Deborah Reed

How did you become a writer?

I had always been a reader, and a dreamer and dabbler of writing, but I never quite believed I could achieve it. Then something happened when I was 32 years old (nearly 20 years ago) when, perhaps it was just a matter of growing up, but I suddenly saw so clearly how I had a "now or never" choice staring me in the face. I was at a crossroad where if I took one path it would lead to a career (social work in women's health care) that would require all of my energy and I would give it all I had, and that would be that—I would never become a writer. I really hit me then that the thought of never becoming a writer was far more devastating for me than my fear of trying to become a writer and failing. So I stopped everything, turned my life around and began writing in earnest every day of the week, reading novels that inspired me when I wasn't writing, trying to glean from them all the elements of fiction I could understand on my own, and I wrote, wrote, wrote— a lot of bad stuff, I might add, during those early years, though it eventually got better. After ten years of this I decided to get an MFA in fiction. My undergrad was in cultural anthropology with a minor in German. I was accepted into graduate school the same week I signed a 3 book deal. But the short answer here is this: Tenacity and perseverance. I wanted it more than I wanted anything else.

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

Authors whose work has taught and inspired me tend to be those who pay close attention to rhythm and writing at the sentence level, such as Kent Haruf, Cormac McCarthy, Marilynne Robinson, William Gay, and Per Petterson, the latter whose novel Out Stealing Horses, I have read many times and in fact wrote an essay about, which includes his influence on my work. It will appear in the March/April 2015 issue of Poets & Writers magazine. 

When and where do you write?

I'm an early riser, usually up and writing by 6 am. I write in my home office here in Los Angeles, where I steal away until I can't bear to sit any longer. Some days are very long—ten hours or more. Others closer to 3, but on average I'd say I write about 8 hours a day, six days a week. 

What are you working on now?

I just finished my fifth novel, Olivay, which will be published on July 7th. I'm so excited about this novel. It's my first to take place in Los Angeles, and it's a literary, psychological thriller between a couple against the backdrop of a terrorist attack. I just proofed the copyedits days ago, but am already in the early stages of a brand new novel with a plot I have been mulling over for years. This one needs a little bit of research as the scope of the plot is large, spanning the 1940s-1970s and includes a real historical figure whom I will not name. It's too early to talk about just yet. 

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

No. Not really. I'm such a creature of habit and a bit of a work horse that I just sit down and do the work without thinking too much about it. One reason I think I don't get blocked is that I'm not afraid to write bad, early drafts in order to get to the good. I know when something doesn't have merit but I put it down anyway. For example, when it comes to writing a very emotional scene, we all tend to reach for the clichés first. It's what we know. Tears streaming down faces, a racing heart, sweaty palms, and so on. That's fine. I put it all down and consider each cliché a place holder for the deeper truth of the scene, the true heartache that needs to take place between my characters. I will then go back and rewrite those lines to death (I have spent days and days on several sentences that make up a small paragraph--and it's worth it) until the emotional impact of the scene literally moves me to tears. That's when I'm sure I've given readers the kind of writing and story worth their time.  At least this is my hope and intention. 

What’s your advice to new writers?

See above. Don't beat yourself up for those less than great scenes and lines. Don't let them block you from writing more. If you recognize the poor quality this means you have a standard and that standard will guide you to a more satisfactory rewrite of the work. Great sentences don't often come out fully formed. Same with the scenes those sentences build to create. You have to think of it all like a chunk of clay that will need a lot of sculpting to see clearly, to reveal its true beauty. And even then, once the shapes are recognizable, there's still more polishing to do. Writing is hard work. It's rewarding and satisfying, but if you want to be good at it, you have to keep going, write through the bad, and find pleasure in the tinkering, which is where I believe most of the art of fiction resides, the tweaking of the sentence, the final polishing that gives prose its true splendor and grace.

Deborah Reed’s novel, Things We Set on Fire, sold over one hundred thousand copies in the first six months, while Carry Yourself Back to Me was a Best Book of 2011 Amazon Editors Pick. She wrote the bestselling thriller, A Small Fortune, and its sequel, Fortune’s Deadly Descent, under her pen name Audrey Braun. Several of her novels have been translated or are forthcoming in German. Her nonfiction has appeared in publications such as the Literarian, MORE, and Poets & Writers. She holds a master’s degree in fine arts in creative writing, and teaches at the UCLA Extension Writing Program. She is also co-director of the Black Forest Writing Seminar at the University of Freiburg in Germany. She resides in Los Angeles.