What’s your writing schedule?
Typically, Monday through Friday for as long as it takes to complete that day’s writing goal. Weekends are for catching up, accounting, publicity, contracts… A poet friend described my process as “workman-like.” I consider that a great compliment.
Where do your ideas come from?
This is the most common question writers get, and it’s the hardest to answer. The seed of a book is the thing that’s found like a penny on the ground. The narrative is brute force. I spend a lot of time – months, sometimes a year – honing a book’s story line. And the truth is, whatever dirty penny started the process is almost always spent by the end, completely unrecognizable.
Do you recommend writing classes or critique groups?
I recommend anything that works for you. I took one undergraduate writing class, which didn’t take, and have never belonged to a critique group. That says nothing about the quality of those things and everything about my personality. I don’t play team sports for most of the same reasons. I do, however, have beta readers who look over my first drafts. All of those beta readers are smarter than I am. That helps a lot.
What’s your favorite book?
Everything my friends ever wrote, Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea, Euphoria by Lily King, Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell, Arcadia by Lauren Groff, The Great Man by Kate Christensen and a whole bunch of other stuff I’m forgetting right now.
What’s the best writing advice you ever got?
Read everything you write aloud. (Advice given to me by an old newspaper editor who had a sign in her office with the word “whining” and a line through it. That’s good advice, too.)
Do you read the letters people send you?
Yes, I do.
Do you read your reviews?
Never. I have great respect for the art of literary criticism and read reviews of other people’s books constantly. But by the time one of my books comes out, I’m waist-deep in the next one. Having a critic’s voice in my head – positive or negative – while trying to birth something new would be a disaster.
If I send you my manuscript, can you critique it?
No, I’m sorry. That’s a legal sticky wicket, and I can’t afford the retainer.
Will you speak with our book club/professional organization/prison population?
Happily. Drop my publicist an e-mail.