Amazing Author: Emma Donoghue

It's Tuesday and I am bringing you another amazing author interview by Amazing Author Caroline Leavitt!

Look for Caroline's new book Pictures of You, (Algonquin Press) at a bookstore near you, this November.

I first picked up Room when I was at BEA. I've read and loved Emma Donoghue's work before, (Slammerkin, The Woman Who Gave Birth To Rabbits, The Sealed Letter, Landing, and more) but this particular book was life-changing. Long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, Room is narrated by five-year-old Jack, who lives in a single room with his Ma and has never been outside, and like the best novels, it makes you see and experience the world differently. To say I loved this book with a passion is putting it mildly, but I refuse to loan it out because I feel the need for it to be right where it is--in my writing office where I can reread it.

What’s so unsettling about ROOM is its unique and surprising perspective. While there has been coverage of people held as sexual captives, I don’t think we’ve ever been let inside this situation from the viewpoint of a child born into that captivity—and a happy, seemingly well-adjusted boy, at that. What sparked your desire to tell the story from his point of view?

I would never have told this story any other way. Ma telling her own tale of kidnap, endless rape, and unassisted birth would have been too obviously poignant (and hideous) a proposition. What I glimpsed when the idea for ROOM first came to me is that Jack could tell us a whole other story that would have elements of comedy, parent-child love story, science fiction and fairy tale.

What was the research like for you? How much is true and how much is imagined?

None of it is true in the sense of being closely based on any one kidnap case; although the headlines about the Fritzls were what gave me the idea in the first place, I was careful to steer my scenario away from theirs and any others I read about. (And Jaycee Dugard wasn't discovered, as it happens, until my novel was finished.) But all of it is true in the sense of being as plausible as I could make it: I read extensively not just on kidnapping but on children raised in peculiar or neglectful settings, adults in solitary confinement, healthy family dynamics, the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder...

Reading Room was intense and riveting and unsettling. Were there any points in writing the novel where you were unsure if you could complete the book?

No, This one was easy. I've never had such certainty about every aspect of a book, from point of view, to the opening and closing scenes, to how much time to cover.

I’m obsessed by process, so could you talk a bit about how you wrote this book and what were the particular challenges?

I did a couple months of research first, almost entirely on the Internet, which is a first for me. That was often skin-crawling and occasionally made me burst into tears. Then I had to work out Jack's voice: for this I analysed my five-year-old son's speech like a linguist, then came up with a form of English which is actually halfway between adult and child, so readers would believe in his youth without being enraged by his rambling. The drafting itself I did in six months while my daughter was in part-time daycare, and all I sweated over were subtle details, such as whether their captor would allow them to have a pair of scissors, and the balance between the grim and the happy at each point.

The voice of Jack is one of the real pleasures of the book—he’ a captive, but he doesn’t know or understand it, and instead is a happy, loving, loved child that we, the reader, also come to adore. His curiosity makes us look at the world of the room differently. Without giving away the ending, do you think it’s possible for Jack, and/or children like Jack, to ever be able to be fully okay in the world?

He'll be grand: there seems to be almost no limit to what a five-year-old can adapt to, especially if they've been parented well. Ma is another story, because adults hold onto their pain.

What is obsessing you now?

The peculiar effects of publicity. I've always considered it 'no bother', as we say in Ireland, but these days I'm doing so much more of it (ten phone interviews in a row, the other day!) that I feel intellectually vacuous!

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

Ah, Here's where I'm particularly vacuous at the moment: can't think of any.


Hungry Writer....

A moment to talk about the relationship between food and writing; my relationships with both are very healthy, not to worry. As I have stated here many times, I love to chop and cook and bake when I am writing. Cooking helps me think and sitting at a desk for so many hours in a row requires me to be very healthy about what I snack on. I always eat healthy, but simply not moving, at all, for hours, means that I am not turning all that food into fuel the same way I would be if I was out and about. But I have noticed that I do eat more when I am stuck, or anxious or finding something really hard to do, like my new screenplay. I find myself thinking, salty, sweet, savory? Which will it be now? Or I drink too much coffee. Although, I don't actually feel like I can drink enough these days. Although most interestingly, is that whenever I say, okay, no more...fill in the blank. It is all I want. The same thing happens when I demand that I write xx number of pages a day! In other words being rigid with myself means that I get the least done and am less than my happiest self.

The moment that I get more flexible with my goals, say, 3 pages today, but 5 tomorrow, or no pages yesterday, 10 over the weekend, I meet my goals. And the same is true of eating and drinking for me, if I tell myself, less coffee and wine, more water, or less salty snacks, than I guarantee that I will eat and drink way less than if I say none at all.

What this all means to me, and it is a realization that has been years in the making and every now and then I am forced to remember, is that I am not a robot. I am a creative person sitting in front of a desk pulling cotton from my brain and turning it into prose and if that means that I need to stay in my pj's, eat cereal for lunch, have a second cup of coffee, that is alright. As long as it is healthy, whatever it is that allows me to stay for hours at a time at my desk and create, then so be it.

So I won't be an elite athlete, or a supermodel, or even a professional chef! But that's okay, I'm a writer, a writer with a soft spot, literally, for soups and stews, and vegan scones. So be it!

Have a great weekend everyone! I will be eating and writing all weekend long!


Staying motivated...

So I have two projects, one I am waiting for feedback on, and the other I am working on and yet all I want to do is eat! It is getting colder out, which I love, and I am working on tricky stuff which makes me cook...it is a great way to clear my head, but with all that good cooking, comes good cravings! Alas, at least I am a healthy cook! These raspberry scones are Vegan and sweetened with Stevia.

Being self employed, means constantly motivating oneself, and for me, finding new ways to reward and bribe myself to turn out those pages!

Today's goal...3 new script pages, and 2 new novel pages...total pages so far...ZERO. Scones eaten, 1. Time to get back at it!

How do you motivate/bribe yourself to work?



Talking to a friend of mine today who reminded me that "nobody ever moves as fast as you want them to." This is true. It is also why I have a fridge full of soups and stews and scones! It is good to remember and it is something that I have known for a long time about myself, that I am not good at waiting, and can get restless, and sometimes impatient, and that if I don't keep it in check the impatience can turn into worrying. But what's most important is that I know this about myself and I develop ways of dealing with it. Cooking is definitely one way I deal with it, and having many projects on the go is another. Walking helps too, but I can only walk for so long!

I have another friend who is even more restless than I am and she makes sure that she always has at least 3 projects on the go at all times! I used to think that was nuts, but now I know why. I don't want people to think I am nagging them, and I do know that people are very busy, and I also want to be kind to myself, as this sense of urgency and desire to do, do, do, and get moving on things applies to myself way more than anyone else. It wasn't that long ago that I was beating myself up to my husband about how long I was taking on revising my novel, only to realize that I had only received my notes 9 days before! I wrote my entire novel in two years, and a friend joked that I would write the next one in a year and a half, because I'd want the challenge!

Another friend asked me on facebook if I have ever heard of "taking a break", and I answered that I am better, healthier, and happier, the busier I am. But I think maybe I need to find a way of not letting my restlessness, spill over onto others. I am way better than I used to be, if you can believe it, and I don't want to change my work ethic, it has gotten me where I am, and where I need to be, but maybe I need another creative outlet, that responds to the down times and the waiting times; it's how I originally got into making jewelry, a hobby that 6 years ago turned into a business. But maybe something without my hands, chopping, fussing, beading, typing away at the keyboard. And something outside.

All suggestions are welcome...

In the meantime, I got the go ahead to move from outline to script, and wrote the opening lines for a new novel. Hallelujah!


Friday already?

It has been a whirlwind of a week! I finished my revisions on my novel and sent them out for feedback. I really hope that they were successful, and are received well. I liked my revisions, but after a month of staring at the same pages and areas that needed improving, and then writing reams of material that I decided to scrap at the 11th hour because it felt redundant and too obvious, in favor of many little changes and subtle reveals of information, I welcome an outside set of eyes. I also re-ordered the entire opening of the book, wrote new material for secondary characters, and changed scenes that were in a third person p.o.v. to a first person p.o.v. It was a lot of work, and countless hours, but in the end the changes felt subtle and seamless and a natural part of the novel. I will wait and see what my feedback is, and if more changes are needed...I will make them!

Also this week, I hammered out my script outline and it too is being read and critiqued, and if all goes well, it will go to script this weekend. This whole process of outlining has been fascinating to me, it is completely opposite to my approach of novel writing. If this were a novel I would've started with one of the images, or themes that is driving the film and just gone for it, and sure, I would've gotten stuck at some point and had to start outlining, but not like this. And I have to say, I kind of love spending so much time, months, on an outline, as now I know what I am going to be writing! No more days ahead mired in the quagmire of sticky middles, or loose threads, just write what I have outlined! Brilliant!

And as always happens, when I am this busy, I cook! This week, there were stews, homemade veggie burgers and scones. The burgers, are the best veggie burgers I have ever tasted anywhere, and are from my one of my all time favorite restaurants in Toronto, Fresh, and available in this cookbook. And the scones, are vegan, low fat and delicious, and are from the Post Punk Kitchen's first cookbook, Vegan With A Vengeance. Check them out! And Happy Friday!!


Amazing Author: Laurie Hertzel!

Sorry I am late with this, but it is still technically Tuesday...on both Coasts!

I have been busy with my own authoring...and finished m
y revisions on my novel today! Woohoo...well for now, more revisions may be needed, I am awaiting feedback.

But without further ado...here is another amazing author interview from Amazing Author Caroline Leavitt! Look for her new book "Pictures of You" coming out from Algonquin Press this November!

Laurie Hertzel fell into journalism after taking a job as a clerk at the Duluth News-Tribune and is now is the books editor at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. She's been a fellow at Duke University, a writer-in-residence at the James Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio, and a faculty member and speaker at the Nieman Conferences on Narrative Writing and Editing at Harvard. Oh, and let's not forget that she has spectacularly great hair, a hilariously dry and warm wit, and she's written an absolutely wonderful book about finding success in the newspaper world despite herself. I'm tickled and honored to have her here. Thanks, thanks, thanks, Laurie.

You write that everything you did happened by accident, but wouldn’t you also say that your passion and drive opened doors?

You call it passion and drive, I call it single-mindedness. I have always had very limited skills—I am no good at math, I can’t carry a tune, I’m not handy or crafty, all I can do is write. So instead of trying to learn how to do those other things, I put all my focus into trying to improve as a writer.

When opportunities came along—the Duke fellowship, the Russia trip, and there were others—I focused on getting them with a sort of laser-like intensity because I knew it was do those things, or do nothing. And I have never been very good at doing nothing.

I also think that not finishing college was, in some ways, good for me—it made me feel, constantly, like everybody else knew things I didn’t. And so I tried very hard to learn, and I sought out opportunities like fellowships and conferences, trying to get up to speed.

I love the story of how you called your first interview with a quavering voice because you were so shy, yet despite this timidity, you still got out in the world, and subsequently wrote a terrifically intimate book. How does a shy person balance that need to be in the thick of things to get the story with the desire to hide in a room?

That notebook was a great shield. It gave me permission to go places I would never have gone otherwise, to talk to people I would never have met and to ask questions that I wouldn’t dream of asking otherwise. It gave me permission to be bold.

You might be surprised to learn that a lot of newspaper reporters are actually fairly shy people. In my experience, there are two kinds of reporters—the brash, gregarious, hard-charging kind, who get a certain kind of story, and the quieter, more observant kind, who get an entirely different kind of story.

Your love for Duluth is palpable. Do you ever get back? Do you miss it? Do you think geography defines us?

Well, that’s an interesting question, about geography. Do I love smallish towns and rugged seasons and nature at my doorstep because that’s the kind of place I grew up in? Or was I just lucky to be born in a place that fit me? Certainly there were plenty of people—some of my siblings among them—who couldn’t wait to get out of that town and move on to bigger cities or more temperate climates, but clearly I wasn’t one of them.

When I moved to the Twin Cities, I knew that I could not settle permanently on an urban street surrounded by houses and pavement. And so we were lucky, after a year or so, to buy a house right on a park. That park is a crucial part of my life; I walk the dogs through it every morning, ride my bike along its paths, stare out the window at the trees and the lake. It has hawks and eagles and groundhogs and otters and, sometimes, an occasional fox. I need that constant reminder that we are all part of nature, that all that is urban once was wild.

I do get to Duluth once or twice a year—Doug and I pass through on our way up the North Shore a couple of times a year, and we go to Duluth now and again to visit friends. I miss the city because it was so familiar to me, and I knew it so well, but I’m not sure that I still know it. It has changed a lot since I left. And I don’t know if I could live there again.

What fascinated me was that while you were a journalist, you felt driven to write fiction, and did so successfully, winning fellowships, and yet you gave it up to be back in the thick of a newsroom. Do you ever miss it or feel the pull of it calling you back?

I don’t think I have enough of an imagination to write good fiction. I am pretty grounded in fact and reality, and I am literal-minded to a fault.

It’s true that I wrote a couple of short stories, but they were all based at least somewhat on things that had happened to me, and they were all of a type: first-person, focusing on small events that held larger significance.

I think one reason I was drawn to fiction was that it allowed me to write in a more intimate way than traditional daily journalism allowed. With fiction writing, I paid attention to certain mechanics—pacing, symbolism, openings, closings, dialogue, scene, summary—and then tried to translate what I had learned to reportage.

Do I miss writing fiction? For all that I think I’m no good at it, I do miss it, sometimes. I miss seeing the world the way I did when I wrote short stories.

I found the stories of how the old newsroom changed (women infiltrating all men offices, clattering typewriters changing to computers) hopeful in the light of the metamorphosis they are going through today. Are you optimistic about the future of newspapers and where do you think they’re headed?

I have to be optimistic. I am optimistic. My newsroom and newspaper seem to have stabilized. My husband’s newspaper (he works for our competition) has shrunk considerably over the last ten years, but it, too, seems stable now, in its new reduced size. And I do not think a democracy can thrive without a free and inexpensive and widely distributed press.

I am no good at predicting the future. But I think print journalism will stick around for a long time because a lot of people still like paper. And Web journalism, without a doubt, will continue to grow.

I miss those old days, though. They were fun.

Reading your book, I got the feeling that you’re going to do something surprising next—that you’re always somehow evolving. If newspapers were to end today, what would that be for you?

I love this question and it is the one that has kept me from dashing off these answers quickly and getting them back to you immediately. I am stuck on this one. Sometimes I think I could do anything—go back to school and study earth science! Work for a nonprofit! Go into retail! But in truth I have no idea. You can be sure of this, though: whatever happens will absolutely be by accident.

I LOVED finding in our book that you say at an interview you should always ask what question you should have asked but didn’t—I’ve been asking that for all my blog interviews since I started them. So…what question should I be mortified that I didn’t ask you?

Oh, goodness. You could ask about the nature of memoir. You could ask about how peculiar and awkward it is to be the books editor at a newspaper, trying to promote my own book without compromising my job. You could ask about what it was like to grow up in such a gigantic and, um, passionate family.

But I think you asked great, and enough, questions on your own.


I had a great visit with my sister and brother in-law over labor day weekend, and there was much eating and loving and playing! As it was a visit during a really busy time, we decided that we would do things around the city. Highlights were the outdoor screenings at Hollyhock House and watching 500 Days of Summer on the lawn, and tasting local wines and beers. The delicious "Don Draper" ice cream flavor of vanilla, bourbon, smoke and caramel provided by the Lake View Creamery truck was a highlight too!

There were also bike rides on the Santa Monica boardwalk, strolls along Abbott Kinney, hikes up Fryman canyon, shopping at The Grove, Lacma art exhibits and margaritas, homemade and otherwise for my margarita loving brother-in-law! One of the things that I am always reminded of when anyone visits L.A. is how many great restaurants there are! Here were a few of our favorites. All my friends who visit make a special request for Don Cucos. Their chips and salsa are addictive and their margaritas pack a serious punch! I personally love the cheesey decor of red vinyl booths and cactus chandeliers!

But now it is back to cooking and eating at home and chaining myself to my desk. Two weeks until my novel revisions are due! The Margaritas have been replaced by lattes, the restaurants by homemade soups and stews, and the company by my characters in my novel. But the good times live in on, and the memories too...and it makes all the hard work that lies ahead, that much more manageable.

If you are around this weekend please support The Barnsdall Art foundation and enjoy a screening of L.A. Story while you are at it!


Happy Day after Labor Day!! And Amazing Author Kevin Canty

Hope that everyone had a great weekend! I have been playing hooky with my visiting sister and brother in-law since Friday night!

Fabulous pics to follow in a few days.

Right now I am furiously typing away in a cafe trying to get some work done.

In the meantime, enjoy this amazing author interview courtesy of my friend and amazing author Caroline Leavitt. Look for Caroline's book Pictures Of You, (Algonquin Press) this November!

Kevin Canty talks about everything and Everything

Kevin Canty is smart, funny, generous to other writers, and brilliant. There, I said it. You want to buy him a beer and have pizza with him and then watch the conversation happen. Everything, his new novel, is a sublime study of love and yearning, loss and need. He's also the award-winning author of the novels Into the Great Wide Open, Nine Below Zero, and Winslow in Love, as well as the short story collections Honeymoon and Other Stories, A Stranger in This World and Where the Money Went. His work has been published in The New Yorker, Esquire, GQ, Details, Story, the New York Times Magazine,Tin House and Glimmer Train. He currently teaches fiction writing at the University of Montana. You have no idea how thrilled I am to have him here. Thanks, thanks, Kevin.

"Everything" seems to be a Valentine to Montana, where you live, and it seems appropriate to me that such an expansive, everything kind of environment would form the backdrop to a novel about people who want (and keep failing to have) the same majesty they see around them in their lives. Can you talk a bit about how place impacts your writing, both in your daily life as a writer (could you be a writer in Chicago?) and in the world of your novels?

It’s one of the ironies of writing that you get to the big stuff only through the small stuff. I mean, you do get to talk about Time and Life and Fate and Truth but only by a kind of close observation of the lives around you, and a reenacting of those lives in language. I’ve been living in Montana for many years now and these are more and more the lives I know, and thus the lives I write about. Are they much different from lives elsewhere? Probably not. But they are people who have an emotional attachment to this kind of landscape. It’s a hard place to make a living and a long winter; you really have to love it here to stay. And these mountains, these rivers are what we have instead of restaurants and museums. Right now, in late summer, hot days and cool nights and caddis hatches in the evening, it’s hard to want to be anywhere else.

I think I could be a writer anywhere, though. It’s just a matter of paying attention. The big-ticket items don’t change from place to place: parents get sick, children grow up, people fall in and out of love. Somebody in Ohio is getting kissed for the very first time even as we speak!

Everything is filled with the messy sorrows of growing older and the desperate yearning for love and new lives, that don’t go as planned, yet there’s this divine optimism in the novel, too. Was that planned or was it a discovery as you wrote?

I’m not big on planning novels. I feel like they go dead on me if I have too clear of an idea what might be in front of me; I like to know a little but still retain a sense of curiosity about the way forward. This seems to keep the writing alive for me.

Everything was written out of a really chaotic time in my life, a moment when so much that had been stable for so long began to fall apart. My father died. A thirty-year marriage ended. My friend Buck Crain, to whom the book is dedicated, was losing a fight with cancer. I fell head-over-heels in love with a woman, then broke up with her. So trying to make sense out of this moment is both the subject and the action of the book. The search was genuine. I was trying to figure out a way to respond to these upheavals and writing this book was a part of that attempt. In some sense I finally got that optimism beat into me—I wasn’t about to give up, right? had to find a way forward—and so do these characters, I think.

I read in an earlier interview where you said that teaching writing was bad for you. Why? Do you still feel that way?

Well, just to disagree with myself for a moment, teaching has been very good for my writing, in the sense that it’s given me the security and time to pursue it. Certainly it takes time and intelligence and emotional energy to teach, especially if you want to do a good job of it, which I (mostly) do. But the tradeoff is that I get to have a mortgage and my kids get dentistry and college educations and so on. I’ve tried to write and hold down a job in the “real world” and I found it difficult and worrisome and draining. So in that sense I’m grateful for the alleged ivory tower. It’s the only job I know where there’s time for writing and reward for writing built in.

I think what I was talking about before was a kind of moral hazard in being the authority, in having answers to questions and solutions to problems. The real work of writing is dark and mysterious and sometimes dangerous, I think. Sometimes the thing that gets described in a writing workshop is not quite the real thing. You see a lot of the same problems, especially with undergraduate work, and you prescribe the same solutions, and if you’re not careful you can falsify the whole business with easy answers.

Would you talk about the structure of this novel? There are no chapters, which made the reading seamless for me, and the lives are separate threads of the whole, and the whole novel takes place in a year. Was this a conscious decision from the get go?

Usually I have no idea on the way into a piece of writing whether it’ll be a novel or a story or a failure or whatever. I just have a few shiny objects and I try to connect them up and see what happens. This one was a little different, though. I’d been reading a lot of 19th century novels and kind of fell in love with the inclusiveness of the form, the layers of incident, the moral and psychological complexity, the big casts of characters and the multiple points of view. So I had an idea on the way into this book that I wanted to use some of that ambition and some of that furniture. But I didn’t want to write the whole 900-page enchilada. What I was trying for was to write the individual bright moments and then let the reader make the connections between them for him or herself. I feel like this novel was driven in part by trying to find a form that combined the things I’d learned from reading Tolstoy and Dickens with the things I’d learned from Raymond Carver and Joy Williams.

You never finished high school and your bio says it took you 20 years to get your degree. Now that’s interesting enough to make you a character in a novel yourself. How did that come about? Did you know early on you wanted to write or did it just happen when you finally got to college? Why didn’t you finish high school?

I quit high school mainly because I was really, really bored. It wasn’t much more complicated than that. I just felt like there were a lot of things that were a lot more interesting than high school, and I was right about that. I ended up working as the white hippie kid on an all-black construction laborer’s crew and then hitch-hiking to California and going backpacking through Rocky Mountain National Park and so on. It was fun.

The rest of the resumé is a bit misleading. After a year of high-quality screwing around I got my GED and came to college here in Missoula. I was lucky enough to get a really good education here, drifted into writing after a while, first poetry—which I studied with Richard Hugo, among others—then fiction. Bill Kittredge was a great teacher, Missoula in the 1970s was a great scene, wild and wooly. I was also interested in music, though—if I was a better guitar player, I might not be a writer at all—and I didn’t have the discipline to finish anything. So I sort of drifted out of the writing world and into the music world for a decade or so, about 15 credits shy of a degree. I think I always had a weird certainty that I would end up as a writer, though. When I decided to go to grad school I was living in Portland, Oregon, running a sound company. I came back to Missoula, camped out in my sister’s basement for a semester, finished up my 15 credits and we were off to the races.

You’ve said, “I’m only really writing when I don’t know what I’m doing,” which, I think, is one of the most reassuring assessments of the writing process I’ve ever read. At what point do things start to coalesce for you and make you believe that your pages are indeed a novel?

I don’t usually have very good ideas about things until I start to write them. Every story needs to have its own shape and its own music but that only comes into focus for me in a kind of negotiation between what’s already on the page and what might happen in the future of the story. That sounds horribly abstract, I know. What actually happens is that I sit around Googling my friends and writing bad sentences and trying titles out and playing bridge with my computer and then once in a while something comes along that feels like it’s alive. Then you just cut out all the dead stuff and try to write other sentences that seem alive that go with the alive sentence you just wrote.

At some point you do need to decide how big of a thing it is and how interested in it you are. If it looks like a novel-sized idea, you’re going to be spending a big chunk of your life with it, so you’d better be interested. And at another point farther down the road, I usually find myself in a contest of wills, trying to enforce notions of shape and order and drama on the thing. Which resists. So it’s not all just innocent play of the imagination. But, as I said earlier, I do find that the writing can go dead on me if I know too much, if I lose that sense of exploration. No mystery for the writer means no mystery for the reader. (That’s a quote from somebody but I can’t remember who.)

What’s obsessing you right now?

Not really obsessing about anything these days, playing guitar, walking the dog, spending a lot of time at the river, trying to catch a few fish and working on my sandal tan. I want to go back to teaching in the fall with tan feet. It’s the mark of a sincerely misspent summer. I’ll get back to work in the fall, I’m sure—I have several projects in various stages of dereliction—but for now I’m keeping them in the closet and trying to enjoy life. So far so good.

What question should I be mortified that I forgot to ask?

Beats me. I’m around, though, if it comes to you. Hope all is well, and thanks again for your kind words on the book. It’s been a fun ride! KC

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