I want to thank Olivia Kate Cerrone for stopping by! Olivia maintains a website where you can learn more about her writing and information about her new book, The Hunger Saint (Bordighera Press, 2017). If you like what you see, follow Olivia on Facebook or Twitter!
Do you know someone who would like to be featured at Grab the Lapels? Send her my way so she can participate in the Meet the Writer feature!
Grab the Lapels: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Olivia Kate Cerrone: My parents always read to me as a child and that definitely sparked my love for stories, the places books could take you in your imagination. I began writing fiction from a very early age, producing “novels” and short stories with handmade drawings to accompany. The sense of wonder and possibility of storytelling has never left me.
GTL: How have you developed creatively since then?
OKC: I never thought of creative writing as a hobby. Even as a kid, I wanted to become an author and publish books. Of course, I had no idea at the time as to how very difficult that journey would be, but I had the drive and the passion to keep trying, even after years of rejection and disappointment. Throughout my life, I have always (and continue) to seek opportunities to develop creatively, be it through a workshop, a writing conference or an MFA degree. I enjoy being in a workshop with other writers. I am very lucky to have a group of talented prose writers with whom I meet with on a regular basis in Boston, MA. Growth is continuous, and you have to stay humble and resist arrogance or complacency in order to keep getting better. Real growth takes time. I hope that I am a much better writer in five or ten years than where I am now.
GTL: What happens when you’re not happy with your writing?
OKC: Honestly, I am seldom ever happy with my writing, especially the first draft of anything, so I revise constantly. Perhaps even a bit obsessively. A piece goes through many different drafts and often past the eyes of a trusted editor before I send it out into the world for possible publication. Sometimes, if I’m really struggling, I have to just let a manuscript sit for a while, and go work on another project or just take a breather from writing altogether and read, read, read. Often, I find that poetry helps me connect to language and ideas in fresh ways, and that actually helps me find a way back into my own fiction if I’m blocked.
GTL: What is your writing process like? Which do you favor, starting or revising?
OKC: Ideas usually comes to me in fragments — snatches of dialogue or a phrase of description that are later explored and built into a scene or the narrative in some way. Sometimes, as was the case with The Hunger Saint, I will come across a piece of history or an experience that haunts me and demands to be told. When I first learned about the carusi, for instance, I was shocked by how little had been written about them, especially when children as young as six years old were sent by their families to work in the sulfur mines of rural Sicily. That disturbed me enough to produce The Hunger Saint. Research also figures a great deal in my creative process. Getting the details right, even in fiction, is very important to me. I like to “sketch out” the outline of a plot, especially with short stories, as it tends to help me keep focused on what needs to be told, instead of trying to cram an entire world of information in ten or fifteen pages. But with larger projects like novels and novellas, you can’t exactly know where you are going at every point along the way or the story itself might feel stilted. You have to trust the process, be patient and keep trying with each draft.
GTL: How has your writing process evolved?
OKC: I spend a lot more time on revision now than I used to. Perhaps that comes with maturity and patience. Revision is so crucial, especially with a larger manuscript. There are certain things you simply can’t develop until the third or fourth draft. I have learned the hard way over the years that rushing through the development of a story just for the sake of having it published is never a good thing. My prose also tends to be a lot more socially conscious now than it was when I was younger. I believe that literature should engage readers in larger questions about human rights, especially in these challenging and uncertain times. Stories have such great potential to raise awareness and spread compassion over complex and difficult issues throughout our society.
GTL: What are your current writing projects?
OKC: Right now, I am working on DISPLACED, a novel set in Boston absorbed with themes of identity, family, immigration issues, intergenerational trauma, and deportation. The book questions what it means to be an American in a time fraught with so much tension and upheaval. I am also working on a few short stories and essays that speak to various political and humanitarian concerns.