How did you become a writer?
As far back as I can remember (before the earth was cooling) I was jotting down ideas for stories on the covers of school notebooks and scraps of paper, writing poems and plays, having grandiose ideas about writing a novel. I loved my English classes every year in school and remember being encouraged by teachers. By the time I went to grad school, where I took a course in creative writing (while also writing academic papers, doing a dissertation. etc.) I felt I had become a writer.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
If I am truthful, my influences are (in rough order):
Every book I ever took out of the Massapequa Library multiple times, which included Grimm's fairytales, poetry books, and biographies for young adults on everyone from Amelia Earhart to Jackie Robinson; short story collections (that usually included Poe, Hawthorne, Hemingway, Shirley Jackson, and the usual suspects). Flannery O'Connor (short stories, Wise Blood), Nabokov (Lolita), Edith Wharton (The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome, The House of Mirth), Virginia Woolf (A Room of One's Own, Mrs. Dalloway), Sylvia Plath (Ariel), Waugh (The Loved One), Faulkner (As I Lay Dying), O'Neill's plays -- too many to name really.
When and where do you write?
I write as much as I can (which includes editing drafts of my current book) when I am not teaching, and when I have an uninterrupted chunk of time (a day, a weekend, a week, 3 blessed months during the summer). I am always jotting down notes for future books, both in a notebook I keep with me and on my phone. I have no set time to write during a day -- sometimes I feel energized or inspired before breakfast, other times I am lying in bed and suddenly think I have something good I need to get down. I would say I am most productive with structure and sitting at my dining room table or portable desk in my living room.
What are you working on now?
A new twist on the Lizzie Borden case -- I seem drawn to scandalous women and feel I have a unique take on the inspiration for the infamous hatchet murders.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Ugh. Who hasn't? After teaching literature for 30+ years I sometimes get caught up in the voices of the great writers and have to work to separate my writing voice from the pack in my head.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Write every day. Even if it is only a few lines or pages. Even if you think while you are doing it "this is uninspired crap." You need to have something to work with, even if it is an unformed idea that needs fleshing out over time -- with a great deal of editing
What’s your advice to new writers?
It sounds like a cliché and whoever said it (Eliot? Faulkner?) just know that it is true. The hardest thing is to kill your darlings. But you have to. You may fall in love with a sentence or a metaphor or whatever, but if it doesn't fit, if it doesn't work you have to get rid of it.
Bio: I am a professor of American Literature and Film Studies, a former Chair of the English Department, and former Vice Dean of the School for University Studies at Hofstra University where I have taught for the last 32 years. My writing and teaching interests include true crime, the Gothic and the Grotesque, the Gilded Age, film history (genre, auteur, adaptation), gender studies, and American popular culture. My last book, American Eve, tells the story of the meteoric rise to fame and the tragic consequences of Gibson Girl Evelyn Nesbit's fated relationships with famed architect Stanford White and her husband-turned-murderer Harry Thaw, whose “trial of the century” marked the beginning of our country's obsession with celebrity. I am currently finishing a book on the infamous Lizzie Borden case, and continue to write both scholarly articles as well as book reviews for the NY Times Sunday Book Review. I have acted as a consultant/on-camera interviewee for A&E, PBS (The American Experience), the History Channel, the Smithsonian Channel, and the American Heroes Channel. Of Basque-Irish descent, I am a native New Yorker who lives in a haunted house (built in 1890) on the South Shore of Long Island and I have always liked the fact that my last name is a palindrome.