I’ve been a very, very bad blogger.
Now, I do have a very, very good excuse—I wrote a book during the time I wasn’t blogging—but nonetheless, I’ve been a bad blogger.
However, a very nice lady and fellow writer I met at the 2014 Florida Writers Conference invited me to participate in a Liebster Award blog hop (sort of like a blog chain letter, “tag, you’re it” sort of thing), so I figured this was a good chance to kick (re)start my blogging efforts.
While it sounds like a cutesy name for a dachshund or a new Volkswagen convertible, the Liebster is really a way for writers and bloggers to share ideas. To that end, Faydra Stratton asked me, Beth Salmon, Serena Schreiber and Bria Burton the following holiday-themed questions, which I will answer.
- What traditional Thanksgiving dish do you wish would never show up on your table again?
Ugh! I loathe sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top. Now don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love sweet potatoes, but I absolutely do not understand why those naturally sweet little tubers need to be topped with sticky blobs of factory-whipped sugar (which by the way do not resemble the old-fashioned confection made from the Althaea officinalis plant). I like my sweet potatoes roasted or mashed, with a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg sprinkled on top. Save your marshmallows for smores and keep them away from my sweet potatoes!
- How do you keep writing during the holiday season?
I find it fairly easy to write during the holiday season because that’s when I actually get to take big chunks of time off work. I work two jobs: my day job that pays the mortgage, and my writing job, which feeds my soul but hasn’t earned me a single red cent (yet). During the holiday season, I actually get to have entire days that I can devote entirely to writing, when most of the year, writing is what I do during the evenings and on weekends.
- What does your main character want for Christmas? Why?
The main character of my novel, The Road Back From Broken (which I’ll begin querying after Christmas), is Jacob “Fitz” Fitzgerald. Fitz’s struggle with booze, post-traumatic stress and survivor’s guilt have estranged him from his family and the book focuses on the process by which he and his family begin to heal their broken connection. Fitz would like a Christmas where everything was the way it was before the IED went off in Kunar Province, Afghanistan: his medic friend isn’t dead, his body isn’t dotted with shrapnel scars, his sleep isn’t interrupted with nightmares and flashbacks, and his relationship with his wife and son doesn’t bear the awkward marks of the six months of strife and silence that followed his injury. None of these things are possible, of course. What he’d be happy with instead is a nice family dinner including chilaquiles and tamales (Fitz loves Mexican food), and a membership at the local rock-climbing gym.
- What prompted you to finally sit down and write a book?
Road represents my fifth attempt to write a novel. I tried a couple times during the last ten or twelve years to write a book but abandoned each attempt after I lost steam. I decided in 2013 that it was time to try again, and attended the 2013 Florida Writers Conference with the goal of making this next attempt my first success. My husband encouraged me to make a New Year’s resolution to start writing a book in 2014. I woke up on New Year’s Day and started my novel, and on April 4th finished my first draft.
- Where do you do most of your writing?
At home, sitting on our comfy green sofa, with my MacBook Pro in my lap. I did write portions of Road on my lunch hour at work and in airports using Google Docs on my iPhone. But 95% of the book got written on my MacBook while sitting on the sofa. Not very glamorous, I know.
- Is there any genre or type of book you’d love to write but are too intimidated to do so?
Historical fiction, which is an odd thing to admit considering I am a huge history buff. The thing is, I’m such a perfectionist in my writing, I’m leery of writing a book set in another era for fear I’d screw up the details of daily life and leave the book with a texture that’s not as authentic as it should be.
- Confess! What’s your bad habit in terms of writing?
No surprise based on that last answer, I suppose, but one of my bad habits is too much detail. My first drafts are full of excessive details, textures, sights, smells, car models, street names, etc. some of which gets culled out in the editing phase. I also tend towards sentences that are too long and complex, so editing involves frequent use of a cleaver.
- What author or book speaks to you the most and why?
Two of the books that most influenced me as a writer are by Tim O’Brien: The Things They Carried (1990) and In the Lake of the Woods (1995). O’Brien humanizes the experience of war—in his case, the Vietnam War—by showing how it affects his characters on a really micro scale, and also how the experience of war trauma is processed by each character in the context of the lives they lived before going to war. I’ve tried to do this in my own writing, showing how “macro” historical events impact people who experience them on a very micro scale, each in their own unique way, and those impacts resonate for generations after the events in question.
- Imagine you’ve been asked to speak on a panel for writers. What’s the topic and what other authors do you want sharing the stage with you?
I would love to talk to other writers on the topic of writing about trauma and recovery (or non-recovery) from trauma. I’d like to be joined by writers who also write about trauma, including war trauma but also other kinds of trauma (arising from, e.g., abuse, assault, accidents, losing a child, etc.). My dream-team of co-panelists would have to include Tim O’Brien, Toni Morrison, Laurie Halse Andersen, the English novelist Pat Barker, the Canadian novelist/poet Anne Michaels, and the romance writer Jessica Scott, who weaves wonderful love stories about wounded souls after they come home from war. (I’ll readily admit that Jessica is one of my writing heroes.)
- What’s something you learned at FWA 2014 that has since affected your writing?
I was really bowled over by two sessions I attended—one on writing LGBTQIA characters and another on New Adult fiction—and I’m going to take a stab at writing a coming-of-age novel about a LGBTQIA protagonist. We’ll see how it goes!
Okay, so I think the schtik with this Liebster thing is I’m supposed to tag a couple of other bloggers. I don’t know a lot of other bloggers who are into the same things I am, but I do know a few, and a couple of them were willing to blog with me. But because all of us have day jobs and families, I’m going to cut them a break and ask only five questions. (Aren’t I nice?)
So, Amber & Michele, this is what I want to know:
- Describe your worst holiday disaster. It can be anything: a cooking misfire, a travel debacle, a perfect gift that went horribly awry. The funnier the better.
- If you could be someone else, somewhere else, at some other time in history, who would you want to be?
- Is there a kind of book or story you want to read but can’t find? (Think of a MSWL/manuscript wish-list but for readers, not agents or writers.)
- How has technology helped or hindered your writing efforts?
- What aspect of writing do you struggle with the most?