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Tuesday
Jan292019

Chris Cander

How did you become a writer?

The same way Mike Campbell in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises went bankrupt: "gradually and then suddenly." As a child, I wrote poems. Stories in my teens and early twenties. Non-fiction during my thirties. When I started my first novel, at age 37, I realized that was where I wanted to focus my literary energy. Since then, I've written over a million words in various drafts, and have kept about a third of them. Now I'm 49 and releasing The Weight of a Piano--the fourth novel I've written and third I've published--and am working on a fifth. 

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

There are so many of each. My parents read to me, told me stories, took me to the library, let me live with my nose in a book. My sophomore English teacher, Mrs. Carol Blaine, recognized something in me and encouraged it--even though I never got higher than a B on any essay in her class. The novels I read in college, in particular The Decameron. The novels I've read since then. The writers I've admired, befriended, leaned on, learned from. Their names would fill a phone book. I'll start with the Brothers Grimm, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Charles Baxter, Annie Proulx, Nevil Shute, Harriet Doerr, Italo Calvino, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Isabel Allende, Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, Joan Didion, and a thousand others.

When and where do you write? 

In my upstairs home office at the hybrid art deco/midcentury modern desk I bought myself when I was 18 and plan to use until I'm dead. I'm surrounded by books, art, trinkets, and totems. To my left is a big picture window overlooking a crepe myrtle tree. A set of pentatonic windchimes hangs just outside; it's the only music I listen to when I write. I don't have a particular time of day, but I try to get my fairly modest goal of 350 or so words done before the kids get home from school.

What are you working on now? 

A novel about the unseen forces that affect and connect us. 

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

I don't believe in it. I also don't believe in inspiration. Muses can be mercurial, and "blocks" are usually the result of something else: fear, procrastination, hangovers, etc. My writing life is governed instead by determination. It’s scary sometimes, and I suffer the same crises of confidence that any writer has, but in the end, the only way to start is to calm down, sit down, and begin.

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

I don't know who--if anyone--gave me this advice, or if it was just something I figured out: never, ever give up. 

What’s your advice to new writers?

Try to be fearless when you confront a blank page. (I tell this every day to my third-grade Writers in the Schools students, and it works.) Don’t think—feel. Don’t critique each word as it lands. Give into that Dickinsonian “bolt of melody.” Even if it’s nonsense, write it down. Liberate your imagination on the page and you’ll discover something to pursue. And that critic inside your mind that’s tugging backward on your pen? Tell her to settle down—you’ll deal with her later, after you’re finished.

Chris Cander is the award-winning author of the novels WHISPER HOLLOW, 11 STORIES, and the children's picture book THE WORD BURGLAR. Her latest is THE WEIGHT OF A PIANO, forthcoming from Knopf in January 2019, which has already received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal. For seven years she has been a writer-in-residence for Writers in the Schools, serves on the Inprint advisory board, and stewards several Little Free Libraries in her community. A former competitive bodybuilder, Chris currently holds a 3rd dan in taekwondo and is a certified women’s defensive tactics instructor.

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