Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m an English Professor at The University of Akron in Ohio. I’m married to Bill, also an academic, and we have two boys, Philip and Brian. And a dog, Annie. I grew up in Florida and moved to Ohio in 1997 for the job. It was a good decision, though I miss the Gulf of Mexico.
2)When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
The first creative writing I remember doing was when I was 15, I guess you’d call it poetry (it would be very, very kind to call it poetry). It is filled with teenage angst, very melodramatic, and takes itself way too seriously. Daughter of Providence is my first novel, and I completed it in 2007.
3)How did you choose the genre you write in?
I’m not sure I ever did, at least not consciously. I wrote the kind of book I like to read and didn’t think about how it might or should be categorized. I like literary fiction, relevant fiction, personal, human drama that unfolds amid broader social forces that help shape events and people. I think good stories are found in every genre, and I’d be delighted if I could write and publish in more than one.
4)Do you ever experience writers block? Do you work with an outline, or just write?
I absolutely work with an outline—more than an outline, really. The idea of trying to “just write” is both puzzling and terrifying to me. I can’t imagine how people do it. I spend months doing research to establish setting, to fill my head with the details of time and place, both for accuracy and to create the kind of fleshed out stories I prefer. I draw character and plot arcs and lay them out on the floor, I plan the dramatic movements and tensions in a way that allows me to “see” the entire book. I write back stories for my characters. I sort of percolate all that, and then scenes and dialogue begin to suggest themselves, the characters take on a life and volition of their own. Then I outline: I know exactly what I want to accomplish in each chapter, all of them working at the micro and macro level to accomplish the overall goal(s) of the book. It’s very methodical and pragmatic for me, it feels like building something, which is not especially romantic, but it gets the job done. I mean, if you’re going to build a house you probably start with an inspired idea of the finished product, a vision of yourself living in this building, or yourself as someone who has built a house; but then you have to move past that and make a blueprint and you pour the foundation and you go from there, right? Structure, plan, follow-through.
It’s work, frankly, but seeing it as work frees me up from the things that cause writers block. I don’t worry about whether what I’ve written on any given day is “good,” because it’s just a draft. Every time I sit down to write I advance the story, and it’s progress, it’s words on the page. Plenty of time to pore over word choice, imagery, sentence structure, metaphor. Time for beauty and art, the turn of a phrase that stops you dead, the perfect metaphor.
5)Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
I wrote the book in about 12 months, then I went to the then-current Writers Market and did my homework, looking for NYC literary agents who might be a good fit for me/my book. I queried 100 agents with a one-page, business-like letter that included a carefully written, 2-paragraph synopsis of the book. During the next 6 months I received many rejections (some very kind, some perfunctory, a few downright rude), and about a dozen requests for the first few chapters. Again, some rejections, some requests for the full manuscript. The process whittled itself down. Eventually I wound up with my agent; he loved my book, thought he could sell it, and I liked his manner, his approach to the whole business (and of course the fact that he loved my book). Then it took 3 years to secure a publisher, which was very difficult; I had to accept that this book would never see the light of day, and then I had to work pretty hard to get myself to the point where I could begin another project, because my overwhelming sense was that I was clearly not a writer, and that I was kidding myself to think that I could do this successfully.
6)Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
Yes, a key plot point came from personal experience. I don’t want to say too much on this, but when I needed a tragedy, something that would devastate my main character and illustrate a prominent theme, something horrible that readers would really feel, there was only one choice, really: I had to kill a young girl. My younger sister died horribly in a car accident, and I drew heavily from that experience. I couldn’t think of anything worse, and I used it.
7)What project are you working on now? Will you have a new book coming out soon?
I’m about 230 pages into the first volume of a YA trilogy; I’m past the point of uncertainty, and am pumping out the pages. I’m completely in love with my characters, in love with this book, in love with the concept of the whole series. And the remaining two books are loosely plotted as well, so I’m essentially feeling like there aren’t enough hours in the day for writing. I go back to teaching in just a few weeks, so my summer of writing is coming to an end, which I hate! In a perfect world I would write until the book was complete, then teach for a while, then head into the next book. When I write I like to just write.
Cross your fingers that this book and the series will indeed be published!
8)Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
This is probably a bit banal, but don’t be a perfectionist—I think that’s the single most destructive thing for writing. Yes, there is inspiration and genius, but this is about practice—keep reading and writing—honing your craft, building a text. And then it’s about teaching yourself about publishing, reading everything, talking to other writers, figuring out what you need to do to position yourself and your book in the best light for agents and editors. Writing a book is about working every day, and getting it published is about business.
1)If you were a superhero (or villain!) what would your power be? Would you wear a cape?
I would be fluent in every language and dialect. And no, I would not wear a cape, but I would wear awesome, badass boots.
2)What sort of coffee would you order? Simple coffee, complicated soy-non-fat-extra-espresso-half-caff-nightmare?
This question tells me something about you and coffee, but I will just go ahead and say it anyway! Vanilla-soy-latte, a hot milkshake of a coffee nightmare, full fat everything. The simplest coffee I will drink has to have 3 sugars and a lot of half and half. A cup of Joe, plain old black diner coffee? Blech!
3)Is there any food you refuse to eat?
In general I don’t eat organ meat or raw fish, though I have on occasion eaten both (and kept it down). I like to travel, and I like to eat, and the combination of the two is a happy one in terms of foodie adventures.
4)Drink of choice?
Alcohol: red wine with spicy overtones (dry), citrusy white wine in summer (dry, and never, ever Chardonnay), Jameson-rocks on occasion.
Other: I grew up in Florida, and I love love love an icy cold Coke in a glass bottle, though I try really hard not to drink them often.
5)If you could visit any world ever written about, where would you go?
Middle Earth. No question.