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ATW INTERVIEW

Tuesday
Sep182018

Jennie Melamed

How did you become a writer?

I have always written, as far back as I can remember. As a kid, I was obsessed with animals and unicorns and princesses and tropical islands, so my stories had a lot of those elements. In middle school I wrote a four-novel series heavily plagiarized from Secret of the Unicorn Queen that actually started­—from my adult viewpoint—to get interesting by the fourth book. Then I got writer's block and focused more on poetry and short stories. I've always written, even though it took me so long to publish anything!

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

I went through a period in adolescence where I read a lot of the great women of literature: Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, Charlotte Bronte, Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood. Their stories took my breath away. All I knew was that someday I wanted to write stories that did the same to other people. I'm certainly not in their league yet, and may never be, but it's a good thing to strive for!

I read constantly. It's the most important contribution to my writing. I am trying to expand my knowledge of the classics, and currently am reading Henry James and W. E. B. Dubois, with some Anthony Trollope thrown in to lighten things up a bit. However, I'm totally psyched for a novel called Vox that is coming out soon, and will probably take a break to fit that in. 

When and where do you write? 

I write whenever I have the time, which isn't nearly as much as I'd like. I work full-time. I've stopped having any hobbies, really, I just write. Sometimes words or sentences occur to me and I have to run to the computer and write them down, or dictate them into my phone, or make a note on the back of some envelope. So I guess I write everywhere, but the bulk of it is in my office. We moved a few months ago; before that, I had a desk shoved into my bedroom, but now I have a bookshelf and a desk and my pictures on the walls! Luxury.

What are you working on now? 

My third novel since Gather the Daughters was released. Novel One was rejected by my editor as being too dark (which I immediately saw the wisdom of when people began reacting to Gather the Daughters) and Novel Two by my agent, because it had elements too similar to Gather the Daughters. ( My heart's still a little broken; it's shelved, but I'm not giving up on it.) 

I don't want to say too much about my current project, but it's a story that's been in my mind for a long time. It starts off with a young girl driving a stolen car with a blind dog in the backseat. She stops to pick up a hitchhiker, and the tale goes from there.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

Oh God, yes. What I usually do is tell myself to just write one sentence a day. Sometimes that's all I can fit into my day anyway! I just work on describing a certain detail, or some dialogue that's not vital, and eventually it goes away. Sometimes it takes a while. Running helps, I always seem to get good ideas while I'm running. 

If all else fails, I usually have a backup project I can work on while I wait for my writer's block on the other project to fade. My agent recently recommended a huge, book-changing alteration to my current manuscript, and whenever that happens, I have to wait a week or two while working on something else. Some unconscious process goes on to figure out how it's going to fit together, and then eventually it comes to the forefront of my mind. Sometimes when I'm faced with a writing dilemma I say to myself, shelve it, and it gets put back in some corner of my brain where my mind can work on it unobserved. 

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

I always heard, write what you know, and the best advice I ever got was not to listen to that! We'd never have speculative fiction, science fiction, fantasy, if everybody did this. Yes, it's good to write about things you can portray authentically, and we all bring our lives to what we write, but it's also good to stretch your imagination to the limit and make up something new.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Keep trying to get published. I spent almost two years looking for an agent before the incredible Stephanie Delman rescued me from the slush pile. I can't count the number of queries that were rejected. I actually put Gather the Daughters on the shelf and said, Okay, maybe this isn't publishable. Maybe I wasn't meant to be a writer. But after a few months I decided to try again, because I just knew I had written something good.

If you know you have something good, don't give up on it. 

Jennie Melamed is the author of Gather the Daughters, published by Little, Brown in 2017. Gather the Daughters was listed as a Best Book of the Year by The Guardian and Booklist, and was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Her writing has appeared in Joyland Magazine, Teen Vogue, Lithub, and other publications. Jennie lives in Seattle with her husband and two Shiba Inus.

Tuesday
Sep112018

Sophie Hannah

How did you become a writer?

Even as a child, I was constantly writing. It has always been my favourite hobby, though I don’t think I ever imagined it would become a career. I just kept writing and writing, and one day I noticed that it was the thing everyone expected and wanted me to do, instead of the thing I did when I was supposed to be doing other things, like school work and secretarial work!  Writing is the only thing I’ve ever really cared about — I’ve never been so committed to or obsessed with anything else.

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

The authors who have most influenced me are Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, Nicci French, Val McDermid and Tana French — all are great crime writers with an excellent grasp of psychology. I was also hugely inspired by my primary school teacher, Dorothy Dearden, who had an infectious love of poetry, and my university tutor (and, later, poetry publisher) Michael Schmidt.

When and where do you write?

There's a lovely room at Lucy Cavendish College in Cambridge (where I am a Fellow Commoner) that is usually empty during the day, and has a wonderful view of the college's stunning gardens. I go there to start and finish most of my books. I write in all kinds of places, though: on planes, on trains, in hotels and even occasionally at home… if my dog lets me!

What are you working on now? 

I’m doing the final edits to my forthcoming self-help book, which will be published in November in the UK and January in the US. I have been a self-help addict for many years. My contribution to the genre is called How to Hold a Grudge, and the subtitle is From Resentment to Contentment - The Power of Grudges to Transform Your Life. According to my publishers, the book is 'the ultimate guide on how to use grudges to be your happiest, most optimistic and most forgiving self'! Being someone who holds grudges is seen by many as a bad thing, but what if our grudges, when managed correctly, are good for us? I believe they are, and in my book I offer a new method for processing negative thoughts and turning them into productive, life-enhancing, great grudges!

I’m also working on my next psychological thriller, which will be published in the UK in 2019. It’s called Haven’t They Grown. Beth, a mother of two, drives past an estranged friend’s house and sees that friend for the first time in twelve years. But when the friend's children step out of the car -- children Beth also hasn't seen for twelve years -- they  haven't aged at all. They still appear to be five and three, the ages they were more than a decade ago, when Beth last saw them. How can this be possible? Why haven't they grown?

(I hope I don't have to explain why the book's title is Haven't They Grown! And no, it isn't supernatural! The answer to the puzzle is entirely human-reality based.)

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

No. But I do suffer a lot from the urge to procrastinate, and 'Writer's Fear of facing W.I.P’ (Work in Progress).

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

It comes from a poem by Wendy Cope and is beautifully simple: 'Don't let anybody mess with your swing’.

What’s your advice to new writers?

The same advice I got from Wendy Cope (see above).

Sophie Hannah is an internationally bestselling writer of crime fiction, published in 49 languages and 51 territories. In 2014, with the blessing of Agatha Christie’s family and estate, Sophie published a new Hercule Poirot novel, The Monogram Murders, which was a bestseller in 16 countries. In September 2016 her second Poirot novel, Closed Casket, was published and became an instant Sunday Times top five bestseller. Sophie's latest Poirot novel, The Mystery of Three Quarters, is published by HarperCollins and William Morrow later this month.

Sophie has also published two short story collections and five collections of poetry – the fifth of which, Pessimism for Beginners, was shortlisted for the T S Eliot Award. Her poetry is studied at GCSE, A Level and degree level across the UK. From 1997 to 1999 she was Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity College Cambridge and between 1999 and 2001 she was a fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford. She lives with her husband, children and dog in Cambridge, where she is a Fellow Commoner at Lucy Cavendish College.

Wednesday
Sep052018

Piper Weiss

How did you become a writer?

Am I a writer? I have no idea. I do write, because I'm not great at a lot of other things. (Examples of things I don't do: Math, science, surviving apocalyptic scenarios). If I had a choice, I'd make music, but that's not my strong suit, so by default I started writing. I loved poetry early on in school, because it reminded of music but didn't require any musical proficiency. I still struggle with grammar, sentence structure, misusing words, concision—you know, all the things great writers have mastered. But I like ideas, I enjoy the challenges of structure and plot, I savor the opportunity for detail. 

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

I'm most influenced by artists in any genre who perfectly nail a feeling, set a mood, and pull you inside the sensation of a character's experience in the world. I like imagery, rhythm and momentum. I have a few staples to turn to: The poem "Don't Do That" by Stephen Dunn. Two stanza's from Robert Lowell's "Skunk Hour" haunt my memoir (Beginning with "One dark night, my Tudor Ford climbed the hill's skull..."). I'm particularly drawn to works that break genre codes: people who pull out the humor in darkness, or the darkness in humor. Mike White's HBO series "Enlightened," Harry Nilsson's album "Nilsson Sings Newman," Donald Barthelme's short story "The School," the films of Yorgos Lanthimos and Sofia Coppola, The Temptations' haunting cover of "Ain't No Sunshine," and anything that comes out of writer Ottessa Moshfegh's brain.  

When and where do you write? 

I write at home in a reclining position on various cushioned upholstery. I wish to be the kind of person who writes for 4 hours a day and then goes to the gym, but I'm not. I'm more of an addict. So I write for 17-20 hours a day for five days and then panic for the next five days because I haven't written a thing. My problem is that there's no dimmer switch in my brain. It's either on or off. When it's off, I worry I'll never find the light switch again. So when it's on, I work until the bulb fizzles out.  

What are you working on now? 

Currently, I'm working on a short story that centers around one character's exhaustive internet search of people she knew in the past. I'm enjoying writing it, though I'm not sure yet if it's anything solid. Spending so much time alone writing is a bit of a risky thing to do. The process requires isolation, but the best outcome requires the ability to connect with others. Bridging the two is a challenge. The stakes feel high. When someone reads an early draft of my work, I'm less concerned that it's good, and more preoccupied with the fear that it's totally nonsensical. I'm just testing to see if I'm still a sane person who has a grip on the basics of human communication. I know it may sound extreme, but when you spend weeks, months working on something alone without sharing it with another human soul, you start to wonder whether you've drifted too far off into the animal parts of your mind. Then again, that's not always a bad thing, is it? 

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

I have suffered from laziness, self-loathing and fear of failure which can hinder my ability to do pretty much anything creative. Discipline helps. But also the block part can be a sign that the approach to what I'm writing isn't working. I make a deal with myself: I can put a hold on the work that's making me feel stuck, as long as I try writing something else—an old poem, a half-finished story, a song, a new idea, anything that strikes me as pleasurable in the moment. Writing should feel like an escape, not a trap. When you're stuck it may be a sign that you're trying too hard to make something work that just doesn't. Writing something new—something with no expectations or associations, something that makes you feel exactly how you want to feel in that moment, regardless of whether it's "literary" or "commercial" or "career-oriented"—helps to remind me why I still write. It's the same reason I did it as a child: to escape my daily existence, to manifest a new feeling that wasn't entirely connected to my own bullshit. Then, when you're on a roll, you may find that self-loathing and fear have a place in the piece itself, rather than in your brain. You can let it out and better yet, use it. 

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received? 

“Nobody cares.” A dear friend and former boss at the New York Daily News would repeat those words to me every time I walked into her office in a state of panic about something totally ridiculous: I can't come up with an idea for the pitch meeting, I think I left a typo in an article, my story isn't good enough, our editor-in-chief hasn't responded to my email, I might be mildly allergic to the vending machine peanuts.

“Nobody cares,” she would say, and what she meant was “you're fine.” And after she said it, I was. 

When you're stuck in a cycle of perfectionism, fear or compulsive second-guessing, it's impossible to move forward on anything. You're stuck in your own ego and desperate for approval. That's no way to be creative. But if "nobody cares," which is generally true, all of the judgement you hear in your head quiets down, and you're free to take risks. You don't have to apologize or worry what other people will think at that stage, because truly nobody cares but you. "Nobody cares" allows you to discover what it is that YOU care about, and drown out the need to please everyone else. By the time you get to the editing process, you want other people to care as well, and you've listened to your own instincts long enough to defend them. Then, "nobody cares" becomes a kind of dare, a challenge that drives you to prove its falsehood. It's brilliant advice (courtesy of two genius editors Amy DiLuna and Colin Bertram), whether or not it was intended as such.

What’s your advice to new writers?

In my early 20s, I was pretty messed up. In addition, I had few job prospects, zero confidence in my writing skills and no career direction. I was desperate for advice of any kind. While in an out-patient treatment program, I met a gentleman who'd spent a decade as a ghostwriter for an Ashram guru. "Is that something I should do?" I asked him. "I don't give advice," he told me. It seemed, especially considering the venue that had brought us together, these were some of the wisest words ever spoken.

Advice is hard. I only know my own path to writing a book, but it's not the only one. I still struggle everyday to be the writer I want to be. But I guess what I've learned in my own experience is this:  Find people who jog your brain, rustle up your imagination, and generally delight you. It doesn't matter what they do for a living. Collaboration comes in many forms. You don't need to be surrounded by writers to write, not that most fellow writers aren't wildly valuable and generous. From my experience, they truly are. There's much to be gained from asking for help, feedback and straight-up introductions. It's just as important to provide any help you can when others ask for the same. We're kind of all in this together. 

Piper Weiss is the author of two books. Her memoir, You All Grow Up and Leave Me, published by HarperCollins in 2018, was named one of Amazon's Best Books of April. She has held senior editorial positions at New York Daily News, Yahoo, HelloGiggles and Levo. Her writing has appeared in Hazlitt, Lenny Letter, LitHub's CrimeReads, Elle.com and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn. More on Instagram (@piperweiss). 

Tuesday
Aug282018

Liv Constantine

How did you become a writer? 

Lynne:  For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved storytelling – both making up stories, and reading them. All through school English was my favorite subject and even though I don’t remember a moment in time where I made the conscious choice to be a writer, it now seems the most natural thing in the world. I spent a long time in the corporate world in marketing, writing at night or on the weekends, but it took many years before that first book came out and I realized it was what I wanted to do full-time. 

Valerie: I’ve always been a reader – from the time I was very young, so stories have always been one of my most favorite things. I studied literature in college, have attended writing workshops and classes, and have a stack full of books on writing. In the end, the most important thing was to write, and rewrite and rewrite. 

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

Lynne:  My earliest influence was Carolyn Keene as I inhaled Nancy Drew until I read through the whole series. Later influences were Susan Howatch, Pearl Buck, Collen McCullough, and Dean Koontz when I traded women’s fiction for thrillers.  A few books that stand out:  PENMARRIC, GONE WITH THE WIND, THE GODFATHER, and THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT. More recent writing influences include teachers from workshops and classes that have helped me to improve my craft along with some terrific writing books such as WIRED FOR STORY, ON WRITING, and THE WAR OF ART. 

Valerie: My 12thgrade English teacher was a tremendous influence. She was the teacher that everyone said at the end of junior year – “You’d better hope you don’t get Mrs. Meginnis, because she’s tough as nails.” And she was. But she taught me how to write a coherent essay. Early author influencers for me were Susan Howatch, Edna Ferber, Sinclair Lewis and Henry James. When I returned to university at the age of 50, I fell madly in love with Shakespeare. I don’t think I fully appreciated him when I was young.

When and where do you write? 

Lynne: When in the midst of a project, I write every day, usually even on weekends. I go to my office first thing in the morning and get right to it. 

Valerie: I write every day, and oddly enough I don’t have a “writing room” to call my own. I can be found at the kitchen table, an easy chair in the conservatory, at my desk downstairs (where there is also a television and other distractions) or at my living room sofa. Depends on my mood.

What are you working on now? 

We are in final edits on our next psychological thriller, currently untitled. It’s the story of two estranged best friends who reunite when one of their mothers is murdered. 

We are beginning work on book number three right now. 

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Lynne:  I have procrastinated at times but have learned that if I’m stuck on a scene or chapter, the best thing to do is to write something else. THE LAST MRS. PARRISH was written mainly out of context and put together in revision. I tend to go where my heart leads and write something that inspires me and then return to the task at hand. 

Valerie:  I have in the past said I suffered from writer’s block, but I don’t believe it was really that. I was not writing every day and therefore finding myself stopped. I think writer’s block is inconsistency by another name.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received? 

Lynne:  Write the next book, don’t get stuck on what you’re pitching.  All those years filled with rejections, the biggest thing that got me through was focusing on the next book. There was a point in time when I was actually submitting three different manuscripts (not to the same agents of course) and if we hadn’t continued to write, THE LAST MRS. PARRISH might never have happened. 

Valerie: The first draft is crap. Run with it and know that you’ll be rewriting many times.

What’s your advice to new writers? 

Lynne: Work on your craft. Find a trusted mentor, and a class or workshop that can help you improve your writing. 

Valerie: Read. A lot. Read fine writers, especially in your genre. Take craft classes. Write something every day. And don’t give up.

Liv Constantine is the pen name of USA Today and WSJ bestselling authors and sisters Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine.

Lynne is the co-author of the national bestseller, THE LAST MRS. PARRISH, the author of THE VERITAS DECEPTION, and the co-author of CIRCLE DANCE. She has a Master’s Degree from Johns Hopkins University. When not writing, she is either on social media, reading at the beach, or debating with her children on which movie to watch. She enjoys spending time with family and friends, traveling, and spoiling her Labrador Retriever.

Valerie is the co-author of THE LAST MRS. PARRISH and the co-author of CIRCLE DANCE. She has a degree in English Literature from the University of Maryland Baltimore County. When she is not writing, she loves to read, play the piano, take long walks with Zorba, her fabulous Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and travel with her husband. They live on a small creek in Annapolis, Maryland.

Tuesday
Aug212018

John Lescroart

How did you become a writer?

I guess the simple answer is that I became a writer during my junior year at UC Berkeley, when after about a thousand sketches of one thing or another, I decided to write a novel-length work. So I started trying to put down a page or two a day, and within about four months, I’d finished my first book. It wasn’t very good, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that I had written — and gotten to the end of — a book! So, published or not, I was a writer!

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

My first writing influence was Ernest Hemingway. I loved his voice and his style and also, to be fair, his life story, tragic though it may have been. But I really can’t blame it all on Hemingway — I was a voracious reader from an early age, and by the time I was in college, I’d found dozens of great writers to enjoy and sometimes try to emulate: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Albert Camus, Lawrence Durrell, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rex Stout, Elmore Leonard, Patrick O’Brian, and a host of others. I read everything I could get my hands on.

When and where do you write?

I’ve been incredibly fortunate in having a career that’s gone on for so long, 29 books (including next January’s) and counting, and most of those have been written under contract. This has allowed me to treat my writing as a “day job” now for many years. So I’ve got a regular office (actually, a small house!) that I go to every day to put in my pages. I usually get into “work” at around 10:00 or 10:30, then I answer my emails and phone messages, basically doing all that I can to put off putting my ass in my chair and starting to write by about 1:00 o’clock. Once I get going, I tend to keep at it until around 5:00, and hopefully I’ll have pages I can live with by then. 

What are you working on now?

Just last week, I finished the copy-editing on my next book featuring Dismas Hardy/Abe Glitsky, and the gang. Entitled THE RULE OF LAW, this book comes out, as mentioned above, in January of 2019. So . . . what I’m working on now is not writing anything for a while. I’ve not even gotten to the galleys of THE RULE OF LAW, so I’m taking a little break at the moment, and enjoying it immensely. 

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

The best definition of writer’s block that I’ve ever heard is that it’s a “failure of nerve.” It’s basically something that real writers have to learn to cope with, often by simply not acknowledging its existence. After all, plumbers don’t get “plumber’s block.” What writers have to do is come into work and put down pages on a regular basis. It often helps to consider yourself a genius during this phase, and not be too critical of the work you’re creating. You can fix any errors on the next draft. Meanwhile, keep writing and if writer’s block rears its ugly head, don’t give into the temptation to whine about how hard it all is, just swat it down . . . hard!

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

When I first started trying to write, I wanted to make sure my characters were interesting and multi-faceted, with all kinds of personal stuff — demons, habits, fears, foibles — to make them come alive. All of this was well and good as far as it went, but unfortunately it didn’t do much about plot. When I was just beginning to work on my first Dismas Hardy story, I knew that I had quite a well-rounded character, but there still seemed to be a large element that was missing. At about this time, I went to a Mystery Writers meeting in Los Angeles and Jon Kellerman happened to be the guest speaker, talking about . . . guess what? Plot. It was all very simple, he said. You’ve got to have great characters, yes, but just as important, you’ve got to have them do something. You have to have action. Character is revealed through action (which includes dialogue)! And beyond that, it’s the only way that character is revealed. And, as an added bonus, it turns out that (in the words of Andre Malraux), character is fate. That was all I needed . . . the best bit of advice I’ve ever heard about writing. Thanks, Jon.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Believe. It can happen. Pardon the language, but don’t let the bastards bring you down. There will always be people who criticize your work, but if you continue to believe, improve and produce, you will win out in the end. 

John Lescroart is co-President (with Heather Graham) of the International Thriller Writers ("ITW") and the author of twenty-nine novels, eighteen of which have been NY Times Bestsellers. Libraries Unlimited has named him among “The 100 Most Popular Thriller and Suspense Authors.” With sales of over twelve million copies, his books have been translated into twenty-two languages in more than seventy-five countries, and his short stories appear in many anthologies. His short story “The Adventure of the Giant Rat of Sumatra” was selected for the 1998 edition of Houghton Mifflin’s THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES, edited by Sue Grafton. Additionally, his short story "Dunkirk" appeared in the 2015 Anthony and Silver Falchion Award winning anthology, IN THE COMPANY OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. John and his wife, Lisa Sawyer, live in Northern California.