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It's time for the second part of the interview with author Lauren B. Davis. Are you ready for great book recommendations, quotes and advice for aspiring writers? Let's get started.
If you missed the first part of the interview, go here: Author Talks: Lauren B. Davis, Part One
You write mainly literary fiction. Do you read books from the same literary genre?
I read just about everything. Literary, memoir, thriller, essays, history, fantasy, poetry, horror – in fact I just finished a marvelous collection of horror short stories called Lake Monsters of North America by Nathan Ballingrud, in which all the monsters are really some psychological aspect of the characters’.
I care not a fig about genre limitations; I care only about great writing.
Do you read books during your writing process? Do they influence your work?
I read masses for research. Against a Darkening Sky demanded a very long reading list, well over a hundred books. But apart from that, I don’t ever stop reading. My Best Beloved laughs at me, since I always have a book by the bathroom sink, to read while brushing my teeth, applying body lotion and drying my hair. Short stories are excellent bathroom reads.
Does my reading influence my work? I hope so, since I love reading writers I admire.
What are you working on right now?
My novel, Against A Darkening Sky, will be out with HarperCollins Canada and ChiZine Publication (US) in April 2015, and so I'm fiddling around with the last bits of that.
All the major editorial work has been done, but there are always last minute things, and the cover and publicity and so forth. It's an exciting phase, and at the same time utterly psychosis-inducing, while one waits. . . the book is set in 7th century Northumbria and is the story of Wilona, a seeress and healer whose life and way of being in the world are threatened by the coming of Christianity; and Egan, a young monk from Eire whose visions may have brought him to Christ, but whose experience of the sacred puts him at odds with the Roman church.
It's full of magic and mystery, and explores what happens when one’s experience and beliefs clash with those of the people in power. It was great fun to research, and involve a trip to England that My Best Beloved refers to as The Angle-Saxon Forced March Northwards. You can read a little bit about it here and here and here and here. Hard to believe it's really been six years since that trip. Books take a long time to write.
I'm also completing a third draft of another novel, called (for the moment) The Grimoire. This one's inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen as well as the deaths of my brothers (they both committed suicide, which I've written about here.) I can't say much more about it just yet, as I haven't handed it off to my agent. But I will say that it involves a woman who is the guardian of a bookstore no one goes into unless they are fated to do so and the name of the bookshop is The Grimoire. I suspect this mirrors my belief that readers find the stories they're meant to find.
I'm also making preliminary notes on another novel, about which I cannot speak. It's quite dangerous, I find, to talk about a novel until at least the first draft is out. If I talk about it, it diffuses the energy of the words on the page. I've watched in horror as a book or two slipped through my careless fingers this way.
On top of that, I'm working on two short stories. I can't talk about them at all, since they are still so unformed. I just got back from the 13th Annual International Short Story Conference in English (the longest name in conferences), and I have a head full of stories all pushing and shoving and trying to get out.
You run a writers workshop - this sounds like a hard work and a lot of fun. What have You learnt during your workshops?
Teaching keeps me connect to craft, and it gives me a community of writers. Having to explain to an emerging writer why their piece isn’t working forces me to consider the same things about my own work!
And I also enjoy reading books about the craft and preparing the lecture notes – all that contributes to my own development as a writer. Besides, it’s inspiring to see emerging writers improve, to watch their work take shape and mature.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
If you can NOT write, you should probably do that. But if you MUST write, then approach it as a concert violist approaches music, or an Olympic athlete sport; in other words, expect to study long and hard and practice long and hard.
Don’t be in a big rush to publish. I know it feels urgent, but it’s not. There’s time, and publishing too early, before the work is ready, can be so discouraging you might never publish again. Then who knows what might have been lost because you rushed. It’ll say it again: study your craft. Practice.
Focus on the writing, not on the publishing. Publishing is an entirely different beast than writing. One writes because it is a way of living, a way of processing experience, of making meaning and, at least in my case, of staying sane. Publishing is business.
And you must read. I can’t tell you how many students come to me and when I ask them what they’re reading, they tell me they don’t like reading. They are unlikely to become writers. Read. Read. Read.
To be a writer, you must be disciplined. You must get yourself to the page and you must fill the page with words and do that over and over and over again. There is no magic ritual to help you with this. It’s your desire, our self-discipline and perseverance that will make the difference.
Expect to edit, edit, revise, revise, revise, often for years. If a student tells me they only like writing the first draft and then don’t want to be bothered with a story or novel again, just like the person who doesn’t read, they are unlikely to become writers.
Lots of people publish books. Few people are writers. Being a writer is a point of view, a way of being. Writing is a practice, like meditation or prayer. You have to keep at it day after day, even when it seems like absolutely nothing good is happening. Perhaps especially then.
Are you a book collector or a book giver?
Collector and recommender. I want people to buy books. It supports authors and publishers.
What books won your heart?
Which titles would you recommend?
So many wonderful books out there – here’s a smattering of books that have impressed me in the past year or so…
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. A debut novel set in Iceland, about the final days of a woman about to be executed for murder. Yes, it’s dark, but it’s also beautifully written and psychologically complex, drawing the reader in as an active participant to the moral quandary at the novel’s heart.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon by Anthony Marra. Another debut novel that introduces a terrific writer. The setting here is Chechnya and the moral dilemmas are profound. The point of view ought not to work – digressing as it does for even the minor characters – but it does work, in part because it makes the book much larger than the narrative itself, almost turning it into a work of philosophy, or theology. Impressive.
The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy – Although I originally read this a very long time ago, it remains one of my favorite books. Perhaps the greatest depiction of the repercussions of untreated alcoholism and the 'dry drunk' I've ever read.
The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative By Thomas King --It should certainly be required reading for anyone who cares about stories, First Nations people, history, religion or politics (and particularly the #IdleNoMore Movement).
Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese -- A wonderful book. Subtle, profound, deeply moving and beautifully written. It should be on everyone's reading list. He has a new one coming out in 2014, which I can't wait for, and I've another of his books on my to-read list. What can I say? I'm a fan.
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating: A True Story by Elisabeth Bailey -- As astonishing as it may sound, reading about seriously ill woman finding companionship with a wild snail who lives next to her sick bed is an experience both profound and moving. It is a meditation on life with the microcosm of a gastropod's life serving as the symbol for the majesty, mystery, tenacity and downright lushness of existence itself. A slim volume which is far greater than the number of its pages, it's a book I will no doubt read again. In truth, I became surprisingly attached to the little snail.
My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman -- This is an utterly astonishing book -- complex, thoughtful, elegiac, Wiman's book of essays are a profound medication on faith and poetry and the search for meaning.
All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West -- Beautiful book. Just as inspiring and relevant today as when it was first published in 1931.
The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin - There's no doubt this book will offend some folks, but that's a pity. What a glorious, earthy, REAL woman Toibin has created in this Mary. She's so much more than the bloodless virgin of myth.
Any favorite quotes?
Many, but for now, I’ll stick with two:
Thank you Lauren! It was great.
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