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ATW INTERVIEW

Tuesday
Jul262016

Mary Elizabeth Williams

How did you become a writer?

I've always written. When I was a kid, I would come home from field trips and review the places we'd gone. When I got out of college I took an office job working for a film studio, but fortunately after a few years I was laid off. I started writing and sending pieces out to zines and alternative newspapers while I temped for money. Writing was all I ever really wanted to do -- and all I've ever really been good at.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

I was always a big reader, but when I was 15 I read an essay by Nora Ephron about Jane Austen. That's when everything clicked. I suddenly realized that being funny was a revolutionary thing for a woman to do. I got obsessed with Cynthia Heimel, Fran Lebowitz, Fay Weldon, Lynda Barry. I'm not a humorist, but my humor is in everything I do and it's at the core of how I communicate. Right now I think everything on TheToast is brilliant.

When and where do you write?

I have a daily column so I plunk down every morning at my desk -- which is in the living room of my family's tiny NYC apartment -- and just start banging from there.

What are you working on now?

I have my column and a few freelance pieces, and I'm trying to figure out my next book. I have some ideas but I'm also still deep in the "I just wrote a book and the thought of doing another one kills me" mode.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Writer's block is a luxury that people who need to make a living don't suffer. Writing is a craft but it's a job.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Read passionately and often. Write something every day. It will not be perfect. It might suck. That's what Anne Lamott calls your "shitty first drafts." Don't be afraid of them and don't despair. You have to write the bad version before you get to the good version. It's in there.

Be reliable. Be honest. Meet your deadlines -- even your self-imposed ones. Check your work. 

And if you want to write your novel or your personal thoughts for yourself or your friends for free, that's fine. But don't give your writing away to businesses that can and should pay you. "Exposure" is a lie used to treat meaningful work like a hobby.

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a journalist and the author of a new memoir, A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles.

Tuesday
Jul192016

Simon Garfield

How did you become a writer?

I became a writer at school (English was the only subject I was any good at, unless you count fidgeting). I first worked for the school magazine (I loved seeing my name in print), and then, while at the London School of Economics as an undergraduate, I worked on the paper there. I won a student journalism prize from The Guardian, started freelancing for various magazines, edited Time Out, and worked for the Independent and the Observer as a features writer. All the while I was also writing books, occasionally taking extended leave. Books were always the thing for me, but it’s only in the last ten years that I’ve been able to concentrate on them full-time.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

Two main sources of early influence: the NME (New Musical Express) at the time of punk - that gave me a political sensibility. And the New Journalism - Hunter S Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, etc. Those are dangerous writers to emulate, so I had to find my own style in my late 20s. I’ve always been a big fan of tight narrative reporting, especially in book form, so I’ve always loved Tracy Kidder and John McPhee. 

When and where do you write? 

I write most days, usually I’m best in the afternoons and evenings. My favourite spot is a small house I have in St Ives, Cornwall, right by the sea, and right away from all the London madness. 

What are you working on now? 

I’m just correcting proofs of a book called Timekeepers: How The World Became Obsessed With Time, due out in September in the UK and probably the year after that in the US. It includes chapters on trains, movies, photography, music, the whole damn culture. And watchmaking...lots of stuff about watchmaking!

Have you ever suffered from writer's block? 

Not really, but there are obviously uninspired patches, and periods where I just need a break from my screen for a month or six. 

What's your advice to new writers?

Keep on at it. Really, that’s the best advice: if you want to write, write. Don’t talk about writing, just write it. And then rewrite it. 

Simon Garfield is the author of 17 acclaimed books of non-fiction, including Mauve, Our Hidden Lives and To The Letter. His study of Aids in Britain, The End of Innocence, won the Somerset Maugham prize, while Just My Type and On The Map were New York Times bestsellers. www.simongarfield.com.

Tuesday
Jul122016

Dawn Tripp

How did you become a writer?

I’ve always written. From the time I was a child, writing is how I make sense of the world.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

Seamus Heaney, Carole Maso and Fred Leebron were key teachers in my twenties. My editor Kate Medina has been a guiding force in the evolution of my art and my understanding of how story works on the page. The most critical influences on my work have been the books I’ve read, two failed novels I have written, and my husband and a few close friends who read my work when it is still unfinished. Their time, care and insights create a meaningful space, which allows me to take greater risks and to be more ruthless with my own work.

The writers I adore who have had significant impact on my life and writing mind: Anne Carson, Edna O’Brien, Emily Bronte, Virginia Woolf, Yasunari Kawabata, William Faulkner, William Butler Yeats, W.S. Merwin, Rainer Maria Rilke, Michael Ondaatje, Anne Michaels, T.S. Eliot, Ovid, Sappho.

When and where do you write? 

The simple answer to this question is that I write when my sons are in school, but the more complete answer is that if a story burns in me, I write when I need to – whether I am washing the dishes, picking the boys up at school, running the beach, or folding the laundry, there’s always a separate corner of my mind where I am working through some dimension of a character’s struggle or the unexpected turns in a story.

What are you working on now? 

Another historical novel. Like my most recent novel, Georgia, it’s a novel about a strong woman but the nature of her history is allowing me to build a more nuanced and experimental story – with shifts in voice, place, time and point of view. This is something I originally wanted to do in Georgia, but O’Keeffe’s voice was so driving, singular, and direct, it demanded a different form.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

Only when I am not writing what I need to write. If I am experiencing writer’s block, it’s because there is something I need to write out of my system – it could be personal or it could relate to a dynamic in the story I’m working on – but whenever I am at odds with the page, there’s a good reason for that, and I need to sit with it and write into it, until my mind clarifies.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Write the thing you have to write, the story you are on fire for, the one that breaks your heart that only you can tell. No matter how many books you've written – each time, the key is to get back to that singular place where it is just you - you, the heartbreak, and the fire - alone in the room. 

Dawn Tripp is the author of Georgia, a novel of Georgia O’Keeffe. A national bestseller, Georgia as been described as “complex and original” by the New York Times Book Review and “magical and provocative” by USA Today. Winner of the Massachusetts Book Award for Fiction, Tripp is the author of three previous novels: Moon Tide, The Season of Open Water, and Game of Secrets. Her essays have appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review, The Believer, The Rumpus, Psychology Today, and NPR. She graduated from Harvard and lives in Massachusetts.

Tuesday
Jul052016

Nyla Matuk

How did you become a writer?

I didn’t write until I was in my early 20s, and then I started out with short fiction. After a hiatus of 10 years, I continued with short fiction for another 3 years before I tried poetry, which seemed much more suited to my interest in writing as an activity and it was a much better match for the way my brain processes ideas, images, and sound. In fact, it’s such a natural fit, I’m not sure why it took me so long to figure out. I didn’t take any workshops after that, though I did a few short-term short fiction-writing workshops. And I didn’t pursue any creative writing education. I did attend a 4-month weekly poetry workshop a couple of years ago, after my first book was published. After a few short story publications, and once I started with poems, it was several years before I sent any out to journals. I sent a chapbook manuscript of about 20 poems to a small press in Victoria BC and that became the chapbook Oneiric. Three years later, I sent a book manuscript to my current publisher.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

Early on, when I wanted to write fiction, my influences were largely American and English. Richard Ford, Vladimir Nabokov, Richard Yates; Angela Carter, Doris Lessing, Jhumpa Lahiri, Hanif Kureishi, Salman Rushdie, Raymond Carver, J. D. Salinger, Russell Smith. As for teachers, strangely enough I had some excellent high school English teachers who taught me to love poetry; though I never thought to try to write poetry until decades later.

As for poetry, I admit I have many gaps in my reading, but poets that have a hold on me include John Keats, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, Mina Loy, Michael Hofmann, Mary Ruefle, Maureen N. McLane, Lavinia Greenlaw, August Kleinzahler, Don Coles, Paul Muldoon, and some of my contemporaries in the U.K., Ireland, Canada, and the U.S. (the latter to a lesser extent).

When and where do you write?

Strangely, I’m not really a night-owl, but I do tend to write late at night, with some frequency; things seem to flow more easily. During the day I prefer to go somewhere extremely quiet (several libraries near where I live offer this ‘golden’ silence) but often home on the weekends works just as well.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a second full-length collection of poetry, Stranger, which will be published in the fall.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

I think if I was forced to produce creative work on a weekly or monthly basis, I might find myself feeling anxiety about a lack of material. As it is, my form of writer’s block is just a psychological condition in which I am convinced I will just never have anything more to say in poetry-form ever again. This is a thought I get usually about once every month or two. It’s also a sense that somebody else must have written the poems I’ve already written, since my brain feels entirely empty of ideas, sounds, words, etc. that would approximate what I’d done previously. But that also might be the condition of boredom that eventually leads to writing again….

What’s your advice to new writers?

I think for poets, it would be to read as much as possible. It sounds very mundane, but one needs to understand, through reading, what is possible, inspirational, or aesthetically pleasing. It’s a great help. And the other piece of advice is to learn not to expect responses or reactions (good or bad) to one’s work. I simply expect indifference as a default. While writing might be about gaining a readership or an audience, on another level it has to be entirely not about those things. My sense is that not many writers cultivate this attitude at first.

Nyla Matuk is the author of Sumptuary Laws (2012), nominated for the League of Canadian Poets’ Gerald Lampert Award for a best first book of poetry in Canada. Poems have appeared in Canadian, American and U.K. journals including PN Review, Ladowich, Prelude, The Walrus, and The Fiddlehead, among others, and in the anthologies New Poetries VI (Carcanet, 2015) and Best Canadian Poetry in English 2012 (Tightrope Books). A new book of poems, Stranger, appears from Véhicule Press in 2016.

Tuesday
Jun282016

Rahul Pandita

How did you become a writer?

I think I was a very lonely child and hardly had any friends. I used to hide myself in a flower bed at my home and create imaginary worlds. The seed, I'd like to believe, was sown around that time. Later, as a refugee and then a journalist, I witnessed a lot of things that made me more and more angry. I'd like to think that much of my writing stems from that anger. 

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

No writer has had more influence on me than V.S. Naipaul. Ernest Hemingway has also been a great influence. Among modern, contemporary writers: David Foster Wallace. Also: Ryszard Kapuscinski, James Agee, CarsonMcCullers, Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, John Cheever. 

When and where do you write? 

I try and write every day. As Vincent van Gogh writes in a letter to his brother Theo (quoting Rembrandt, I think!): Not a day without a line! But it is not always possible. I am not very disciplined and am prone to excessive bouts of procrastination. But sometimes I am overwhelmed by a desire to write and then do so like a madman. That delirium can last for days. I also write well under pressing deadlines. I like to write in cafes. 

What are you working on now? 

I am currently working on the screenplay of a film some of which is inspired by my last book, "Our Moon Has Blood Clots." After that, there is a very ambitious book of reportage that I will begin work on. But after that, I need to work on a love story that is like a thorn in my heart; I need to take that thorn out. 

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

I suffer from it all the time, or so I think. But most of it is just laziness. Once you get to the paper - and I always like to write my first draft in long hand - it is all taken care of.

What’s your advice to new writers? 

My advice: read as much as you can. Write every day. Stay away from the internet as much as possible. And train yourself to listen to others. That is the biggest problem the mankind faces: nobody listens! 

Rahul Pandita is a writer-journalist based in New Delhi, India. He is the author of the critically-acclaimed "Our Moon has blood clots: A memoir of a lost home in Kashmir" and "Hello, Bastar: The untold story of India's Maoist movement." He has also co-authored "The Absent State: Insurgency as an excuse for misgovernance." He is currently working on a screenplay for one of India's most prominent filmmakers, Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Rahul is a 2015 Yale World Fellow.