Category Archives: Author interview

Interview with author Rene Gutteridge

It’s Friday! And this interview concludes Rene Gutteridge Week. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Rene Gutteridge Week 2011,

I’m pleased today to welcome Rene Gutteridge to Word Lily! She is the author of seventeen novels, the latest of which is Possession [my review].

Rene Gutteridge pic

Author Rene Gutteridge

Word Lily: Listen isn’t the first book you’ve written that’s focused on the power of words (Ghost Writer, for one). I’m a lover of words and language, and I’ve often seen the powerful impact of words. The instances that stick in my head, though, are kind of the opposite of those in Listen. Where did that story come from?

Rene Gutteridge: Listen came from many places for me. I watched in the news how people have been obliterating each other with words on the web, everyone from adults to children. It broke my heart. I also saw it in my personal life, how much words hurt, how it caused hate, and how my own words affected other people. Listen was a culmination of what I felt was going so wrong in our society. I wanted to bring a magnifying glass to the subject matter.

Word Lily: Per your website, in 2011 you’re working on your first nonfiction book, a novelization called Heart of the Country, and another suspense novel. (Whew, busy!) This after your last two releases have fallen more along suspense lines, as well. Will you return to humor, at some point? Also, care to elaborate on any or all of these projects?

Rene Gutteridge: I will always return to humor! And yes, I will be returning to humor alongside my writing buddy, Cheryl McKay. We’ll be announcing more details soon, but I am very excited about our upcoming projects. I’m also in the rewriting stage of Heart of the Country and I’m so eager to get this into the hands of readers. Many readers may not know that my second book, Troubled Waters, was a family drama, and that’s what I’m returning to with Heart of the Country. I love a good family drama, and readers who love drama too won’t be disappointed. I’ve teamed up with filmmaker John Ward (I Am) and Tyndale House publishers to bring John’s script into novel form. This will be out sometime this year. My next suspense will be from Tyndale as well, but I don’t want to release details about that yet. However, I think I am going to have an absolute blast writing it, while also scaring myself spitless. Can’t elaborate yet on the nonfiction book, but I will tell you that I think it may be the most important book I’ll ever write. I’m thrilled to be on the project and am currently working on it.

Word Lily: Any recommendations for other humorous Christian fiction?

Rene Gutteridge: You can never go wrong with Kristin Billerbeck. Her dialogue and knack for timing on the written page is impeccable. Laura Jensen Walker also has some great humorous Christian fiction offerings.

Word Lily: Thanks! Tell us how you went from writing comedy sketches for churches to novels.

Rene Gutteridge: I had actually written novels before I started sketch writing. But I hadn’t published any of them yet. Writing church sketches was probably the single most influential writing exercise I’ve ever done or ever will do. I had a live audience, so I could see their immediate reaction to my writing. I saw what worked and what didn’t. This was particularly helpful writing comedy. Before writing sketches, I hadn’t attempted any comedy. But I quickly saw how impacting comedy can be, and so I gave it a shot. I failed a lot, but that just helped me succeed later with it. I also used to direct, but I was a horrible director because I was so focused on everyone getting their lines right, since I wrote them, that I neglected everything else. My actors were always asking, “Where should we stand? What should the blocking be?” I was like, “Just stand there, don’t move, but make sure you get that line right.”

Word Lily: How can I get my hands on your plays and sketches?

Rene Gutteridge: I am working on that. I have over 500 sketches and one full-length play. I’m hoping to get a website up this year that will offer all these sketches.

Word Lily: That sounds great! A couple more general questions now. Why do you write?

Rene Gutteridge: I write because God gave me the gift. I am so glad He did. I enjoy it so much. It’s really the business side of writing that frustrates me the most. But God’s got to get us out of our comfort zone often so we continue to depend on Him. But the business side of writing (taxes, contracts, etc.) is truly the thorn in my side.

Word Lily: What are you reading?

Rene Gutteridge: Right now an advance copy of an Alison Strobel novel and Decision Points by George W. Bush.

Word Lily: Thank you so much for your time, Rene!

About the author
Rene Gutteridge (Facebook) is the author of 17 novels. She and her family live in Oklahoma.

Other (rare) interviews with Rene Gutteridge

2006 interview with Tyndale
• The downloadable excerpt of Possession includes an interview (that’s in the back of the book)

Thanks to Tyndale, I have three copies of Gutteridge’s latest, Possession, to give away this week. And one of those giveaways is now! Enter to win a copy of Possession by Rene Gutteridge by leaving a comment on this post. (One entry per person per giveaway; sorry, U.S. only.) I’ll accept entries through today, Friday, January 28, 2011. The other two giveaways are still open, as well.

Edited to add: This giveaway is now closed. See who won.

I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.


Interview with author River Jordan

I’m pleased, today, to welcome River Jordan to Word Lily! She is the author of The Miracle of Mercy Land [my review]

Author River Jordan

Word Lily: What makes you believe in the power of story?

River Jordan: My experience growing up for one thing. Story, the art of telling and of listening was a part of our everyday existence. I’m thankful for my Southern heritage in that respect because I’m not certain otherwise I would have had the same kind of pacing in both my life and in my novels. My faith as well. I’m a Christian and it really is a faith that has been built in many ways on the stories handed down for generations. We treasure those ancient stories. They mean a lot to us. For instance, if a character in the Bible builds an altar to remember something, we may draw on the story over and over again in our own lives to strengthen us in times of trouble.

Word Lily: You started your writing career as a playwright; how does your background writing for the stage inform your writing of novels? Of memoir?

River Jordan: I think I give more attention to the words characters speak, the rhythm of those words, how they fall and rise. The same is true in the memoir.

Word Lily: How crucial are the elements of magical realism in creating the stories you want to tell? In the sense of wonder they evoke?

River Jordan: It always shows up as crucial but it’s not because I plan it that way. It just does. I write with a lot of allegorical meaning so a mystical character in a story may actually be a representation of the things that we struggle with in our lives and that would be different things for different people. But I really do love the sense of wonder in the world. I watch the wind blow through the tops of the trees at our place in the woods and it’s as wonder-filled and mystical, magical if you will, as anything gets.

Word Lily: I read that you have a love for the newspaper business. How did that develop?

River Jordan: I think at an early age I might have developed a romance for the woman reporter. In an age such as Mercy Land’s in the novel, which is set in 1938, women weren’t always in the newsroom. A type of Lois Lane character here and there. Then I studied both print and broadcast journalism in school, received a small journalism scholarship to a community college, and had planned to pursue that. Then I took a playwriting class and although I wrote stories all my life, wanted to write a novel, somehow the theater captured me in such a way that I took a few steps away from journalism. I still love the romance of it though.

Word Lily: A couple more general questions now. Why do you write?

River Jordan: To survive. I jokingly tell people I get sick when I don’t write and by that I mean snappy, short — that kind of thing. And I really love being able to live what I call a thousand lifetimes in one life, to travel to new places, all without living the room. The Imagination is an incredible thing and being able to meet the characters in my stories and travel to where the stories are set, to live there for awhile, is amazing.

Word Lily: Thank you so much for your time! Anything else you want to say? Am I missing something?

River Jordan: Hannah, thank you so much for the opportunity to meet new readers and share my thoughts. I love your questions and appreciate your time.

About the author
River Jordan (@RealRiverJordan) teaches and speaks across the country on the power of story. She and her husband and their Great Pyrenees, Titan, live in Nashville. She began her writing career as a playwright and spent over 10 years with the Loblolly Theatre group, where her original works were produced, including Mama Jewels: Tales from Mullet Creek, Soul, Rhythm and Blues, and Virga.

Other interviews with River Jordan

Excerpt from 13 Questions/Harper San Francisco
Chapter 16
Christian Book
Novel Journey

I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

Interview with Julie Lessman & giveaway

I’m pleased, today, to welcome author Julie Lessman to Word Lily! She is the author of the Daughters of Boston trilogy and, most recently, A Hope Undaunted.

Julie Lessman

Author Julie Lessman

Word Lily: One of my favorite aspects of these books about the O’Connor family is the relationship between Patrick and Marcy. In A Hope Undaunted, that relationship is still strong, but it seems more muted than it did in the earlier books. What’s your reasoning behind this? (I have my guesses, but I’d rather hear your rationale.)

Julie Lessman: Well, I’d like to hear your “guesses” too, but just so you know, originally I had a more detailed subplot for Marcy and Patrick involving Marcy entering menopause with wild mood swings, and Patrick treading lightly so as to not trigger an outburst or crying jag (a lot like my poor husband went through, who likened menopause to walking across a minefield! :-)). BUT … the relationship between Marcy and Patrick was toned down for A Hope Undaunted because my editor felt that 1.) There was too much going on (She was right because originally I had a subplot for EACH of the couples!) and 2.) She felt that because Marcy was 52 and Patrick 53, nobody would be interested in reading about their “love life” anymore, which, although I agreed with the first point, the second ruffled my feathers a tad.

As a baby boomer who thinks romance does NOT end at the age of 30, I purposely incorporated a love story between the parents that was both inspiring and deeply tender because frankly, I get tired of romance being relegated to the young. I mean, come on now — why should they have all the fun?? I will be 60 next month and I can tell you right now that once empty nest hit, my husband and I felt like teenagers on the loose again — more active with things like biking, working out, traveling and definitely more romantic than ever before in 32 years. I think when couples are raising kids, the romance tends to suffer a lot in a marriage, so when the kids flew the coop, it was like my husband and I could really focus on each other. And I can tell you right now that not only is my marriage better than it’s ever been, but I am one of those blessed women who feels as if I am living my own personal romance novel.

Word Lily: Hm, yeah. I’m not a baby boomer, but I agree with you. I know there are another couple books planned for this Winds of Change series, but beyond that, what’s it like to think about leaving the O’Connors behind and moving on to another family’s story?

Julie Lessman: Painful. Keep in mind that these people are like a second family to me — I’ve lived and breathed them for nine years now, and a part of me dreads letting them go. But God is preparing me because already I feeling myself pulled toward another new series. But I guarantee you, I will revisit the O’Connors now and then by rereading the books and then, who knows? Maybe down the road I’ll be able to pen a series about the O’Connor cousins during WWII!

As far as what I plan to write next after the “Winds of Change” series, I’m hoping to write a prequel about Marcy and Patrick O’Connor before they were married as well as a new trilogy entitled “The Cousins McClare,” a poor-man, rich-man scenario among three cousins amid the Irish-political landscape of 1920s San Francisco, prohibition and the Barbary Coast. Think Little Women meets Dynasty. And for those of you too young to remember the TV show Dynasty, think family wealth and poverty in a political setting.

Word Lily: I’m one of those not familiar with Dynasty, I admit! I know of it, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it. I just got a dog this year; Maisie, and Old English Sheepdog, is almost 11 months old now. Tell us about your dog.

Julie Lessman: Well, as you may have noticed, all the dogs in my book (with the exception of a scruffy terrier mutt in A Hope Undaunted, are golden retrievers, and that’s because we had goldens all of our lives. Unfortunately, our golden named Bunker died Easter weekend at the age of 15, a ripe age that is almost unheard of for large dogs, but I believe in praying for longevity for our pets, so I did, and it sure worked.

Word Lily: Oh, I’m sorry to hear about your loss of Bunker! What books have you read and enjoyed recently?

Julie Lessman: Oh, it’s been a realllly good month for reading, let me tell you! First off, there was Mary Connealy’s Doctor in Petticoats (love Mary’s humor!), then MaryLu Tyndall’s Surrender the Heart (love MaryLu’s romantic edge and tense adventure!), Myra Johnson’s Where the Dogwood Blooms (probing spiritual message and romance that is wonderfully sigh-worthy), Courting Morrow Little by Laura Frantz (Laura always packs an emotional punch with a story and characters as alive and real as my own family), and finally, my current read is Melanie Dickerson’s The Healer’s Apprentice, which is simply a delightful medieval YA that is pure magic. Yep, all in all, a very good month!

Word Lily: That definitely sounds like a good reading month, yay! I think I’ll end up adding some of those to my wish list. I know you started writing A Passion Most Pure when you were still in your teens, but I haven’t found this part of your journey in the other interviews I’ve read: What’s your writing education/training?

Julie Lessman: Actually, not much! I only completed one year of college before quitting to get a job because I didn’t get along with my father (and my mother was deceased), so I wanted out of the house BAD!! But I knew I had some writing ability because I won speech contests in high school, was published in the National Anthology of High School Poetry, was an editor of the high school yearbook and newspaper, and won poetry contests in the one year of college I did attend. In my early 20s, I took an advanced creative writing course at Washington University and then a fiction-writing course much later in life. Surprisingly enough, I ended up with a travel writer job for many years that today would require a degree.

Word Lily: A more general question now. What are you working on now?

Julie Lessman: Well, I recently completed book 2 in the “Winds of Change” series, A Heart Revealed, which tells the forbidden love story of Sean O’Connor and Emma Malloy, and have just begun book 3, Steven O’Connor’s story, tentatively titled A Trust Restored. Both books take place during The Great Depression and Prohibition, providing a wealth of historical interest about this exciting era of speakeasies, dance marathons, gangsters, G-men and era criminals like Bonnie & Clyde and Al Capone. Steven will be a tall, brooding G-man-type modeled after Elliot Ness (a la Robert Stack from the old TV show The Untouchables, which most of your readers are probably too young to remember), who not only battles crime with a vengeance, but also the guilt and regret of a painful past.

Word Lily: Ooh, sounds good! Thank you so much for your time! Anything else you want to say? Am I missing something?

Julie Lessman: Thank you, Hannah, for hosting me on your blog. It’s been fun! And I LOVE to hear from readers, so they can contact me through my website at, either by sending an email via my site or by signing up for my newsletter. My newsletter is chock-full of fun info on my books and there’s always a contest featuring signed book giveaways. Also, I have a cool feature on my website called Journal Jots which is a very laid-back, almost-daily journal to my reader friends that would give your readers an idea as to my relaxed style of writing. Then finally, I can be found daily at The Seekers blog, a group blog devoted to encouraging and helping aspiring writers on the road to publication. Thanks again, Hannah, and God bless!

As part of this Winsome Media tour, I’m thrilled to offer a signed copy of A Hope Undaunted. (U.S. only, though.)

To enter this giveaway, leave a comment on this post expressing interest in winning and interacting with the interview. I’ll accept entries through Monday, October 4, 2010.

Edited to add: This giveaway is now closed. See who won.

Interview with Laura Lippman, author of Life Sentences

I was excited (if a little daunted) to interview Laura Lippman, author of Life Sentences [link to my review] as well as 15 other books, including the Tess Monaghan mystery series.

Laura Lippman

Word Lily: After reading on your website about how private of a person you are, to the extent that you removed your bio from your website, I’m a little intimidated to interview you. Perhaps I can interview Cassandra [your main character in Life Sentences], instead? No, just kidding. I’ll forge ahead.

Word Lily: What character in Life Sentences do you feel the most comfortable with? Why?

Laura Lippman: Most comfortable? I think that would have to be Tisha. She’s a straight shooter and she’s the only character who doesn’t rely on a self-created myth to get through the day.

Word Lily: Of all the books you’ve written, which is your favorite? Why?

Laura Lippman: My favorite is always the book I’m currently working on, because it’s the only one that still has the theoretical potential to be perfect. I love all my books, but the completed ones are inevitably imperfect. The book-in-progress is the only one that can offer the illusion that, this time, I might really get it right.

Word Lily: I know that feeling. How did you transition from writing journalistically to writing fiction? I read that you wrote your first seven books while working full-time at The Sun. (Having worked in the newspaper world, may I express my awe over that feat.)

Laura Lippman: I think it’s important to be candid: Those first seven books meant having NO life and that is not something I recommend. At any rate, I was always a novelist at heart. I went into journalism because it was a job that would allow me to write every day. And I learned a lot from journalism. First and foremost, I learned how to explain immensely complicated stuff. Once you’ve had to describe the inner workings of the city water system, or how public works projects are financed through bonds, a murder mystery starts to look really simple. Journalism teaches lucidity. That’s a good place for any writer to start.

Word Lily: What does the future of journalism look like?

Laura Lippman: I honestly don’t know. Instead, I’ll offer up the Pollyanna-ish prayer that those who profess to love democracy will be reminded that the fourth estate is vital and that good journalism is worth paying for. The truth is, we all — and by “we all,” I mean those who read even one section of the newspaper — got a free ride for a long, long time. The cover price — whether it was 35 cents, 50 cents, a dollar — didn’t begin to pay for what we were getting. Advertising subsidized our newspaper habit. Journalism is of value, but even before the internet, we were getting it for a pittance. Time to pay up or shut up.

Word Lily: Some more general questions now. Why do you write?

Laura Lippman: I think it’s compulsive. Do you know the musical, Once Upon a Mattress? There’s a character who’s been under a magical spell and can’t speak. At the play’s end, the spell is lifted and, upon learning that he can speak, he says: “And I have a lot to say.” I’ve never been the silent type, yet I feel that way, as if I have all these words bottled up inside. I have so much to say.

Word Lily: How did you start writing?

Laura Lippman: The temptation is to say, One word at a time. Or to ask how I should define start? I’ve always written. I wrote before I knew how to write. I started trying to tell stories when I was five. I tried to write my first novel at age 12. Then again and again and again. Finally, at age 33, I started a novel that I managed to finish. Starting was easy for me. Finishing was really hard.

Word Lily: What question have you always expected (or been dying to hear) but never actually been asked? And what’s your answer to that question?

Laura Lippman: What a wonderfully dangerous question. I think every writer has a secret allusion that no one gets and one waits and waits and waits for the reader who will pick up on it. Recently, I heard from a reader who had turned her husband onto my books. He’s a really big fan of the Oz series, to which I allude many, many, many times. And it pleased me that a) he got it and b) that he thought I got something wrong, checked it, and found out I was right. Let me be clear — I make mistakes, I am far from perfect. So it was delightful to find out that another Oz aficionado had questioned my credentials and discovered I was right.

Laura Lippman: But I feel I’ve sidestepped your question. I think the thing I long to be asked is how my husband feels about being married to me. To which I would say: He knows he’s the luckiest man in Baltimore.

Word Lily: Ha! What are you working on now?

Laura Lippman: I have finished-finished a book called I’d Know You Anywhere, which will be available in August. It’s about a very happy woman, whose contented life is disrupted when she receives a letter from a convicted serial killer. Turns out that she’s his only living victim and he wants to speak to her before he’s executed for one of his crimes.

Word Lily: Thank you so much for your time! Anything else you want to say? Am I missing something?

Laura Lippman: You haven’t missed a trick. The only thing I want to say about Life Sentences is that I know Cassandra is a gigantic pain in the ass. But — I hope! — that makes her journey that much more interesting. If Cassandra had always been a good/nice person, she wouldn’t be in the fix she’s in. I guess I like to think that it’s never too late to learn how to be a good person.

About the author
Laura Lippman grew up in Baltimore and returned there in 1989 to work as a journalist. She has won numerous awards for her work. Her 17th book, I’d Know You Anywhere, is set to be released in August.

Interview with Jamie Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

I was really excited to chat with Jamie Ford and learn a little bit about the man behind the gorgeous book that is Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet [link to my review and giveaway].

WordLily: Which character was the hardest for you to write?

Jamie Ford: Probably Henry’s father. I have a hard time with antagonists. I guess deep down, I want everyone to get along.

Jamie Ford

WordLily: The story of your last name (Ford) and heritage (Chinese) was fascinating to me. Quoting from the book:

Jamie Ford is the great-grandson of Nevada mining pioneer Min Chung, who emigrated in 1865 from Kaiping, China, to San Francisco, where he adopted the western name “Ford,” thus confusing countless generations.

And from Jamie Ford’s FAQ page:

[That man’s] son, George William Ford, was an actor in Hollywood and had to switch back to make his ethnicity more demonstrative. He appeared as a bit actor and extra in numerous films as George Chung. He also taught martial arts and was a consultant on the 70s series, Kung-Fu.

Have you ever thought of changing your name back, like your grandfather did?

Jamie Ford: Interesting question. When the novel was being looked at by various publishers, that topic did come up — as though a story about a Chinese American might be more credible from an author with a Chinese surname. But I am who I am. Plus the name “Ford” now makes for a more interesting story these days …

WordLily: Ha! So true, it’s good to have an interesting story like that at the ready. How did you know your short story, “The Button” — or for that matter, “I Am Chinese” — was worth turning into a novel?

Jamie Ford: A short fiction editor read it and said, “You should quit your job and write this as a novel.” Seriously. He actually didn’t like it as a short, but loved it as a novel. I didn’t quit my job at the time, but I did tear off and write like a madman. That kind of validation is incredibly motivating.

WordLily: Wow, I bet! Having such a successful first outing, how have you dealt with the pressure (that must be) placed on your next novel?

Jamie Ford: I wallow in it. It’s good and bad. The good thing is that I’m growing as a writer. The bad is that I haven’t escaped my writerly insecurities, so the pressure is definitely there. But sitting down and losing myself in the story seems to cure a lot of ills.

WordLily: I see that your next book, Whispers of a Thunder God, is due out in early 2011. Can you give us a sneak peak? I’d also love to hear more about this YA project you’ve mentioned several times.

Jamie Ford: WHISPERS is about a Japanese student who is conscripted into the Imperial Air Army and forced to become a kamikaze pilot. He fails to complete his mission and returns to find that his wife has died. It’s about his experiences as a young man, and as an old man still in search of noble death, one that will allow his spirit to be reunited with that of his late wife. It’s another love story.

The YA project involves a forgotten property (a character) that has been orphaned. The original writer sold the rights to a Hollywood studio that later went bankrupt. So I’m keeping it mum until I figure out the rights. Stay tuned …

WordLily: Will do. [If you haven’t subscribed to Jamie Ford’s blog yet, why not?] What did you do before you were a writer? At what point did you begin to think of yourself as a writer?

Jamie Ford: I worked in advertising, first as an art director and later as a copywriter. But I didn’t consider myself a real writer until some of my short fiction began gaining traction in contests or small literary venues. In many ways I still consider myself a storyteller, rather than a writer of prose.

WordLily: A few general questions now. Why do you write?

Jamie Ford: Because it beats working.

WordLily: Ha! How/when did you start writing?

Jamie Ford: About fifteen years ago, though I became more serious about it maybe five years ago. That’s when I started spending all of my vacations attending writers’ conferences. And I began writing about Asian American characters shortly after my dad died. My dad was an only child. Once he passed I felt cut off from my Chinese heritage and began to explore those themes in my writing.

WordLily: What question have you always expected (or been dying to hear) but never actually been asked? And what’s your answer to that question?

Jamie Ford: I’ve expected someone to ask about the Michelle Malkin book, which was this pro-internment screed that came out shortly after 9/11 — but alas, no one has ever brought it up. My answer is that I haven’t read it, and probably no one else has either …

WordLily: Thank you so much for your time! Anything else you want to say?

Jamie Ford: Thanks for having me!

A few other interviews with Jamie Ford that I really enjoyed:

Shelf Awareness
1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started
Author Scoop: Another 5 Minutes with Jamie Ford

About the author:
Jamie Ford’s website and his BitterSweet blog. He’s on Twitter @JamieFord. He grew up near Seattle’s Chinatown and now lives with his family in Montana.

The publisher graciously offered a copy of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet to one of my readers! Instructions are on my review post.

Interview with Laura Kasischke, author of In a Perfect World

After reading In a Perfect World, I had the chance to briefly interview the author, Laura Kasischke. She talks about writing, poetry vs. prose, and reading.

WordLily: I was really interested in reading your book because I’ve loved all the novels I’ve read that were written by poets. You said you start writing with a sensory image. How do you know whether this is a something that needs to be told in poetry or prose?

laura-kasischkeLaura Kasischke: The process of writing poetry and that of writing novels is very different for me. When I write a poem, it’s generally something that’s been coming on for a while — an idea, an image, an impulse. I need some free time and space to get a draft down. With novel writing, the process itself inspires the imagery, and everything else, that occurs. It’s while I’m following a narrative that the details of it come to me. I also work on novels for such a long period of time that they’re very much incorporated into my daily life, so that I might find myself writing at 10 o’clock after the kid’s in bed, etc. With a poem, I’ve got to find just the right opportunity, and it’s generally when I’ve got more energy than it takes to be rough-drafting a 300-plus page story.

WordLily: What is your favorite book you’ve read this year, and why?

Laura Kasischke: Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply. It’s beautifully written, and scary.

WordLily: In In a Perfect World, the plague and the family seemed to follow inverse paths — as one situation degraded the other improved. Was this intentional? What does that mean to you? Or, what greater truth did you intend to communicate through this?

In a Perfect WorldLaura Kasischke: I wanted Jiselle to rise to the occasion of being mother to these children. She is a fairy tale character (I hope readers realize that I don’t think there are actually a lot of women out there who are as perfect and beautiful as she is: She’s Cinderella!), and the novel is a fairy tale. She needed to face the challenges that protagonists in tales face, and pass their tests. Her challenges grow, and her ability to meet them does, too. I think this must be the inversion you’re speaking of.

WordLily: How are the processes of writing poetry and writing prose different for you?

Laura Kasischke: I think I addressed this in the first question, so I won’t belabor it, but writing poetry is a more instantaneous and high-energy in-the-moment experience. And it doesn’t happen that often. I can’t write a novel at a high level of inspiration all day every day (and have a life!), so that’s a bit more like the experience of a quilt — a long project, made of scraps, pieced together — although, unlike a quilt, it’s followed by years of revision!

WordLily: You said you “try to write every day,” but you were careful to distinguish this from actually writing every day. What does trying to write daily look like for you, and why do you place emphasis on the importance of trying, rather than on writing?

Laura Kasischke: I distinguished because to say I write every day would be a lie. I simply can’t. I have a son, a husband, a teaching job. Some days, no writing can get done. But those days, I know that I didn’t write. So, it’s like any ritual or practice, and I’m careful to cut myself some slack so that I never start thinking, “Oh, I didn’t write today, so I just won’t bother to write tomorrow either….”

WordLily: How do you sustain a love for what you do?

Laura Kasischke: I don’t know. I just love to write. I think reading is key to that: I get very inspired by my reading. It keeps the idea that there is a purpose to the writing fresh in my mind.

WordLily: Why do you write?

Laura Kasischke: I think it’s a great way to discover what I’m thinking, to process what I’m experiencing. For a while I think the impulse was to try to save parts of my life from annihilation — as, for instance, when loved ones died, and I felt that if I didn’t write about them they would be lost to me and the world. But then it became a habit. And, as I said, I just find it fun.

WordLily: How/when did you start writing?

Laura Kasischke: I was in elementary school. I started with poetry. I think I was inspired by my mother reading to me, and also by some good teachers I had. I was also an only child with some time on my hands.

WordLily: Thank you so much for your time! Anything else you want to say?

Laura Kasischke: Thank you!!

Interview with Ru Freeman, author of A Disobedient Girl

disobedient girlI just reviewed Ru Freeman’s A Disobedient Girl, a story of two women, set in the author’s native Sri Lanka. Now, I have the pleasure to interview her, and on her birthday! I decided I had to ask her about birthday celebrations and traditions.

WordLily: Happy birthday!

I’m always interested in how different people/families/cultures celebrate birthdays. In my family birthdays were always a big deal, but in my husband’s nuclear family, they sometimes pass with hardly any recognition.

In the book, on page 69, Latha muses: “The only other times they had parties were for Thara’s birthday, and even then only boring dinners with chicken curry and seeni sambol and fruit salad and ice cream afterward for relatives they never saw the rest of the year. There were never any young people and certainly no music and dancing like Leela said there had been at her house.” Is this how your birthday was celebrated? What are birthday celebrations like in Sri Lanka?

ru freemanRu Freeman: Food: spicy cutlets and patties (like empanadas), Chinese rolls (spicy filled crepes), egg-boats (devilled eggs), and sandwiches with no crusts, filled with cucumber, carrots and beets so they stack prettily, and birthday cake. Birthday cakes are made at bakeries, not at home since most Sri Lankans don’t own ovens or bake. When I was growing up, childrens’ birthdays until about the age of 5 were celebrated by inviting all the extended family and the closest friends of the parents. This is still the case now, I think. It is a tradition that is deeply rooted in the place of a child within a family, rather than a bunch of friends. Thereafter, the only birthdays that are celebrated are at 13, 16, 18 and 21. Children are usually given a Parker pen or a watch when they turn 18. In the cities, birthdays are celebrated by older kids with parties for their friends — usually low lights, lots of dancing where the guys ask the girls to dance — and the family might have another celebration with extended family. The reaching of these milestones is a celebration of their parents as well as the kids. Usually extended family shows up every birthday whether invited or not!

WordLily: How do you like to celebrate your birthday? How did you celebrate it growing up? Tell us about your favorite birthday.

Ru Freeman: My favorite kid birthday was when I was 5 years old. We lived in a very small flat, cramped between high walls. My mother loved gardening and she had no garden, but she had dozens and dozens of potted plants arranged artfully in a small concrete courtyard. I got lots of presents that year for some unknown reason. I got a packet of six felt-tip pens, a 16″ x 9″ or so pin-ball machine with a yank that you could pull on to send the marbles flying, and Enid Blyton books. I had also come second in a kiddie race at the school sports meet, at which I had won a blue tin watering can. The warmth of that evening is that I recall my father was sitting amidst these pots with his very close friend, Brigadier Eustace Fonseka — he had a handlebar mustache, had been educated in England and spoke with a blustery English air and played Eliza Doolittle’s father in Pygmalion (My Fair Lady), and burst into ribald song every now and again and I loved him dearly — because it was hot (it usually is in Sri Lanka), and they had pulled two chairs out into this tiny space, and were watching me. Both of them were probably a little high and Uncle Eustace was very pleased that it was my fifth birthday and that I had won that watering can which I was using to water my mother’s potted plants with a great deal of pride.

WordLily: Are there any Sri Lankan birthday traditions you’ve held onto, regardless of your location?

Ru Freeman: We give alms on birthdays, sometimes, and also after funerals and in memory of people. That is the tradition that I have tried to hold on to. When I was back home in Sri Lanka, my daughter celebrated her first and second birthdays by visiting an orphanage and serving food to kids her age and having breakfast with them. I continued to do that when we returned to the States.

WordLily: A few general questions now. Why do you write?

Ru Freeman: Because that is something I have always done and it is a sort of family habit. I remember being picked up at South Station in Boston by one of my brother’s friends, and I was sitting on my suitcase, writing while I waited — I didn’t own a computer of my own until a few years ago, so this was pen and paper — and he said, “Yet another Seneviratne, writing, writing, writing.” I feel intensely uncomfortable if I am not near pen and paper or reading material.

WordLily: How/when did you start writing?

Ru Freeman: I started writing when I was about 7, by keeping a diary. I began this diary because my father had the first of several “heart attacks” — I call them that because I didn’t know what to call them. He’d get chest pains and have to get to hospital. That time Uncle Eustace (the same one!) summoned an Army ambulance to transport him to ICU. So I started writing about my day with entries like “Appatchi is in ICU. The ambulance came and took him.”

WordLily: How did you transition from writing journalistically to writing fiction, a novel?

Ru Freeman: If there has been a transition then it is ongoing. I go back and forth. I did have to set aside the issues that I write most often about — Palestine, American politics — in order to write this novel and some of my short stories, but somewhere in there it is the same mind that is doing the sifting and sorting, is it not? The forms are different, but they are both ways of finding patterns, looking for answers to the same big questions.

WordLily: As a debut author, what was the road to publication like for you?

Ru Freeman: It was surprisingly smooth, I think. I had to work hard, and there is no letting up in terms of writing, learning, reading, reaching out to other writers and being tuned in, all the time, to what is going on in the world, but I also think I was lucky. I went to Bread Loaf where I learned to affirm the art not publication, and in some ways I think if you can do that, your writing begins to flow a little easier and the universe begins to look a little more kindly at your efforts.

WordLily: Thank you so much for your time! Anything else you want to say?

Ru Freeman: Thank you for letting me talk about some of these things. As a reader I am always fascinated by the person behind the words, so it is nice that I get the opportunity to reveal some of the stuff that is personal in this safe way.

Interview with Heather Gudenkauf, author of The Weight of Silence

weight of silenceI just reviewed Heather Gudenkauf’s debut novel The Weight of Silence, a story that opens when two 7-year-old girls disappear from their Iowa homes in the middle of the night. She talks about the book and writing.

WordLily: I spent some of my formative years in Iowa, and I have vivid memories of a couple wooded state parks, which your depiction of the woods behind Calli’s house reminded me of. What woods did you model the one in the book on?

heather gudenkaufHeather Gudenkauf: Iowa is such a beautiful state from the fields of corn, to the Mississippi River, to the bluffs and the wooded areas. It’s a wonderful place to live. I do quite a bit of hiking at a nature preserve near my home, so the Willow Creek Woods is loosely based on that spot. In order to accommodate the story, the forest in The Weight of Silence is much larger and more expansive than the one near my home.

WordLily: Where did you get the idea for this book?

Gudenkauf: One day as I was hiking through the woods I started thinking how scary it would be if I got lost, and then I imagined how terrible it would be if a child got lost in the woods. The story just developed from there. I love reading books told in multiple points of view and decided that The Weight of Silence could only be told through the voices of each of the main characters.

WordLily: Tell me about the process of writing a book, as a mother, that centers on the disappearance of two young children.

Gudenkauf: I knew that in tackling such a difficult subject as the disappearance of children I would have to approach it with sensitivity. While the story is centralized around the missing girls — it is not the entire story. The novel also addresses the relationships between the main characters and their histories together. The disappearance of the girls is the catalyst that brings many secrets to the forefront.

WordLily: I don’t have children, but I can imagine that mothers of young children would be put off from reading this book because of the girls’ disappearance. How does this make you feel? How do you respond?

Gudenkauf: As mothers our sole purpose is to keep our children safe and sound. I can understand why mothers of young children might hesitate to delve into such a sensitive topic, but as I said earlier, The Weight of Silence is about so much more. My wish is that the reader closes The Weight of Silence with a feeling of hope.

WordLily: As I mentioned in my review, I definitely found the book hopeful. Some more general questions now. Why do you write?

Gudenkauf: I enjoy everything about the writing process. From coming up with the initial idea for a story, to the actual composition of the novel and the path that the characters decide to lead me, to the collaboration I get to do with my agent and editor. It’s a wonderful process.

WordLily: How did you start writing?

Gudenkauf: I’ve always been a reader first and foremost. The more I’ve read over the years, the more times I found myself thinking, I want to do this. I want to write a book. I thought about writing for a long time, but didn’t actually sit down and begin writing until a few years ago.

WordLily: As a debut author, what was the road to publication like for you?

Gudenkauf: As a mother of young children and an elementary teacher, I knew I would need to make the best use of my time and gave myself a year to write the book. I bought myself a beautiful journal and began writing the day after school was out for the summer. I jumped into the car with my husband and kids and wrote while we were on our family vacation. After that I wrote early in the morning and late into the night while my children slept and finished the first draft just before school started that fall. I set the manuscript aside for a few months and returned to my work as a third grade teacher.

A few months later, during my winter break from school, I pulled the manuscript out of the drawer, reread what I had written, took a deep breath, and sent off the first 50 pages to a literary agency that represented authors I respected. I tried not to think about my story out there in the world, being read by others to critique — or even worse — out there not being read at all. A few weeks into the new year came the request from the literary agent for the remainder of the manuscript. I sent off the rest of the story and waited with anticipation. Would she decide to take me on? Would she give my book, give me a chance? She did. After much collaboration and revision the novel was ready to send off to publishers. Eventually my story found its way to Mira Books and, thankfully, found its home there.

WordLily: Wow, you make it sound so straightforward! Thanks so much for your time, I’m looking forward to seeing that second book.