a few short stories in his 20s, but he quickly grew disillusioned with publishing and his lack of success, and so went on what can best be described as a 10-year bender. It wasn’t until publisher John Martin persuaded Bukowski, who had spent most of his life working in a post office, to write his first novel. Post Office came out to widespread acclaim in 1971, when Bukowski was 51.

12. Anna Sewell published ‘Black Beauty’ during the last months of her life.

Sewell’s mother was a children’s author, whom she helped edit many books over the years. Sewell began writing Black Beauty during the last decade of her life to bring attention to the need for kindness to animals, while she was struggling with illness. The novel was published in 1877, when she was 57. She died the next year, but lived long enough to see her book’s huge success.

13. Rev. Wilbert Awdry developed ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ from bedtime stories for his children.

The Rev. Wilbert Awdry was a lifelong railway enthusiast who made up stories about trains for his son Christopher when he came down with measles. After making Christopher a model of the engine Edward from his stories, Christopher asked for a model of the story’s large blue train Gordon. Unable to mock one up from his usual materials, Awdry made a small tank engine called Thomas, thus inspiring one of the most beloved children’s book series of the 20th century. The first story, The Railway Engines, was published in 1945, when Awdry was 34.

14. The Marquis De Sade wrote his first book in prison, at the age of 42.

When you’re the famous libertine and hedonist Donatien Alphonse François de Sade, many other things must seem more interesting than literature. However, his bacchanalian lifestyle landed him 32 years in prison. His first book, Dialogue Between a Priest and a Dying Man, was written in 1782 while imprisoned in the Chateau de Vincennes. De Sade was 42 at the time of writing, but it wouldn’t be published until 1926. He continued to write salacious and sexual texts all through his prison sentences, including The 120 Days of Sodom and, perhaps his magnum opus, Justine.

Via https://14-brilliant-authors-who-didn-t-succeed-until-after-30

Author Interview: Allison Tait

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Allison Tait describes herself thus on her website:

“I’m a freelance writer, author and blogger, living large(ish) in a small(ish) town. I write a lot. I combine my day job (feature articles & non-fiction books), with my night job (fiction), and my 24/7 job (family). Fortunately, I gave up sleep years ago!”

A professional writer for over 20 years, Allison started her career as a staff writer for magazines and newspapers, and in recent times has added online publishing to her list.

Allison’s latest incarnation is writer of children’s fiction. Her first book in a series – The MapMaker Chronicles – Race to the End of the World – is published by Hachette Australia, under the name A.L.Tait and was released in October 2014. It is the first in a trilogy that is already garnering her a legion of young fans across the country.

Congratulations on the release of the Mapmaker Chronicles. You changed your writing name for this novel. What was the motivation behind this decision?

I didn’t so much change my name as abbreviate it! I wanted to differentiate between the writing I do for adults and this book, which is for kids.

When did you decide to write children’s fiction? Or did it choose you? Can you outline the start of the creative process behind this project? Was there a light bulb moment?

I think The Mapmaker Chronicles chose me! I never imagined I’d be an author of children’s books. When I began writing fiction, I wrote women’s fiction (which I still write, and so far have completed two full-length (90,000+ words) manuscripts, one of which went very close to publication and the second of which I am redrafting).

But I have two boys, now aged seven and ten, and they are both fans of the ‘head-hurting’ question. We have long-and-involved conversations about where space ends, how high the stars are, whether there are any places in the world that remain unexplored, which dwarf from The Hobbit I would invite to a dinner party… you get the idea.

Several of those conversations, close together, led to one of those ideas that make you tingle all over.

“How far does space go?” asked Mr10, one night.

“Nobody knows,” I answered.

Then the next night: “How did they map the world?”

“Well, they had to go out there and find out,” I answered, distractedly.

“They must have been brave,” he answered.

“They were,” I said. “They would have felt exactly as we feel looking out into space, not knowing how far it goes or what’s out there.”

And just like that, in my mind I saw a race to map the world, and a boy who really didn’t want to go.

You have many writing projects on the go at any one time. How do you manage to delve in and out of genres and characters, fiction and non-fiction? Does one writing style provide relief for another?

Over many years of freelance writing, I’ve learnt to juggle lots of projects. I like to have one long-length manuscript on the go, and then I work on articles, corporate work, websites and other things as they come up, using the deadlines as the best way to prioritise work. I really like to work this way – it means I’m never bored and I don’t get writers’ block because I simply move on to something else for a while if the words aren’t flowing for one project. I don’t work on more than one fiction project at a time – I just push through until I have it completed, putting aside any other ‘brilliant ideas’ for later.

With so much on your calendar how do you manage your writing time? Do you have a strict routine? Do you have to make personal sacrifices?

I have a mammoth To Do list and the paid work always comes first. When you have so many deadlines, it’s a simple matter of prioritising what needs to be done each day to ensure those deadlines are met. I don’t have a strict routine for writing in that I just do what needs to be done each day – but I’m at my desk while the boys are at school and I often work at night.

What advice do you have for starting out writers when it comes to pitching stories and managing deadlines? How do you deal with rejection?

Oh, this is such a massive subject. I have a lot of information on my blog at allisontait.com that’s full of advice for freelance writers and my eBook Get Paid To Write: The Secrets of Freelancing Success is full of tips and tricks of the trade. But as a starting point:

  • A pitch is not just an outline of a subject you’d like to write about. You need to find the angle of the subject that is new and exciting and you need to sell it. It’s a real art form and it takes a lot of practice. I often suggest to my students at the Australian Writers’ Centre that they open a magazine, read a story and then try to write the pitch that got the story published.
  • Reliability is essential for any freelance writer, and to be reliable you need to be organised. When you get commissioned to write an article, start making phone calls and lining up interviews that day – even if your deadline is four weeks away. Things don’t always go to plan and you need to allow yourself time to change interviewees or find a new case study or hose down any other disaster that arises.
  • Rejection is part of the game. It’s no fun and I don’t think anyone ever grows to like it, but you do get used to it (sad but true). Remember that the editor is not rejecting you – it’s just that the particular idea you’re pitching is not right for that publication at that time. Have a look at your pitch, rethink it with a new publication in mind and try again. Don’t just send out one blanket pitch to six publications – that will result in a lot of rejection.

Do you have any remedies for writer’s block? (taking your cheeky puppy for a walk?)

Everybody deals with this in their own way. As I said, I don’t really get writer’s block per se, but I do allow myself a lot of thinking time when I’m writing a manuscript. I find that my mind works best when my body is involved in some kind of mindless, repetitive activity, so I walk (not with the puppy though – he’s too distracting!), I wash dishes, I weed the garden, I hang out washing… And I usually find that if I do that for a while, my mind busily unravels whatever plot problem I’ve struck.

Do you find the self-motivation and the discipline required difficult?

Honestly, no. I never struggle to motivate myself to write fiction because I love it. I’d rather be doing that than just about anything else. When it comes to the freelance work, my day job, I have been a fulltime freelance writer for more than 10 years now and I know how to get an article written. Yes, some days I’d rather faff about on the internet and tweet, but that just means that I sit down later that night and get the story done. If I don’t write the article, I don’t get paid – that’s a great motivator!

Writers these days have to be very technically savvy and keep an online presence. How do you juggle your social media commitments with writing?

I think that this comes down to time in the game, as well as time on the field. I have been blogging for nearly five years now and have worked through several different social media platforms to accompany that, whittling it down to the ones that I like. Over the years, I’ve built up an amazing community across my blog, Twitter and Facebook. I do a bit on G+ and Pinterest, but mostly I go to the others because I really like them. My advice to people in this area is two-fold: do what you like and, most importantly, what comes easily to you so that it doesn’t feel like work, and secondly, don’t expect miracles overnight – it takes time to find your networks and create a community.

Do you find writing a lonely experience? It can also be an anti-social exercise. How do the people in your life deal with that?

I like spending time by myself. I have a busy family and social life outside of my work, and I’m more than happy to be alone in a quiet house during the day. I don’t write when my boys are around – or try not to (there are occasions when deadlines need to be met) – and I don’t work on weekends.

Do you have a routine / a particular place and time when you write?

I write in my study. I’ve tried writing in cafes but they’re too distracting. I work while the boys are at school and at night after everyone goes to bed.

Who /what inspires your writing? Who are your favourite authors?

I’m inspired by everything around me. I’m inspired by the joy I get from bringing a story to life. I have so many favourite authors and favourite books that I don’t think I could even begin to name them.

Why writing? Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I think that writing is something that chooses you. I wanted to be an actor for a long time, but then I realised that the stage fright would kill me. I fell into magazine journalism and it kept me happy for a long time. And then I decided I was going to write fiction, so I sat down to give it a go. My first attempts were woeful, but you learn with every manuscript you write.

Do you have any further advice for starting out writers?

My main advice is to stop talking about writing and actually write. You’ll never get a book written if you don’t make the time to sit down and write it.

What is your next major writing project now that the Mapmaker Chronicles is released?

I’ve just completed the third manuscript in The Mapmaker Chronicles series, and I’m redrafting an adult novel that I’m hoping might be my first published in that area. That should take me to the end of the year. After that, who knows?

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If you’d like to learn more about Allison Tait, you can check out her website here.

You can see the original article here

The Books That Made Your Favourite Authors Want To Write

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It’s a question that’s asked by interviewers all the time: how did you become a writer? It’s kind of a lob, and for many authors, the answer is obvious. Reading made them into writers. What else? Besides actually, you know, sitting down and doing the work. But while many authors cite a lifetime love of the written word, or a storytelling acumen developed in the womb, or a childhood spent lost in libraries, some can point to a specific book and say: that one. That’s the book that made me who I am today – if only because it opened a door, or gave me permission, or even just a spark. Below, a selection of these: 30 recommendations plucked from interviews and essays the internet over. If you read them all, you’ll probably become a writer instantly!

Zadie Smith: Hurricane, Andrew Salkey

A Jamaican writer called Andrew Salkey… wrote a YA novel called Hurricanebefore YA was a term. I remember it as the book that made me want to write. He was the most wonderful writer for children. I just found what looks to be a sequel, Earthquake, on an old-books stall on West Third, and I intend to read it to my kids. He died in 1995.

Alain Robbe-Grillet: The Stranger, Albert Camus

The two most influential books of the war years were Sartre’s Nausea and Camus’s The Stranger. Other novels by the same authors—for example Sartre’s The Roads to Liberty or Camus’s The Fall—are of little interest. I feel that I decided to become a writer when I read The Stranger, which appeared in 1942, during the Occupation. It was published by Gallimard, a firm very much connected with the Occupiers. By the way, Sartre himself finally confessed that the Occupation hadn’t bothered him much. But my reading of The Stranger, as I explain in the Mirror, is very personal. The murder committed by Mersault was the result of a situation, which is the situation of relationship to the world.

Eileen Myles: Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

Do you remember what books you encountered, growing up in Massachusetts in the 1950s and 60s, that might have inspired you to want to become a writer?

The 50s is childhood up to age ten, so myths, sci-fi. Those didn’t make me want to be a writer. They made me want to do drugs or have adventures, travel. Maybe Little Women made me want to be a writer because Jo, the star of it, was a writer. I didn’t understand yet that that was the author. In the 60s I was a teenager. I liked Franny & Zooey, really everything by J.D. Salinger. I realized it was important who was talking. If you could tap into that you could get a flow going. Henry Miller came to me in the 70s. He said I didn’t ask to be born. He wrote in a complaining, American working class speech. He was from Williamsburg. It was ugly. It reminded me of Somerville, where I came from. He made it clear that an unprivileged American could be a writer and could have a lot to talk about. He switched constantly from speech to surrealism. That shift was important to me because an unstable self was what I had to use.

Jodi Picoult: Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

My favorite writer is Alice Hoffman; she’s brilliant. One of my favorite books in recent years was Yann Martel’s Life of Pi – I wished I’d written it, which is my highest form of compliment. The book that made me want to be a writer in the first place was Gone with the Wind – I read it and wanted to create a whole world out of words, too.

David Mitchell: The Earthsea Cycle, Ursula K. Le Guin

There was no single epiphany, but I recall a few early flashes. When I was ten I would be transported by certain books – Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy, Susan Cooper’s fantasy novels, Isaac Asimov – and burn to do to readers what had just been done to me. Sometimes that burning prompted me to start writing, though I never got more than a few pages down. A few years later I would indulge in a visual fantasy that involved imagining my name on the jacket of a book – usually Faber and Faber – and I’d feel a whoosh inside my rib cage.

Emma Donoghue: The Passion, Jeanette Winterson

The book that made me want to write was The Passion by Jeanette Winterson. It made me feel that historical fiction didn’t have to be fusty and all about bodices, that it could be a thrilling novel, which just happened to be set in 1800.

Tom Wolfe: Napoleon, Emil Ludwig

Regarding writing, was there any particular book that influenced you?

I was greatly struck by Emil Ludwig’s biography of Napoleon, which is written in the historical present. It begins as the mother sits suckling her babe in a tent. […] It impressed me so enormously that I began to write the biography of Napoleon myself, though heavily cribbed from Emil Ludwig. I was eight at the time.

Roxane Gay: Beloved, Toni Morrison (and a lot of other books)

My writing ambition was sharpened by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale, an unapologetically political novel that reminds us of what it costs to be a woman in this world or the next. My ambition, that toward which I aspire to write, has long been guided by Toni Morrison, Beloved, and through her words, seeing how a novel can be mysterious and true, mythical and raw, how a novel can honor memory even when we want to look away or forget. My ambition has long been sharpened by Alice Walker, willing to tell the stories of black women without apology, willing to write politically without apology – Possessing the Secret of Joy, a haunting, gorgeous novel about female genital mutilation that keeps me transfixed and heartbroken and helpless each time I read it, because sometimes the only way to tell the truth is to tell a story.

Neil Gaiman: The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis was the first person to make me want to be a writer. He made me aware of the writer, that there was someone standing behind the words, that there was someone telling the story. I fell in love with the way he used parentheses – the auctorial asides that were both wise and chatty, and I rejoiced in using such brackets in my own essays and compositions through the rest of my childhood.

I think, perhaps, the genius of Lewis was that he made a world that was more real to me than the one I lived in; and if authors got to write the tales of Narnia, then I wanted to be an author.

Anne Lamott: Nine Stories, J.D. Salinger

What book made you want to become a writer?

You mean, besides Pippi Longstocking?

Nine Stories blew me away‚ I can still remember reading “For Esmé – With Love and Squalor” for the first time, and just weeping with the poignancy of the damaged soldier and the young girl. And “Teddy” – I still remember the moment when the little boy Teddy, who is actually a sadhu, tells the reporter on the ship that he first realized what God was all about when he saw his little sister drink a glass of milk – that it was God, pouring God, into God. Or something like that – maybe I don’t remember it quite as well as I thought. But it changed me both spiritually and as a very young writer, because both the insight and the simplicity of the story were within my reach.

Oh, and “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” and “Down at the Dinghy,” with the great Boo Boo Glass. And “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” – don’t even get me started…

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For more fantastic recommendations from your favourite writers, check out the original post here: http://lithub.com/the-books-that-made-your-favorite-writers-want-to-write/