Finalist of the Adelaide Books Children's Literary Award and the author of A WINDLESS PLACE
1. Tell us a bit about yourself – something that we will not find in the official author’s bio. Do you have any unusual creative habits?
I love writing by hand. I once took a calligraphy course so that I could indulge my love of handwriting. I often write the first draft of my novels by hand. This may seem labor intensive but it doesn’t seem so to me. I’m working on a few pages at a time. The pages just pile up and, some months later, I have several hundred pages and that wonderful thing—a novel manuscript!
Once the first draft is complete, I find it much easier to edit and rewrite on my laptop. I do write plot outlines, but only after I’ve drafted the entire manuscript, and only to assist me in recalling the sequence of events, as well as each character’s entrance into the story. I don’t map out novels or stories before I write them, or as I write them, because, for me, the story and the characters have lives of their own.
My job is to get the story down on the page and allow the characters to progress in their own way and at their own pace. They’re often fated, as I may already have determined the ending, but they have a lot of freedom within that boundary. Sometimes they force me to rethink my endings. That’s when I know I’ve created strong characters.
My story ideas are often a momentary thought, realization, or insight, during which I visualize the story, or the key elements of the story, sometimes from beginning to end. It might simply be a title—at this point nothing more than a place marker. More often than not, the title and its accompanying note land on a stray piece of paper. I try to remember to write down the idea in some more permanent place, like a journal, before the idea is lost and gone forever. There’s a Chinese proverb that goes something like this: “The faintest ink is better
than the best memory.”
2. Do you remember what was your first story (article, essay, or poem) about and when did you write it?
I wrote an essay about my mother in elementary school. I remember that I described her—I thought she was very pretty—and said other nice things about her. I thought it was a good essay, but my teacher, a nun (I went to a Catholic school), was critical. I can’t remember why. Obviously, because I remember this so clearly, I thought the criticism was unjustified. I don’t remember that she gave my essay any redeeming qualities. But it didn’t result in my putting down my #2 pencil and resigning from the writing world. I still like to think it was a good essay.
I took my first writing course, and got my first short story rejection (from The New Yorker), as an undergraduate. Although it didn’t appear in The New Yorker, my short story was published in the campus magazine. I saw my work published for the first time and I felt validated. The name of the story was “Grace.” It took place during the course of a Roman Catholic Mass and was about a young man reflecting on a woman he loved, or thought he loved, whose name was “Grace.” The story, of course, played on the nuances of the title.
3. What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a number of short stories, which I’m planning to collect into a book, as well as a novel.
The novel takes place in the Midwest (as have my other three novels). In the last few days of his life, a man engages in a final struggle with self-doubt as he deals with memories of his past. The story collection includes contemporary fiction, mostly centering on love and family, and several children’s stories, including “The Leftover King.”
4. What do you deem the most relevant about your work? What is the most important to be remembered?
Although my writing is character driven and revolves around family and relationships, it’s influenced by a personal quest—my search for love, purpose, rootedness, a sense of belonging—“ a room of one’s own,” as Virginia Woolf so memorably put it.
What I hope for, as a writer, is that my stories inspire empathy. I believe that empathy is fiction’s greatest gift to the reader—the feeling that “I see,” “I understand,” “I’ve been there,” “I could be that person,” or, best of all, “I am that person.”
Creative writing has sustained me throughout my life. There are stories I have to tell—or, perhaps, one story that I have to keep telling. I’ll keep telling those stories, or that one story, as long as I’m able.
5. Authors and books that have influenced your writings?
My third novel, A Windless Place, published in 2019 by Adelaide Books, was inspired by Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, a major stylistic influence, and “Spring and Fall: To a Young Child” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, one of my favorite poets.
However, my primary stylistic model and ongoing inspiration is Jane Austen. I read her six major novels over and over because I admire her stylistic clarity, her utter lack of sentimentality, her smooth, effortless narration, her satire, her witty and engaging dialogue, and her timeless stories of family conflict and romantic mishap.
Jane Austen is a realist in the best sense; that is, she portrays her flawed characters with wit, humor, and compassion. As she said in one of her letters, “Three or four Families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on.” Modestly, she refers to her literary output as “the little bit (two Inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush, as produces little effect after much labour”—a reference to the miniaturist art (watercolor on ivory) that was
popular at the time.
I enjoy novels in which the tumult of quiet lives is revealed in carefully crafted prose. My “three or four Families in a Country Village” live primarily in small towns in the Midwest.The “little bit (two Inches wide) of ivory” on which I work is the limited perspective I have chosen to tell my stories.
My children’s stories are influenced by the poetry and prose I’ve listened to and read as both child and adult, from The Tall Book of Mother Goose (illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky) to the poetry that my father read to the family as I was growing up; from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; and from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden to E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.
I hope readers enjoy “The Leftover King,” A Windless Place, and my other stories and novels. I love knowing that my work is published and available to be read. It’s that same wonderful sense of validation I felt, years ago, when my first story was published.