Category Archives: Meet the Writer

Meet the Writer: Jodi Paloni @Press53 @JodiPaloni #environment #poetry #fiction #giveaway

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Meet the Writer: Jodi Paloni @Press53 @JodiPaloni #environment #poetry #fiction #giveaway

Today, Grab the Lapels welcomes Jodi Paloni to the Meet the Writer series. I’ve asked Jodi questions about her two very different graduate degrees — one in environmental studies and the other in creative writing — and you read about how poetry may serve a purpose to the poet, but doesn’t have to be published to have meaning. Read more about Jodi Paloni at her website; at the bottom of her site are numerous ways to connect with her on social media.


Grab the Lapels: What kind of writing do you do? What kind of writing do you wish you did more of?

Jodi Paloni: I mostly write realistic fiction. I’ve published a collection of short stories and a number of other stories in lit journals on-line and in print, and I’m currently working on a novel, which is hard work, but very exciting. I love to read fiction and find that getting lost in a story provides both solace and wisdom. Novels provide me with an escape like nothing else. I want to make what I love, so I write.

But when I began to write in earnest — to actually put words on paper, look them over, work on them — it was October 2001 and I was writing poetry. My first marriage was unraveling and the Twin Towers had just fallen. The poetry teacher at the school where I taught held a workshop for anyone who wanted to come and process the national tragedy through writing. My oldest daughter had been born on September 11, 1993. She was eight when the towers burned down and troubled that something like that had happened on her birthday. I wrote my first poem about her, in celebration of her coming to be. It’s still my favorite poem of the hundred and fifty or so that I have written since.

But I don’t publish poems. I keep them private, like one would a journal. Some day I’d like to pull all of my poems out and take another look at them, along with the dozen or more I’ve written in the last few years. If I find something I like, I might start sending them out. I think it would be nice to have an artifact, a chapbook or a book, that embodies the work. Poetry, to me, is the distillation of a moment, a feeling, or an experience.

My poems are mostly about the natural world as a mirror into my interior life. In troubling times, writing and reading poetry is a balm, so I tend to turn towards poetry to process emotion. I also turn to poetry when I am moved by beauty. It’s an impulse. Writing fiction is more of a strategic process for me. I get to use the parts of my brain that are both generative and tactical. It’s like figuring out a logic puzzle: the brain expands beyond the boundaries of normal thought, but is also thoughtful about boundaries. I have to say, though, all forms of writing, even writing answers to these questions, is what I want to be doing most of my time.

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GTL: What is a graduate degree in Environmental Communications at Antioch all about? And did that degree affect your time spent in an MFA program at Vermont College?

JP: I haven’t thought about that degree for in a long time, but recently, at an Earth Day brunch, I found myself reflecting on my time at Antioch with great nostalgia. I earned that first masters in 1990 (wow!) almost thirty years ago.

I had gotten my bachelors degree in education in the early eighties, but didn’t love the idea of working in a classroom. I wanted to be outdoors, exploring the natural world, enjoying it and working to advocate for it. After a few years of teaching in environmental jobs, I decided to indulge myself in environmental study. I say indulge because a lot of the classes were held outdoors. I learned how to identify flowers, trees, and birds. I took one class called, Mammals of the Subnivean Zone, a study of the little furry creatures that stay alive all winter underneath the snow. I learned tracking. I saw Snowy Owls. I was in heaven. The communications part of the degree was about writing, and I read wonderful nature essays along the way, but mostly, it was about how to bring ideas we learned to others in the form of advocacy and policy.

In the end, I went back into teaching. I found a wonderful public school in Vermont where both place-based learning and literature was highly valued. I could learn and explore new ideas along with my students. I wrote poetry at night, after my own children were asleep. I dreamed of writing a novel and would sometimes lay awake writing scenes in my head.

I guess all of this it to say, I have two great passions, the outdoor world and stories about regular people. Earning masters degrees in both environmental studies and fiction was really an opportunity to immerse in what I love.

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GTL: What did you want to be when you grew up, and does this choice influence your writing today?

JP: I wanted to be a stage actress or a famous singer, a Joni Mitchell, a Stevie Nicks, a Carol King. I loved the stories the ballads told, and the rhythms, and I loved to sing. Plays and movies were just another form of the storytelling. Ha! I guess writing fiction allows me to wear the mask of my characters and become what they are on the page, so in a way, that is a form of acting — taking on someone else’s voice, imagining how they would gesture or move across their exterior backdrop. Poetry is akin to song lyrics. It’s musical, all about sound, too. Fantastic! I got to become what I wanted to be when I grew up, just not in the way I might have imagined.

GTL: What inspired you to write They Could Live With Themselves?

JP: They Could Live With Themselves is a collection of linked stories about a small town in New England, based loosely on the small Vermont town where I lived for twenty-five years. My interactions with my neighbors and the landscape inspired me, for sure, and other stories I read, too. I pay attention to certain things­­ — nuances between people in a public place, gestures, objects, and am taken by a particular visual moment.

That visual moment is what I usually begin with — a lanky boy mowing a lawn, three teenage girls glommed together on a park bench, a pregnant woman sitting on a curb. I don’t write any notes or make a conscious effort to sit down and write about what I’ve just seen. The images just get stored in my brain.

I often begin a story when a first line comes to me, and I riff on that. Later, I’ll see something in a story that is a knock-off of an image in real life or one from a daydream. I love the mystery of how it all works. Once I had written a dozen or so stories that took place in the same town and found that characters were popping in and out of each other’s stories, I began to think of the ways I could do this with intention, and plan how the stories could be arrange in a linked form to give a novel-like experience of the read, while maintaining each story as a discrete piece. The stories take place over the course of one year, from May to May, in a small town. Readers can watch the evolution of the community as a character, too. It was fun.

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Jodi’s revision process for her short story collection.

GTL: Many times writers find a creative niche and community. What do you think is yours?

JP: I have a writing group that traverses place. We use Google Hang Out. We’ve met once a month, almost religiously, for six years. I also am very involved in my local writing community and the statewide alliance in Maine, which is fabulous, very active, and quite generous in spirit. I have to say, most of my friends are writers, or at least avid readers. We talk a lot about our lives as it relates to writing and books. I go to a few writing events a year, a conference or a residency. I’m currently in a poetry group and just joined two new prose groups, probably too many groups, but we’ll see. I do love spending a Sunday afternoon with three other writers discussing the work. Most of my social media connections are with writers as well, so I’m basically surrounded with writers and craft talk, books and publishing news. Works for me!

GTL: If you could change places for a day with any one of your characters, who would it be, and why?

JP: Oh, wow! Great question, a tough one, too. Let’s see. A lot of my characters are pretty sad, and for good reason. I don’t want to be any sadder than I already am in real life, or as sad as some of them. Ha! Oh, dear. But just for one day, right? I like a character named Wren, a lot. She’s a single woman in her forties. Although she has had very sad events in her life, going as far back to a childhood, she seems to be on the mend. She’s figured out that it’s okay for her to be there for others and still find ways to take care of herself, to make peace with the fact that she actually likes living alone, and, I think, though I’m not absolutely sure, she’s about to hook up with someone who could become the great love of her life, a man named Addison, who lives in a fabulous Vermont homestead high on a hill overlooking the valley. Sure, I’ll be Wren for a day. I’ll pick a lovely spring morning when the sun is hot, but there’s still a hint of melting snow. The stream is rushing. Addison’s just said good-bye to his ex-wife, once and for all. Wren and Addison both have the whole day off. 😉

In fact, there are a number of my characters who, by the end of their stories, are about to embark on something better than where they began because they’ve figured out something important about who they are and who they want to become. I’d trade places with almost any of them if I could pick up where their story has just left off.

Giveaway: If you want to read about Wren and Addison and some of the other characters living in Stark Run, Vermont, leave a comment written to Jodi below to be entered into a drawing for a copy of They Could Live With Themselves. Currently, winners are restricted to United States due to the cost of shipping. A winner will be chosen at random at noon on May 5th.

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Meet the Writer: Susan Stinson

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Meet the Writer: Susan Stinson

I would like to welcome Susan Stinson to my Meet the Writer feature. As many of you know, half of my reading goals in 2017 are to find positive fat fiction written by women. I asked for recommendations from fellow book lovers.

So far, my reading of fat fiction has been a big disappointment. Book after book falls into the chicken dinner category: fat women picking themselves apart into pieces that are then criticized. Ugh. Only Dietland by Sarai Walker and I Do It with the Lights On by Whitney Way Thore have been given my full recommendation.

However, Casey over at The Canadian Lesbrarian introduced me to Stinson’s work. I picked up her novel Fat Girl Dances with Rocks a day or two ago. Though I’m not far in, I love the unique main characters. And we have a fat narrator! She might mention she’s fat, but she’s not chicken dinner-ing (yes, I just made that a verb). Without further ado, I give you Susan Stinson!

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Grab the Lapels: What kind of writing do you do? What kind of writing do you wish you did more of?

Susan Stinson: I am a novelist who also writes poetry, lyric essays, and book reviews. My novels have varied quite a bit in style and content. My first novel, Fat Girl Dances with Rocks, was a coming of age novel in which a young woman comes into a new relationship with her fat body at the same time as she begins to explore her lesbian sexuality. It came out in 1994 from Spinsters Ink, a small feminist press. fat girlThe year before that, two writer friends and I had formed a micropress and published Belly Songs: In Celebration of Fat Women, a chapbook of poetry, short fiction, and lyric essays that examine fat oppression and celebrate the beauty, strength, and sensuality of fat women. In 1995, Spinsters published Martha Moody, which was a mytho-historical western with tall tales and a flying cow. That was a love song to fat women for me, and a pleasure to write. It had Swiss and German editions, and has recently been reissued in German in both paperback and as an ebook as Martha flog auf der Engelskuh, which means Martha Flew on the Angel Cow. I love that.

I published three books in three years because I had finished them all before any one of them were published. My next novel, Venus of Chalk, came out in 2004.

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During that time I was travelling a lot giving readings and talks with my earlier books. When I made appearances, two things kept happening. People would come up to me and tell intimate stories about the pain they were in in relationship to their bodies. It became clear to me that fat hatred was a form of social control that was causing many people of all sizes to suffer. The other thing that people who saw me read asked me over and over again was how I came to be comfortable in my fat body. I wrote Venus of Chalk as a way to give my best answer to that. It starts with a fat woman being harassed and then turning against her own body with self-harm, and then goes on a bus trip from New England to the Texas farm where she used to spend time with her aunt as a child. So it’s a road trip, but it’s also her journey of confronting the roots of her internalized fat hatred and getting to a stronger place. Carline is bossy and difficult, but I think she’s very brave. That’s my answer for how to take on fat oppression, internal or external: it’s a slow, difficult process of confronting difficult things that is also so worth undertaking. There’s no way out but through.

My most recent novel, Spider in a Tree (Small Beer Press, 2013) is very different.

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It is a deeply researched historical novel about eighteenth century Northampton, MA during the time of preacher, theologian, and slave-owner Jonathan Edwards. I live in Northampton, and, in some ways, writing about Calvinist New England is me continuing the process that Carline goes through in Venus of Chalk. My passionate exploration of fat oppression in fiction and poetry took me to confronting other difficult things, such as the long history of northern slavery and intensity of Calvinism and how it might have been actually lived by people with various relationships to someone like Jonathan Edwards.

Right now, I’m working on Lamentation Hill, which is inspired by Jonathan Edwards’s grandmother. She is an unhappily married English woman with murderous siblings and a daughter who betrays her. There is also a Pequot sailor in love with the daughter’s husband in seventeenth century Hartford. Like lampreys in the river — made by and making the landscapes around them — they burrow, wriggle, rise, and latch on.

I wish I wrote more poetry. I love poetry deeply. I read it almost every day. Poetry with clarity, emotional urgency, and live language is an intense pleasure. It’s a balm for isolation. It’s a joy.

GTL: What was the first piece of writing you did that you remember being happy with?

SS: I thought of myself as a writer from the time I was very young. When I was in first grade, I won a school contest for best letter to my mother for Mother’s Day. I got to read the letter from the stage in the gym to the whole school. I got paid, too! They gave me a gift certificate to a local strip mall, which I used to buy a stuffed caterpillar. I never forgot it.

GTL: In what ways has life in and out of academia shaped your writing?

SS: That’s a big question. I was an English major as an undergraduate at the University of Colorado in the early eighties. I took a lot of writing workshops and learned a lot from them. I never got an MFA, though. I couldn’t see how I would be able to pay back the student loans if I went into debt to for graduate school in creative writing. So I moved from Colorado, where I grew up, to the east coast, where my brother, who is an artist, was living. I ended up with a job at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, giving administrative support to visual art studies and learning more about the lives of artists in that role. It was so great to have access to the museum, too. During that time, I began to participate in fat lesbian culture and began to write and think critically about my received notions of fatness. My life was strongly influencing my art, clearly.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years in writing groups. In some of them, we critiqued each other’s work or discussed aspects of craft. I was the Writer in Residence at Forbes library, the public library in Northampton, for five years. I still facilitate a writing room there, where we gather to write every week. We don’t critique, we just write together, although we have a reading every year.

I taught Fiction Writing at Amherst College in 2014, and I’m about to do that again in the fall of 2017. That was my first time back in academia since the eighties. The students are wonderful, and teaching writing is a great way to grapple with the heart of what I think matters in fiction.

GTL: How do your friends and family respond to your writing?

SS: My friends and family are enormously generous and supportive to me. Sometimes I ask some of them to read unpublished work. Sometimes I’ve made choices not to write about things that I knew would make someone close to me feel exposed. It’s clear that my work has sometimes made some of my friends and family uncomfortable. It’s also very clear that they want me to be able to do the work that matters most to me. One of the things I love about fiction is that it makes it possible to write very honestly about the most intense emotions while also respecting the privacy of others. I think that there is there is an dance of fine-tuning the ethics of writing fiction that is informed by courage, self-knowledge, empathy, and love.

GTL: Are there aspects of your writing that readers might find challenging to them?

SS: Some people are uncomfortable with lesbian content. Some readers have been unwilling to enter imaginatively into the inner lives of fat characters and stick with them even as they imperfectly, haltingly begin to address some of the pain that fat oppression can cause. Writing pain and fatness together is tricky, because many people assume that is all that fat people are. I’m writing characters with their full humanity, which includes strength and power and fight and eroticism, and also includes all kinds of mess. Some readers find it hard to handle that.

My writing isn’t always as light and fast as that of many stories I love. It calls for some patience and attentiveness. It rewards those things, but it does ask for them.

GTL: What did you want to be when you grew up, and does this choice influence your writing today?

SS: I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but I wanted to be other things, too. I remember having a list in elementary school: I wanted to be a writer, a gardener, a ballet dancer, and a teacher. I am happy with where I ended up on that list.

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Ballerina from Russia’s Big Ballet, a troupe of dancers averaging 220 pounds.

Meet the Writer: Olivia Kate Cerrone

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Meet the Writer: Olivia Kate Cerrone

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.

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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.

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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.


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!

Meet the Writer: Tess Makovesky

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Meet the Writer: Tess Makovesky

I want to thank Tess Makovesky for stopping by Grab the Lapels to discuss her writer life! Tess maintains a website where you can learn more about her writing and a blog to update readers on her life and work. If you like what you see, follow Tess 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?

Tess Makovesky: I wrote my first story, about a mouse having an adventure, aged five, and promptly announced to my family that I wanted to be a writer. They laughed indulgently, but actually it awoke a quiet but life-long passion and I really meant it. Sadly, it didn’t happen for many years as I had to go out to work to support myself, but I used to daydream about being a writer even while I was doing the chores or getting the bus to work.

Then two things happened which changed my life. The first was an injury at work which left me with a permanent disability in my right hand. It makes typing at 60 words-per-minute just about impossible and since I was a secretary at the time, you can imagine the result! Luckily, the second change was meeting my long-suffering Other Half, who has supported me ever since and given me the wonderful opportunity to practice and develop my writing.

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GTL: How have you developed creatively since then?

TM: My writing has developed out of all recognition. When I first started, I was still in “essay-writing” mode and found it hard to use colourful, creative language, and to write anything other than brief, concise reports. My early attempts at writing featured long waffly novels because I didn’t realise there were any other forms. Then a local writers’ group introduced me to the concept of the short story, and suddenly something clicked. I could write creatively, but still be concise.

Since then I’ve written hundreds of short stories and been lucky enough to have many of them published. (There’s an example, called ‘The Floor’s the Limit,’ available to read free in Out of the Gutter Online here). More recently, I’ve realized that if I string a number of “short stories” together, in the form of separate but thematically-linked chapters, then I can develop longer pieces of work without giving up on my trade-mark snappy style. This is the format I chose for my newly-published novella Raise the Blade, which features sections from the point of view of seven or eight different characters. None of them seem to be linked at first, but gradually you realise that there is a link – and that link is a psychopathic serial killer.

I’ve also taken a journey through various genres, starting with my first love of gritty crime, moving on to romance and erotica (under a different pen name) and finally coming full circle back to darkly humorous noir. The romance/erotica was less successful for me because I kept trying to include dark, gritty aspects that I’m not sure the readers appreciated! I’m much happier with the grim reality of crime, which lets me explore character motivations and psychology to my heart’s content.

GTL: What happens when you’re not happy with your writing?

TM: Well, for starters I get very grumpy. Like many creative people I have an unstoppable urge to give birth to my ideas, and if anything interrupts that process then watch out! It can also make me quite depressed – something I suspect a lot of writers are prone to.

If I’ve already written something but I’m still not happy with it, it nags me like an aching tooth. I know it’s not right; I know the character wouldn’t say something like that, or act in that particular way; or I know that the language I’ve used is clumsy or formulaic. At that point I either sit and stare at the screen in complete frustration for hours, or walk away and leave it to fester for a while. If I’m lucky, a solution suggests itself and I can get going again – although sometimes that process can take days, weeks, or even months.

GTL: What is your writing process like? Which do you favor, starting or revising?

TM: I’m a real “pantser” (flying by the seat of my pants) in that I tend to do little or no advance planning. I get an idea, a title, a first line, and a general idea of the direction/ending I want to head towards, and then I just plunge in. It can lead to disaster, but I find that too much additional plotting, planning and note-making sucks all my creative energy and I have nothing left to actually write the book!

I almost always write chronologically, starting at the beginning and muddling through until I reach what I’m happy with as the end. However, if my characters take over and run off with the plot, I do sometimes go back and add extra sections, paragraphs, or even whole chapters earlier on.

Being something of a perfectionist I used to edit as I went along, but realized that it was slowing me down, and sometimes meant I didn’t finish a piece because I got bogged down in depressing minutiae. Now I tend to write fast, first, and go back and edit later. Sometimes it leads me to think “what the hell was I thinking?” but mostly it seems to work!

GTL: How has your writing process evolved?

TM: When I first started writing I hand-wrote everything, painfully thanks to my wrist injury, and then typed it up when I was reasonably happy with it. Over time the keyboard took over more and more, and now I type everything straight onto the screen, and will only resort to pen and paper if I need to fiddle with a brief section that’s fighting back. Or to sort out something that requires mathematics, since my grasp of numbers is terrible! In Raise the Blade there’s a complex structure where each character discovers the body of the victim before them, and I simply could not keep track of that at all! In the end I had to make a list of exactly who had found whom, and where; otherwise, I’d have ended up in a complete muddle.

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GTL: Do you have a relationship with book bloggers? Why or why not? If yes, what is it like?

TM: I think book bloggers are wonderful! But then I would say that, wouldn’t I? Heh, seriously, I think bloggers and writers often have a great symbiotic relationship where writers provide the source material, and bloggers help to introduce it to the reading public.

Done well, it benefits both. The bloggers develop their own supportive group of readers and gain access to a far greater range of reading material than they might if they were just shopping at their local book store. And the writers get a conduit between themselves and new readers, who might never otherwise come across their work.

However, as a note of caution, it can sometimes go wrong. I know of cases where bloggers and/or reviewers in general have made damningly negative comments about books, sometimes factually incorrect, which have gone on to blight a writer’s entire career. I’m not for one moment suggesting that bloggers should gush about every book they read, as that would be both dishonest and dull! But I do think it’s important for the relationship to be mutually supportive. Without bloggers, authors wouldn’t have as many readers, but without authors, bloggers wouldn’t have as many books.

Meet the Writer: Janice Lee #writerslife #authorinterview @diddioz

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Meet the Writer: Janice Lee #writerslife #authorinterview @diddioz

I want to thank author, blogger, editor, and do-it-all Janice Lee for answering my questions. Check out her books and follow her on Twitter! I have a review of her 2013 novel, Damnation, in queue to be published Friday!

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I went through different phases: teacher, archaeologist (a la Indiana Jones), zoologist, doctor, spy, writer.

What was your least favorite class at any point in your education? Why?

PE in high school. It was so hierarchical and was just asking to create tiers of “winners” and “losers.” Mostly I just chilled with my friends and we pretended we were too cool to care.

What was the first blog post you ever wrote about?

I’ve never had a proper blog. Just my website and various articles around the web. Probably the earliest “blog” I kept up most regularly (though only for a short while) was for my web design company, and the post had to do with what went into building a good website.

Do you think blogging is meant for the blogger, the readers, or both? Why?

Definitely both. It’s cathartic, in a way, for the writer. The Poetics of Spaces series I’m working on right now at Entropy, for example, is really memoir and confession disguised as personal essay. And I’ve had several readers email or message me thanking me for various articles in the series, which is always really gratifying to be able to connect with people in that way.

Are you reading anything right now?

Many things simultaneously but also in between things. I just finished The Ants by Sawako Nakayasu. About to begin Slow Movies: Countering the Cinema of Action by Ira Jaffe.

Do you habitually follow any blogs?

I’m one of those people who feel the need to say informed and connected, so I actually follow almost 100 different blogs that I get in a feed, in all topics: literature, art, culture, film, science, technology, web design, etc. I mostly just skim the headlines each morning and focus more on a few. My favorite site right now is Entropy, not only because I’m an editor there, but because there’s really some rad stuff happening there.

Meet the Writer: Margot Kinberg #crime #authorinterview

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Meet the Writer: Margot Kinberg #crime #authorinterview

Thanks so much to writer, blogger — and friend to book reviewers like me! — Margot Kinberg for stopping by Grab the Lapels and sharing her writing life with us. You can connect with Margot on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. And, of course, you should follow her blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.picture1-of-margot-kinberg


GRAB THE LAPELS: What kind of writing do you do? What kinds of writing do you wish you did more of?

MARGOT KINBERG:  I write crime fiction. Now, of course, that’s a very broad genre with several sub-genres. So, to narrow it down, I write traditional-style crime fiction in a contemporary context. My Joel Williams novels, for instance, are whodunits that take place mostly on a modern university campus. In that way, my work’s been influenced by some of the Golden Age/classic crime writers such as Agatha Christie.

You ask an interesting question about what sort of writing I would like to do more of than I do now. I’d actually like to try my hand at literary fiction. There are so many directions that literary fiction can take, and so many possibilities for character development and context — a great deal to explore.  I’ve written a few stories (mercifully, nothing published), but I haven’t done a novel. That’s one of those things I hope to try at some point. First, though, I want to hone my writing skills, and keep improving at what I do.

GTL: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

MK: I always enjoyed writing. I’ve liked writing stories since I was in grade school. As I recall, the first story I wrote that I really felt proud of was when I was eleven years old. My English teacher’s support of that story really helped me see myself as a writer.

I started writing novels because I had a story in my mind that wanted to be told. With encouragement from my husband and daughter, I gathered my somewhat scattered thoughts about what the story would be like, and they became my first novel, Publish or Perish. I’ve not looked back since.

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GTL: How have you developed creatively since then?

MK: I love that question, because it reminds me that we should always be growing and developing as writers. One way in which I’ve developed is that I’m experimenting with different sorts of crime writing. One of the novels I’m working on, for instance, isn’t a traditional-style crime novel, such as the novels I’ve done for my series. It’s actually quite different, and I’m enjoying trying something new.

As I’ve been writing, I’ve also seen myself taking a few more risks. Some of my stories, for instance, are darker than I’ve done before, which I think helps me explore that side of human nature. I’ve tried a couple of different settings, too, and found that interesting. All of that has happened as the result of working on flash fiction. It’s really an effective way to develop as a writer, to discipline oneself, and to try new things.

I’m also finding that I’ve become better at character development as I’ve done it more. The more real characters are, the better readers can identify with them. And the more I develop my characters, the better I can identify with them. This helps me (at least I hope!) to create richer stories.

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GTL: In what ways has academia shaped your writing?

MK: Well, I come from a background in academia, and my first professional writing was non-fiction. That’s made me a more concise, less narrative sort of writer. In fact, I’ve had to learn to flesh out my fiction, so that readers can engage more with my stories. So I suppose you could say that academia has impacted my writing style and focus.

But it’s also impacted my writing in the sense of my setting. My Joel Williams novels, as I mentioned, are set mostly in a university environment. So I’ve been able to use my experience in higher education to set the scene and context.

GTL: Does your writing include any research?

MK: Oh, I always research when I write. To me, research is absolutely essential to a believable story. Readers want to feel that what they read is authentic, even if they know it’s fiction. So it’s important to me to ‘do the homework’ to make sure that mine is.  When I research, I look online, I talk to people, I sometimes go places, and of course I read. A lot.

The type of research I do depends on the sort of story I’m writing. For instance, for one novel, I researched video surveillance at retail stores. For another, I researched police jurisdiction at federally-owned national parks. And for another, I spent quite a lot of time looking at street maps. It all depends on what I’m writing.

I should say, too, that I’ve been very fortunate in my research. Experts I speak to are always happy to help, and very accommodating when I pepper them with questions. And with today’s technology, it’s really easy to find out almost anything I want to know, just by going on line and being thoughtful about which sites I trust.

GTL: What are your current writing projects?

MK:  I’m pleased to say that my third Joel Williams novel, Past Tense, is available for Kindle pre-order right here. The paperback version is coming soon, too. The book goes on sale on 1st November.  So I’m doing things to get ready for that.

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I’m also working on a few other writing projects. I’m planning revisions for my fourth Joel Williams novel; hopefully that one will be ready some time next year. I’m also writing a standalone novel — a crime novel that’s not the sort of whodunit I’ve written in the past. I’m only about 30 pages into it, so there’s still a lot of work to be done. But even so, I’m pleased to say that it’s taking an interesting shape. This one was inspired by a short piece of flash fiction I wrote, called “Early One Morning.” The characters stayed with me, and wanted me to tell their stories. Who was I to deny them? There are other little things I’m working on, too, but those are the main projects.

Meet the Writer: Liz Dexter #business #HowTo #SelfEmployed #WritersLife

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Meet the Writer: Liz Dexter #business #HowTo #SelfEmployed #WritersLife

I want to thank Liz Dexter for answering my questions about her experiences as a professional self-published writer and editor who created her own brand. She writes books that help other people understand self-employment, business, social media networking, and other topics.

Grab the Lapels: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

Liz Dexter: I’ve always been something of a writer. In fact, I thought in my youth that I was going to be a fiction writer, and when I left school was probably “person most likely to” do so. However, I slowly discovered that I’m not creative in that way.

As I went through various jobs, I was involved in technical writing: manuals, training documents, marketing materials, articles, presentations, etc., and this was something I enjoyed doing. So, I developed an interest and specialism in non-fiction / informational / technical writing, as opposed to academic or creative writing.

I started writing books, specifically, because I wanted to share information and help people. My first book was on a health issue that I had that I’d been able to resolve without drugs. I was passionate about sharing how I’d done that with other people, and my confidence with my writing allowed me to do that quite fluently.

Once I’d experimented with How I Conquered High Cholesterol with Diet and Exercise, I was confident to write my first business book, again with the aim of helping people, but also knowing that I have the ability to write clearly and helpfully, in an accessible and friendly style that both supports people through the processes I was talking about and differentiates my writing from that of other business books.

GTL: What kind of writing do you do? What kinds of writing do you wish you did more of?

LD: I do non-fiction / informational / how-to writing that is low on jargon and accessible, aimed at helping people like me who are not traditional entrepreneurs to start and run their own businesses. I aim to be clear, thorough and transparent, and to be approachable and gently humorous. I put a lot of effort into making sure I share everything in detail as far as I can (leaving out identifying details of clients, of course), because I loathe with a passion those books that only take you so far and then expect you to buy an expensive course to finish learning!

I wish at the moment I could do more academic writing, but I am doing some independent study, too, along with a full-time job, training to run a marathon and working on my books. I long to set aside time for academic writing, but it necessarily comes at the bottom of the priority list!

I do also need to do some more of my standard book writing, as I have two new books forming at the moment (one specifically for editors and a longer-form book on transcription as a career, as The Quick Guide to Your Career in Transcription is my most popular).

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GTL: In what ways has academia shaped your writing?

LD: I would say that it hasn’t particularly, except that it did give me the confidence to know I write well and fairly fluently. Working with academic clients in my editing business helped a great deal with the structure of my own academic work, and working with non-native English speakers has helped me to refine my general writing style to be clear and simple.

Working on essays, etc., helped me to develop my method of writing, which is to let everything mull in my head, then write out a structure from beginning to end (I prefer this to mind-maps, which I can’t get my head around), type headings into a document and start writing under whichever heading feels appropriate at the time. I still use this method now.

I think my education in academia helped me to feel that I had a right to write books, that I could write and could take my place in helping to educate others (outside academia), if that makes sense?

GTL: It does make sense! In what ways has life outside of academia shaped your writing?

LD: All of the writing I’ve done in various jobs and then my blog writing has worked me towards being able to write my books. While writing very serious and standard prose and instructions helped me to be structured and organised in my presentation, I developed my voice in my blog: slightly self-deprecating, humorous, supportive, and light on the jargon. My reviewers have commented positively in the main on my voice and style; I’m glad of this.

Dealing with words and writing every day in my day job has allowed me to think about how to put things across and see good and bad examples of all kinds of writing. This has been extremely useful for me. It also helps me, hopefully, to write well.

One interesting turnaround is that my writing has also shaped my editing work — I have learned an awful lot, through being edited, about what it feels like to have an editor, and how I might refine my editing work in order to make the experience as easy and comfortable as possible for my own clients. That was an unexpected side effect!

GTL: What is your writing process like?

LD: I have to say that I don’t do a huge amount of revision. When I write new material, I tend to mull and mull over my work, letting it swirl around in my head, then put it down pretty well complete. Having said that, a lot of the content in my books is based, however loosely, on my blog posts, so that gives me a writing process which is like a revision — or adaptation — process. I learned early on that you can’t just stick a load of blog posts in one big document and think of that as an actual book; there’s lots of fiddling around and adjusting to do.

For my next two books, I’ll be adapting a general book I wrote on starting and running a business for editors, as I have had so many people approach me asking me to mentor them, and that’s something I just don’t have the time or energy for. So I’m adapting the book and pulling it back to the editing career in particular (which is quite ironic, since originally I worked really hard to make sure it was relevant to all freelance careers!). When I put together my larger guide to transcription as a career, I’ll be basing it on that book and my transcription book, plus blog posts I’ve written on the topic since I published the book. It will be a work of synthesis and editing almost more than writing, although new bits will come in for the introductions, etc.

I want to say here that I’m extremely clear in my book descriptions, high up in the text, when a book is similar to a previous or other one I’ve put out, so people don’t feel ripped off by buying similar content twice!

As for the actual process, it’s processed in Word, using blocks of time I set aside for it when I can!

GTL: How has your writing process evolved?

LD: I have always had to fit writing into the time I have, since writing manuals, training materials, etc. so that’s not a problem, and early on in my freelance career, I offered website content writing and other such services, so I’m pretty good at just sitting down and writing: I don’t have the luxury of being able to wait for inspiration to strike!

I added an editor into the process when I started writing my books, so that’s a new stage and a new round of revisions to take into account in the process itself. It makes for a better book, but I do find I pause before I go through the editor’s revisions!


Liz 2015Liz Dexter (who publishes her books under her maiden name, Liz Broomfield) is an editor, proofreader, localiser and transcriber who has been working in the field since 2009. When she went full-time self-employed in 2012 at the age of 40, she found there were no books addressing the subject, so she wrote her own and carried on writing accessible, approachable how-to business books from there, which she has published herself, using a professional editor and cover designer. Outside work and writing, Liz reads obsessively and is a keen runner and volunteer in athletics. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook!

 

Meet the Writer: Rosalie Morales Kearns #AuthorInterview @RMoralesKearns #WritersLife

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Meet the Writer: Rosalie Morales Kearns #AuthorInterview @RMoralesKearns #WritersLife

I want to thank Rosalie Morales Kearns for answering my questions. Kearns is the started a small feminist press called Shade Mountain Press. Recently, I’ve been featuring a few of her writers, but I wanted to see what Kearns had to say as a writer herself, rather than publisher! You can follow Kearns on Twitter. Shade Mountain Press can be found on Facebook and Twitter.


GRAB THE LAPELS: What would you like readers to know about your collection, Virgins and Tricksters?

ROSALIE MORALES KEARNS: I would say that a lot of the stories are very joyful, though not, I hope, in a naïve or simplistic way. There’s an underlying theme of human connection, bonds that form between people who may seem to have little in common.

Using the magic realist mode in some of the stories allowed me to play around with techniques I might not otherwise have tried. In “Devil Take the Hindmost” I tried to capture a character’s sensation that time is fluid, that different moments are occurring at the same time. Another story, “Taínos at Large,” is narrated by a chorus, the ancestral spirits of the main character, and of course those spirits are outside time also, though they’re observing their descendant who exists in ordinary time. I’m interested in conveying altered states and ecstatic experiences — which are nonlinear — in a narrative form, which has to be linear in the sense that it consists of one sentence after another.

I had fun with the settings of the stories, also. One takes place on a fictional Caribbean island. In another story there’s a conference room where all the gods and goddesses are having a meeting to complain about Yahweh.

There’s also a story cycle called “The Wives,” consisting of “The Pirate’s Wife,” “The Revolutionary’s Wife,” “The Priest’s Wife,” and finally “God’s Wife.” The main characters, the wives, are seekers; in the stories I’ve tried to capture them in the midst of their seeking.

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GTL: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

RMK: For me, writing and reading were connected. Love and stories were intertwined. When I was little, my dad would read to us kids every evening. There’s a photo of me at age three or so, sitting on the sofa with my teddy bear on my lap, reading to him from a book of fairy tales (in the photo, you can clearly see that the book is upside-down). The message I’d internalized was that a loved one told you stories, and then you told stories to another loved one.

The first short story I can recall writing was at age seven. All I remember is that it was funny, and involved talking pigs. I stood in front of my second-grade class and read it out loud, and basked in my classmates’ applause. We writers hardly ever get that kind of instant gratification.

GTL: How have you developed creatively since then?

RMK: I wrote a lot during grade school. In fifth grade I wrote a radio play, which the principal allowed us to perform on the public address system. It was a mystery story, in which a student is found dead and the prime suspects are our teachers. In eighth grade in our U.S. history class, my friends and I were upset about the fate of the abolitionist John Brown, so we wrote a play in which he’s rescued from the gallows. My friend Toni, playing Catwoman (a superhero in our eyes), crouched on the top of a wardrobe and then leapt down onto a desk where Brown was about to be hanged. Luckily she was agile enough to pull it off, otherwise she, John Brown, and I (the executioner) would have crashed to the floor. Our teacher kept grumbling, “That’s NOT how it happened.”

I didn’t write much during high school, and not at all in college. It wasn’t till my mid-twenties that I started writing again, though I had very little time and energy for it. Plus I was sapped by self-doubt. I kept telling myself I didn’t know what I was doing: Who are you to write a novel? What do you know about it?

Even now, every so often, I have to remind myself that I know how to tell a story. We humans have a storytelling instinct. We need to learn how to stop second-guessing ourselves.

I’ve also learned to appreciate the pre-writing phase, when I’m just getting inklings of the story, when I dream characters, dream scenes, while washing dishes or listening to music or staring into space. That’s how I get to know the characters, discover new things about them. I can’t just consciously decide on a character’s traits; I have to intuit them gradually over time.

Kearns photo for Grab the Lapels

GTL: Does your writing include any research? If so, why/why not, and can you talk about why you made that choice.

RMK: In a way, the research comes first. The more I read about a topic for my own personal interest, the more it finds its way into my fiction. Then, as I’m sketching out notes or delving into the first draft, I do more targeted research to find specific facts that I realize the story needs.

I have a novel I’m seeking a publisher for right now, whose main character is a female Roman Catholic priest. I don’t know that I would have even thought of the subject if I hadn’t already done a lot of reading about feminist history, feminist spirituality, theology, Christian mysticism, the history of Christianity, etc. I’ve always been fascinated by religion, and I attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through college. But I still did a lot more research, especially for details: the daily missal, the catechism, the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours.

The novel I’m drafting now takes place against the backdrop of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. I would never have started the novel if I didn’t already have some familiarity with Russian culture, language, and history, but I’ve needed to do a whole lot more reading. What’s fun is that I would think up situations or scenes and then wonder, But did this really happen? And then I would read a memoir or a history and find out, yes, the cavalry was still relevant during the civil war; yes, the secret police were infiltrating the Russian Orthodox Church, etc.

GTL:  What is your writing process like? Which do you favor, starting or revising?

RMK: I like both. Doing the first draft, when I’m dreaming the scenes for the first time, emotions are really raw, and if bad things are happening to the characters, I’m right there with them. An example is the Russia novel I mentioned above. The basic plot is: good people suffer a lot, then die young in horrible circumstances. A couple of years ago I used the NaNoWriMo as a motivation to make some progress on a VERY rough first draft. Each evening I would work on more scenes, with my cat Puff curled up next to me, and every so often I would reach out and bury my hand in her long, silky fur, to remind myself that there’s still goodness in this world.

The revision process creates a different sort of urgency. You have some distance from that first draft, so it’s a chance to pay more attention to craft in a calmer state of mind. But at the same time I worry that I won’t do justice to what I’m imagining, that I might not be able to make the words do what I want them to.

GTL: Are you reading anything right now?

RMK: I’ve just finished Helen Oyeyemi’s novel Mr. Fox and now want to read everything she’s ever written. And I’ve spent the past year or so reading all kinds of books about Russian history and culture. One of my favorites is a gorgeously illustrated book titled Baba Yaga: The Wild Witch of the East in Russian Fairy Tales, by Sibelan Forrester, including fairy tales and very interesting essays.

I’m also doing a lot of reading in my capacity as founder of a small feminist publishing house, Shade Mountain Press. We’re in the midst of a submissions call, for novel manuscripts by African-American women (deadline is September 1; details are here).

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Meet the Writer: Robin Parks #AuthorInterview @ShadeMountainPr #food

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Meet the Writer: Robin Parks #AuthorInterview @ShadeMountainPr #food

I want to thank Robin Parks for answering my questions. Her short story collection, Egg Heaven, published by Shade Mountain Press, is set mostly in diners and eateries in Southern California and explores the folks who people those places. Parks is also the Managing Editor at Referential Magazine.  Learn more at her website.

Grab the Lapels: What would you like readers to know about your book, Egg Heaven?

Robin Parks: There is a lot of food in it to make up for the sorrow. Plus, if you’ve never been to a Southern California beach, these stories will take you there; also, to the great California desert where a Jewish diner gathers dust and tumbleweeds. Sorry, yucky food there. Ketchup packets. That stuff.

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GTL: What was the hardest part of writing your book?

RP: Like any other writer, I wanted my words to always, always cast a loving light on my characters. With short stories, every single sentence holds the character it its hands, offers the character up to the reader: “Hi, love me!” Mostly this is so easy. But sometimes…not so much. Dread sets in, you know? Have I made my characters less than they are? Not proven them as deep and subtle and strong as they really are? Oy.

GTL: What are your current writing projects?

RP: My current writing project is Managing Editor for my husband as he drafts his memoir. You won’t believe how beautiful his writing is!

GTL: What was the first piece of writing you did that you remember being happy with?

RP: This is like asking about the first time you had a good time in bed. It really is! Hmmm. There were a few good times leading up to this one, but this one lasted a looooong time and I remember it vividly. I had the story “Home On the Range” in my head — at least the main characters, whom I found while wandering around a thrift store in Long Beach, California. But when I knew I was ready to begin writing the story, I walked fast in my neighborhood every morning composing that First Sentence in my head. It was soooooo much fun. Sooooo exhilarating. Like touching someone beautiful for the first time, only again and again in different spots, for the first time. I just kept walking and starting over, walking and starting over.

Ummm, I have to admit I ended up with not my best First Sentence ever, but maybe it wasn’t really the First Sentence I was so awash in. Maybe instead it was that I knew — knew! — that First Sentence was going to lead to something good. I was embarking on a good story. I’m sure most writers feel this rush, that something good is going to come of this impulse: the girl, the sky, the spot of blue, what he muttered…. Why else would we go on?

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GTL: What did you want to be when you grew up, and does this choice influence your writing today?

RP: Alive? Okay, too dark. But truly there is a reason there is so much food in my stories. I grew up in households where there just wasn’t anything to eat. I write about it in “Thanksgiving,” an essay in The MacGuffin. So yes, let me give a reader something to eat, or something to fill that soul longing empty grasping hunger. Love? A moment of love. A moment of love will save anyone’s life.

GTL: Many times writers find a creative niche and community. What do you think is yours?  

RP: Shade Mountain Press (listen up, women!).


Special Note: Robin Parks’s publisher, Shade Mountain Press, is now accepting submissions from African American women until September 1, 2016. If you, or anyone you know, is interested, please head to the guidelines page!

Meet the Writer: Jen Michalski #AuthorInterview @MichalskiJen @QFPress

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Meet the Writer: Jen Michalski #AuthorInterview @MichalskiJen @QFPress

Thanks so much to Jen Michalski for answering my questions! I have known Jen for many years now: she published one of my stories in her webzine, JMWW; she took me on as a book reviewer after I pointed out a typo in someone else’s book review (I still do this); we organized a virtual book tour together; and I love her writer-friendship dearly! Jen’s books are amazing regardless of how I feel about her. I mean, she wanted to be an elephant when she grew up, and that’s the best ❤


Grab the Lapels: What would you like readers to know about your book, The Summer She Was Under Water, which was released this week?

Jen Michalski: The Summer She Was Under Water is actually two books that somehow found their way together — a story about an estranged, blue-collar family that spends a weekend together at their old cabin by the Susquehanna River in Northeastern Maryland and nested inside it, a magical realistic novella about a pregnant man. They weave together toward a big reveal at the end — the mystery of the pregnant man’s fertility and the secrets that the family has buried.

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GTL: Did you learn anything from writing your book?

JM: Never throw anything anyway! This is actually the second novel (the other was The Tide King) I’ve written in which I’ve united what I thought were two separate projects. They may have been separated by a few years, or a few months, and at first glance, they didn’t seem to have anything in common, at least on the surface. But then they made sense, in weird ways, and I combined them. Writing can be a long game, and whereas you think you might be working on separate stories for years, they just might be pieces of a bigger puzzle. I’ve learned to trust what comes out on the page, even if it doesn’t make sense to me at the time of writing it.

GTL: What is was writing process like?

JM: I think I’m a better starter than reviser. I don’t have a set writing routine and am mostly fueled by bursts of inspiration. I don’t like to go back and look at any of it while I’m working, just ride along with the momentum of the story. Sometimes if I begin to pick at a novel or story before I’ve finished what I think is the first draft, it begins to fall apart, and I’ve lost the impulse that inspired me to write it.

That’s not to say there isn’t a nice feeling, during that final revision, being satisfied with the whole of what you’ve done and giving it a final polish. But, by then, you’re separated from the work, more in first-reader mode, and nothing beats being in the throes of a story, living it in your head simultaneously while living your life. It’s kind of like having an affair, writing a book. You’re investing a lot of emotional energy into the story and especially the characters, trying to delineate their motivations, get into their heads, and make them fully realized. And I think the writers who do that well really love people, really care about psychology and circumstance and what drives us as humans. Nothing frustrates me more than cardboard characters, and I admit that colors my impression of the writer as a person!

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GTL: Your last novel, The Tide King, was a book I gushed over. You’ve since published a short story collection (From Here), but novels are surely different. How has your writing process evolved since The Tide King?

JM: I’m not sure. Since I wrote The Summer She Was Under Water before The Tide King, it’s easier for me to see how I evolved from Summer to The Tide King — for one thing, I felt more comfortable with taking on scope. The Tide King spans several hundred years over several countries; in Summer, the events take place over a long weekend. And the latter is sort of my default mode when writing: very domestic set pieces with limited time frames, almost like plays. After The Tide King, I became more comfortable taking more risks, writing about places and people with whom I didn’t have much in common, doing the research and trusting the conceit I’ve built around the characters. Letting the characters age, finding their arc.

I also have discovered that I enjoy writing novels more than short stories. Short stories are like a fling to me — a one-night stand. They feel good, but they are what they are. You’re not going to get married and have kids with them. Novels are more like long-term relationships, something you invest in, as a reader and writer. I don’t find myself reading or writing a lot of short fiction anymore, although I think they’re a good springboard to writing novels.

The Tide King Michalski

GTL: What do you think reader reactions to The Summer She Was Under Water will be?

JM: As someone who knows me, I’m sure you know I never take the easy way out! I don’t consciously plan to be controversial, or write about taboo subjects, but I always write about what interests me, or what I don’t understand, in an attempt to find out where other people are coming from. And I wanted to explore in The Summer She Was Under Water the roles into which we morph when the traditional family structure falls apart — not be judgmental, or to take a stand one way or another, but to just understand other people. Writers should always be putting themselves in other people’s shoes; I don’t see how you can grow as a writer (or a person) if you don’t. Even though the book takes place during the summer, it’s not a “beach” read. And people will probably really like it or not very much at all. But for me, if the reader has a strong reaction, even if it’s negative, I know I’ve done my job.

GTL: What was the hardest part of writing The Summer She Was Under Water?

JM: The sex scenes. When you read it, you’ll know what I mean!