Meet the Writer: Tsipi Keller

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I want to thank Tsipi for answering my questions! You can click on either book cover to learn more about the contents. Also, you can follow this link to learn more about her novel, The Prophet of Tenth Street. Tsipi is a contributor to the WRECKAGE OF REASON 2: Back to the Drawing Board anthology of experimental women writers in which you can read a piece from yours truly and check out Tsipi’s story, “Bully.”

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

I think my interest in writing was kindled while learning the alphabet. I remember walking with my mother down the street and pointing at signs and billboards and, no doubt, talking gibberish, trying to guess what the signs said and hoping that somehow I would get it right. My mother was supposed to tell me if I read the sign correctly, and, naturally, the answer was always: “No, this is not what the sign says.” On some level I knew I was making up words, playing a guessing-game with myself alone (at times, my mother lost patience with me), but this did not stop me.

Fast-forward a few years: I grew up reading books, which, of course, is the foundation. I felt alive when I read, living and seeing the world and the characters the author depicted, often reading the same book over and over again. Also, both my parents were storytellers, especially my father—a reader and collector of Judaica books. Some of the stories they told had to do with the Holocaust (I grew up in Israel where the Holocaust was not a secret, it was an open wound), and even though I listened and comprehended them as “stories” that happened “long ago,” I now believe that an element of the drama of life, and the need to express it, was embedded in me from early childhood. Still, I didn’t think myself a writer, or writing as a vocation, until my early twenties.

Do you have a specific writing style?

My published novels and short fiction are labeled “literary”; some of them are given the added label “dark”—notably, my trilogy of novels: Jackpot (2004), Retelling (2006), and Elsa (2014). There’s humor, too, even if usually bitter and self-deprecating. When I write, I don’t think “Style,” I think precision and clarity of expression. I enter the scene and make it visual for myself and the reader. I concentrate on the characters: the way they see the world; the way they treat their friends and/or allow their friends to treat them; the choices they make; the situations they create or accept. Basically, I write the kind of stories and novels that I myself would like to read.

What are your current projects?

I’m working on two novellas I began a number of years ago, and then put aside. The story is there, and so is most of the telling. What I’m doing now is revising/cutting/adding, which, for me, is the most difficult part (more about this below). I’m also putting together a collection of short stories I’ve written over the years. A number of stories have appeared in journals and anthologies in the U.S. and in Europe, and I’d like to see them published in book form.


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Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

All writing is challenging (writing a simple letter or email can be agonizing). But, for me, rewriting/revising is the most challenging, especially in the later drafts, when I have to make final decisions, some of them small, others, not small at all. At times—and this, I believe, is true for most writers—it does come down to the question of life and death, in the sense that, not only are the lives of the characters in your hand, but the life of the novel as a whole.

Have you ever hated something you wrote?

Yes, with vehemence! I’ve crossed out entire sections and chapters with masochistic pleasure and self-derision, flagellating myself for writing such drivel. These days, when I need to cross out or revise a passage, especially when working on early drafts of a story or a novel, I do it calmly, sometimes amused by the clumsy wording, but the vehemence and self-derision are gone. I think that after doing this long enough, you learn to recognize and accept your shortcomings (if that’s what they are), but there is also the understanding that if you work at it (word, paragraph, etc.) you will get it to where it needs to be, or very close, or as close as you can.

How do you market your writing?

I have to admit: marketing is my weakest point. I should devote more time to it, it’s important, but I lack the talent and/or stamina for self-promotion, networking, and so on. Or, possibly, I don’t have the patience. I do give readings when invited to read, and interviews when asked, but that’s about all. I rely on reviewers and readers (word of mouth), and hope for the best. What I enjoy most, is doing the real work, or reading a book; everything else is a chore.

I’d like to end with a quote from Katherine Mansfield’s journal that says it best: “I must try and write simply, fully, freely, from my heart. Quietly, caring nothing for success or failure, but just going on.”

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About Grab the Lapels

I'm a graduate of the MFA fiction writing program at the University of Notre Dame. I also have a MA and BS from Central Michigan University. I teach composition, creative writing, and literature, which has inspired me to follow along with trends in teaching, publishing, and reviewing.

2 responses »

  1. Pingback: Elsa | Grab the Lapels

  2. Pingback: Retelling #20BooksofSummer #readwomen #bookreview | Grab the Lapels

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