Today I’m testing out the website to see if I’ve linked it correctly to my author page on Facebook. I’ve been running around like a headless chicken trying to get the blog tour organized, so I’ve missed a week of posting, and I have nothing prepared. So I’m gonna use the author interview questions I filled out for my publisher, Vagabondage Press. A ready-made post ripe for maniacal internet experimentation. [insert insane chortling here]
Okay, here goes:
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I used to write poems and stories from the moment, it feels like, that I was taught to read and write. I know I loved hearing stories read to me. When I was very young, my father put a chapbook together of poems I had written, and several years later when I was older, I went around another neighborhood (not my own) peddling the book for $1.00. I wore a cap that said, “Write On,” and went door to door, and I think I even got a few pity sales. Mostly I got confused smiles and strange looks from people. On a side note, it was summer, and at this point I’d been in gymnastics for several years and I was somewhat muscular for a 13-year-old. So they may have thought a weird boy was either selling them something or casing their houses for a robbery later. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-to-late teens that I realized that maybe I could actually write as an occupation.
Why do you write?
I guess I began reading obsessively and then writing as a way to escape, like a lot of people do, for whatever reason. I was a mixed race child adopted by a black family and extremely shy and self-scrutinizing because of it. Later, the escape factor began to morph into something else; a love of words and sentence rhythm and images and ideas and philosophies. Finding creative ways to address the burden of being sentient but basically having no answers for anything, consciously or unconsciously, became an all-consuming goal.
Is being a writer/poet anything like you imagined it would be?
Definitely not. In high school when we had to read “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” which Carson McCullers wrote at 23, I figured I could get published earlier than that. I wrote four novels in high school and had gotten lots of positive attention from teachers for my writing. Little did I know that when people said, “If you want to be a writer, you have to write every day,” that that was serious advice not to be taken lightly. So although I won a writing contest at UCLA when I was 19, I didn’t officially get published until my 30s, when I seriously started writing and submitting. Writing definitely takes a lot of consistent work and dedication and lots of alone time. I don’t mind the alone time. But it’s definitely a challenge finding “writing time.” Writing Time is like a real, separate thing, another dimension you have to enter and fearlessly occupy. You can’t go in there to window shop and twiddle your thumbs. You have to go in, tie yourself down, work, and then leave when the work is done.
What do you think makes a good story?
In my opinion, virtually any topic can make a good story. I think it all depends on the way it’s handled. For me, a story about someone going to the store to get ingredients to make dinner that night can be amazing if it’s written a certain way. So the actual words themselves are like a character in the story that makes or breaks the tale for me.
What’s your favorite genre to read?
I lean toward sci-fi/fantasy. I especially love time travel novels or something strange happening to the whole world and how characters handle it. End of the world stories are good except for the depressing part of the world coming to an end. But I enjoy seeing ordinary people being thrown into extraordinary circumstances and what happens to them. Probably because I know I wouldn’t make it past a few weeks if the world ended. I’m not a fighter, and I don’t think I could survive without Ibuprofen.
Who is your favorite author or poet?
It’s almost impossible to say there’s one favorite. But if I had to put one in the forefront, it would be T.C. Boyle and his short stories. I learned how to lighten up from Mr. Boyle and laugh a lot more, and I think his comical short stories are genius.
What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?
Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes” really left an impression on me, along with stories like “The Outsiders”, “Lord of the Flies,” “Bless the Beasts and the Children,” and “The House of Stairs.” All of these involved kids in some kind of dire circumstances and heavy emotional outcomes. I enjoyed the Judy Blumes and E.L. Konigsburgs of the world too but was definitely fascinated by darker topics. I mean, who can forget the descent into chaos and what happened to poor Piggy in Lord of the Flies?
What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
I think all the above books influenced me as a person since there was some message or warning at the core of each that I received on some level, at least. Self-sacrifice, even if misguided or by accident, seemed to be a running theme behind many stories. An awareness of underdogs and their struggle for a rightful spot in the world resonated with me, probably because I thought of myself as an underdog who had been initially abandoned. As a kid, I absorbed the fact emotionally, later intellectually, that people are more or less one step away from reverting to animalistic behavior at any given moment. Me included, of course. Like I said, if everything came to an end, I’d probably be shoving old ladies aside in Costco while I tossed all the pain meds I could find into my backpack.
Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
Usually reading sparks inspiration; a thought or idea pushed to the surface from the story starts to take on its own life. Movies can be very inspirational, especially ones with beautiful cinematography or emotionally charged like “There Will Be Blood,” “Deliverance,” “Map of the Human Heart,” or “Apocalypse Now.”
What does your family think of your writing?
They’ve always been positive and supportive. But realistic. My mother suggested to me as a young adult that I should write romances to make money, then once I had money I could write what I wanted. At the time, I looked at her like she was completely insane, thinking nothing could be further beneath me than writing “romance.” When I look back now, naturally, I think that was sound advice. My father always says he’s going to win the lotto so I can quit my job and just write all day. I try not to read into that like he’s saying, “Hopefully, if you have more time to concentrate, you’ll get better at it.”
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I know that Laura Ingalls Wilder talked about how she’d take care of the homestead, cook and clean, raise the kids, chase the chickens, put everyone to bed, and then maybe at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning sit with a candle and do her writing. So I feel like a complete wuss saying that I generally have trouble finding the time to write with any kind of consistency. And forget writing with a pencil by candlelight. Or whatever Laura used. I need a computer and a bright light source. When I do write, though, if I’m just starting or at a point where I have to figure concepts or plot out, I isolate myself at home in the bedroom. Once it’s flowing and going well, I can take the laptop and write in the library for hours.
Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
When I’m writing in the bedroom, I turn on a sound machine with white noise. It blocks out anything that’s happening around me so that I won’t be distracted. There’s a woman who lives behind us who enjoys walking around her apartment building for exercise while having loud conversations on her cell phone. If I hear her walking past my bedroom window, shouting into her phone, I have to close the window and turn up the white noise to full throttle. Her phone is so loud that I can hear the other person talking. That kind of thing drives me crazy. But in the other writing phase where everything’s working out, I could write on Mars during an asteroid storm and as long as I had enough oxygen, I’d get a lot of writing done.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Following the maxim of “less is more” can be challenging. Usually in rewrites I’m able to par down the unnecessary or redundant stuff. But no Hemingway am I. I wrote a few stories where I tried to use more short, declarative sentences, and I enjoyed the process. More specifically, in the past, I had trouble writing male characters believably. I definitely think time and experience helped me outgrow that and now I believe I write male characters like they’re actually male and not some weird male/female hybrid or undefined asexual type.
What are your current projects?
I have a few short stories brewing, and in the meantime I’m mapping out the sequels for Day For Night. Although Day For Night is a standalone novel, there’s more to it, and I have to finish it. It’s like a compulsion.
What are you planning for future projects?
I plan to novelize a sci-fi screenplay and hopefully after that turn it into a graphic novel. I won’t be doing the drawings, though. I can draw, but not that well, unfortunately. This is a fanciful hope for the unforeseen future, though.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Yeah. Try not to let the world suck you into its sticky, gooey center and trap you like a fly in a web. Extricate yourself somehow, and write. Find the time and do it. I personally don’t know about every day, but I know others do it. Every day sounds fantastic. More often than not sounds good too. Definitely don’t let it fall by the wayside if at all possible. Don’t let years slip through your fingers. You’ll regret it later. Hold on to writing like it’s your only child and don’t let it go.