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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

This Year Make the Commitment to Write! Author Interview with Gayle Brandeis

In November I took on the challenge to write the first draft of my novel. Now comes the next challenge of refining it until I'm confident to submit it to agents and publishers. This is only one of the many writing goals I have for this year. I will also continue to write children's stories and inspirational pieces. What are your writing goals? To encourage you to put those words on paper, I'm revisiting the NaNo concept of writing - to write daily! Today I will be interviewing a published author who has done NaNo twice to jumpstart her writing. Read on to find out what she has to say...
Why did you decide to participate in the NaNoWriMo challenge?
My first book, Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write had just been published in 2002, and while I was on my book tour, I found out that my novel manuscript, The Book of Dead Birds, had won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change and would be published the following year. The judges were my favorite writers: Barbara Kingsolver, who created the prize, Toni Morrison and Maxine Hong Kingston. I saw (and still see) all of them as writing goddesses, and could barely believe they had read my work, much less given it their blessing.

This was the most exciting and affirming experience for me as a writer--I doubt I’ll ever top it--but it also gave me writer’s block for the first time in my life; I felt a new weight of expectation upon me, and it froze my creative process. I decided to do NaNoWriMo because I figured that if I wrote that quickly, I wouldn’t have time to worry about whether what I was writing was worthy of my favorite authors’ praise. 

How did you feel after you completed the month? What did you learn about writing as part of this challenge?
I felt liberated; I felt as if my creative self had been returned to me (plus I loved reconnecting with my characters from The Book of Dead Birds and seeing what they had been up to; writing the sequel felt like a month long family reunion). That month taught me the value of writing a quick and dirty first draft; I realized it’s easier to make something beautiful out of rough material than out of thin air. 

Did you complete the first draft in that 30 days or was there more to do? How many re-writes did you do from that original rough draft?
I completed a draft of The Book of Live Wires that month, but didn’t revise it until almost 10 years later, when I decided to bring it out as an e-book in 2011. I took probably three months to revise it; after setting it aside for so many years, I was surprised at how assured that first draft felt--I guess I had poured a lot of pent up writer energy into it.

As a published author you did NaNo again and wrote the book, Self-Storage. How did you go about finding a publisher?
At that point, I was already a published author and already had an agent (at the time, the wonderful Arielle Eckstut, at the James Levine Literary Agency). The published version of Self Storage is very different from what I wrote during that NaNoWriMo month--I revised it many times over about a year before my agent sent it out. We were really lucky; the book sold to the first editor my agent pitched it to, which is not too common an experience. 

You’ve been published under six imprints, but now your current book is self-published as an eBook. Why the change?
I decided to bring the eBook out last year as an experiment, with my agent’s blessing; the publishing world is changing so rapidly, and I thought it would be good to know how to take the process into my own hands. It felt safe to do this with The Book of Live Wires; because I wrote it so long ago, I was able to detach myself from any outcome--I knew if the eBook wasn’t a success, I wouldn’t be devastated the way I would be with a book I was still fiercely attached to. I learned a lot through the experience, and while I plan to continue to publish traditionally (if publishers will continue to have me, of course) it’s good to know that I understand the process should I wish to try it again.

Tell me about your latest book. What would my readers find the most interesting part about it?
It’s hard to know what I should consider my latest book--I suppose that would be The Book of Live Wires, even though it’s a decade old; I hope your readers would be interested in the fact that my main character is having his grandmother’s journals translated from Russian, Yiddish and French (her story alternates with his) and the translator ends up bringing a lot of chaos into his world. Be sure to look for the guest appearances of dancers Isadora Duncan and Josephine Baker--they’re not named in the grandmother’s journals, but if you know anything about these historic firebrands, you’ll be able to recognize them. I also want to mention that you don't have to have read The Book of Dead Birds to read and enjoy The Book of Live Wires.

What do you know now about writing that you wished you had known sooner?
Publishing is great, but its pleasures are fleeting; the writing process itself offers the deepest and most sustainable satisfaction.

What is the best advice you’ve been given about writing or that you’ve learned that you would like to pass along?
Write the things that scare you--it’s the biggest lesson I took from my MFA program (I graduated from Antioch University in 2001 and teach there now) and resonates even more now. I’m currently working on a memoir about my mom’s suicide, and it’s the hardest and most important thing I’ve ever written. I taught a seminar on Brave Writing a couple of days ago at the Antioch residency (we teach what we need to learn, right?) and asked the class to write “I am scared to write about” and then see where this took them. I am still vibrating from the writing that they all shared--it was an honor to bear witness to such powerful stories, and it reminded me that when we write from our darkest places, we can bring them into light, and create deep human connection in the process.

Do you consider yourself to be a writer? Then put those words to paper! Take the risk and write. You will feel a sense of accomplishment when your story is complete.

If you’d like to learn more about Gayle and her writing, you can find her at