Victor LaValle writes good stories.

My husband has been devouring his catalogue of novels with a singular force.

“This is so good,” he announces from his side of the bed. The last few months, when he makes this kind of statement, it has been from inside the world of Victor LaValle. Not only has his fiction seduced Barry, but LaValle has also created a series of comics. The man crush was inevitable at that point.

It was an interesting challenge to interview Victor and talk about his latest book, as it’s one he has edited rather than one he has written. The Best of Richard Matheson is an anthology of stories that shaped Victor at a critical point in his young life when he first started to become a writer. As we discussed several episodes ago with Joe Fassler, who we read has a big impact on who we become as writers. And with greats like Stephen King, Ray Bradbury and Neil Gaiman naming Matheson as a serious influence, I was delighted to learn more about him and to discover like many others, I already knew his stories without knowing his name.

This interview goes into the different modes of writing, how editing an anthology happens, but it also touches on practical topics like how to keep writing when a couple has a baby and they’re both writers. I adored speaking with Victor and I know you will love listening to him as much as I loved being a part of this conversation. Happy listening.

Listen up on iTunes | Victor’s Website | Victor’s books | The Best of Richard Matheson | Twitter 

Discussed in Episode 73 with Victor LaValle:

  • The Twighlight Zone and Richard Matheson
  • Finding a writer you didn’t know you already loved
  • The beauty of the impact writing can have on you when young
  • The process of selecting stories for an anthology
  • Beginning to write at 12 or 13
  • Why it’s so hard to call yourself a writer
  • Early influences and feeling like a rip-off artist
  • Writers who didn’t need MFAs | Mentioned: Grace Paley
  • Learning from his mom to make time for the creative
  • Creating a writing schedule with a new baby and two parents who write
  • Editing a collection
  • The genesis of Destroyer, the comic
  • The different challenges of presenting a story through visual art in a comic
  • Why you should always use all your ideas
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Yes, you read that right. On Tuesdays, Scott O’Connor shows up at my house along with a band of students.

It really is the most incredible good fortune. When I was offered the chance to host a novel writing workshop this summer, of course I said yes. Get to talk about writing with a bunch of fellow writing nerds in my own house every week? Yes please. And, even beyond that, to learn with a teacher who is the perfect blend of encouraging and practical. I’m so so glad he succumbed to my persistent requests to come on the show so I could share all that encouragement with you.

Much of what Scott shares is straightforward on the surface, but often hard to follow through on: keep writing forward all the way through the draft. Don’t let the urge to rewrite a scene until you get it perfect stop you from continuing. It’s possible to figure things out by finishing the draft- you won’t know where it goes until you get all the way through the story. All these things make logical sense. But writing a book isn’t always logical. I hope you enjoy this episode. I have been getting so much from hearing the advice Scott shares every week in my own class, so it’s a special treat to share it with all of you.

Listen up on iTunes | Scott’s Website | Scott’s Books | Twitter

Discussed in Episode 72 with Scott O’Connor:

  • Writing all the way through & fighting the revision compulsion
  • The second draft notebook and the highlighter vs. notebook method
  • How to keep good notes
  • Why the novel you end up with is very different than the one you begin
  • Finding the actual beginning of your book
  • The Scooby & Shaggy principle of story writing
  • 12 notebooks in a plastic Super King bag
  • What to do when you get 60-70 pages in and totally run out of ideas
  • The moment of panic
  • How to know there’s a novel in there
  • The pessimistic nature of writers
  • The danger of the public persona of the writer
  • Ways to mix it up and keep going when you’re stuck
  • The difficulty of getting rid of parts you wrote
  • taking a sharp right or left out of a stuck place
  • The trick of endings
  • Balancing several projects and the new idea as life-preserver

 

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Patricia Park is one of the few writers I know up to taking on Jane Eyre.

I’m not talking about talent. As well you know, there has been no end of that among the guests on the show. I am talking about the kind of willpower that lead her to spend ten years exploring every nook and cranny of the world of her novel, Re Jane. To give you a preview, this exploration involved winning a Fulbright to go and study in Korea for the middle portion of her novel. Beyond that, she thought she needed to take a detour into another novel that had her learning Spanish at Middlebury and deeply immersed in the Korean community in Argentina only to find the character she was writing about hidden in the pages of Re Jane.

A fully explored world doesn’t get written overnight. And for those of you who might be frustrated that the process doesn’t always go as fast as you like, this one’s for you. After speaking with Patricia, I was ready to apply for grants and leap on a plane. And beyond that, I was willing to be just a little bit more patient with how long it takes to write a book you’re pleased with. And if, like Patricia, you dive really deep into the world you’re writing about, you might find that there are other characters in your book that can carry more books in the future. I could barely keep still in my chair once we wrapped this one. I’m so inspired by Patricia’s process. I hope she inspires you to love your own, and keep writing.

Listen up on iTunes | Re Jane | Patricia’s Website | Twitter | Facebook

Discussed in Episode 71 with Patricia Park:

  • Eyre-heads and Jane Eyre fandom
  • Taking on a beloved classic and what the framework of Jane Eyre meant
  • The identity of the orphan and exploring Korean post-war identity vs. the English orphan in the original
  • Contemporary fiction asks more of its heroines than Victorian literature did- why the story deviates
  • Taking ten years to write the book
  • Even with an MFA, there is no blueprint
  • “You only learn what should go in..by writing all the things that should not”
  • On having a 10% retention rate in her drafts
  • Success in writing is measured differently than in most other professions
  • On starting her education at the Bronx High School of Science
  • Moving from science to literature as a discipline after exploring the possibility of the poet/scientist
  • The benefit of an extremely long subway commute
  • Watching the book have a new life now that it’s out beyond the life it had while she wrote it
  • The challenge of writing two novels simultaneously now
  • Exploring the world from Re Jane through two ancillary characters. Not a sequel per se, but a further dive into the same world
  • Round and flat characters, as described by EM Forster
  • Giving secondary characters their due
  • Deciding which characters to follow? Let them tell you
  • Taking Myers-Briggs tests for your characters
  • Trusting the process
  • Schroedinger’s book
  • The separation of chemistry and art
  • Getting grants to do research on novels
  • Middlebury language institute
  • You never know what you’ll need to know to write a novel…
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I wish I had been smart enough to come up with Joe Fassler’s book idea.

As a fellow interview lover, Joe has been writing the column By Heart for the Atlantic long enough to amass a who’s who of interview subjects. You know, people like Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Elizabeth Gilbert, Elizabeth Strout, Sherman Alexie, Michael Chabon, Emma Donoghue, Mary Gaitskill… the list goes on. His topic? What piece of writing inspired you enough that you read it over and over and practically memorized it because it had such an impact on your life. Writers + book talk? Total heaven. And his new book, Light the Dark, assembles his favorite interviews on this topic.

This episode is so meta I don’t know what to do with myself. Joe has written a book about writing and reading with writers. So good! So we talked about the process of compiling the book, turning a column into a book, and what he learned from all his conversations with authors that are household names to serious readers and even those who aren’t. We also talked about what he’s learned from interviewing writers that was different from his education at the Iowa Writers Workshop. You may want to run not walk to attend Iowa after listening to this, like I did. And to add one more layer, we talked about balancing writing fiction with a day job as an editor at New Food Economy.

Not only do I recommend that you listen, I think that anyone wanting to write will adore this book. So many wise words on the process of writing and what makes a piece of writing meaningful. I can’t wait for all of you to listen to this one, and to check out Light the Dark.

Listen up on iTunes | By Heart Column | Light the Dark Book | Joe’s Website | Twitter

Discussed in Episode 70 with Joe Fassler:

  • The interviewer becomes the interviewed
  • Writing for the Atlantic
  • Thinking about what book changed your life
  • The revision process that lead to the final book as an editor
  • The problem with never seeing works in progress as would-be writers
  • The preciousness of creative time and how it can shut you down
  • Why writing is about time management
  • Talent isn’t enough
  • The importance of lowered expectations
  • Learning how to interview writers
  • What writers don’t want to talk about in interviews about their books
  • Finding a question that would stay interesting if asked over and over
  • Learning fun terms like Bell Cow
  • What Joe got from his MFA
  • The importance of a supportive network for writers
  • How it changes the dynamic to ask questions of a writer you aren’t studying with
  • What makes his day job invigorating and how day jobs often get a bad rap
  • Leslie Jamison and the Empathy Exams
  • How the column and the book are a love song to print
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Paul McVeigh wrote a story in an afternoon that took twenty years.

How is that possible? We gather images over time, trying to figure out how they fit together. Paul had pieces of a story that didn’t quite fit until suddenly, they did. And then the story came out almost all at once in a single sitting. How do you know when it’s time to write a story? And how do you know when to give up on an idea? These are questions that have plagued so many writers and my clients. Paul was the perfect person to discuss them with. Having written fiction, theater, comedy, and a writing teacher himself, Paul has a breadth of experience and a sensitivity to this topic that will blow you away. His debut novel, The Good Son won countless awards and becomes a favorite of everyone who reads it.

This conversation was both deep and funny, an incredible dive into the places where writing comes from and how to know when you’ve got a story that won’t let you go. This promises to be one you’ll listen to more than once. I have been waiting and waiting to share this one! I’m so glad it’s time for you to hear it.

Listen up on iTunes | Paul’s Blog | The Good Son | FacebookTwitter

Discussed in Episode 69 with Paul McVeigh:

  • Turning the original short story into the novel The Good Son | Mentioned: Article about the process on Paul’s blog
  • How ideas evolve into stories
  • Getting clear about what is meant and how people often say things to cover up what they mean
  • Writing for the stage and what it taught Paul about dialog
  • Why you’re bananas if you don’t keep a notebook
  • The elements of the story Paul wrote in an afternoon after pondering for 20 years
  • Collecting three distinct elements to build a story
  • Creating a story that is the duration of a hug
  • Stephen Johnson’s spark file
  • Why good writing is never wasted
  • Paul is waiting for this ability to match his intention
  • Being a risk-taker as well as a writer
  • The real question: What will possibly go wrong if I give it a try?
  • Making friends with the best writers and how this will help your own work
  • Connecting by going in with an offer, not with an ask
  • Find writers who are better from you and learn from them
  • How working with actors helped him find meaning behind the dialogue
  • Turning the short story into a novel
  • Writing with a child as protagonist
  • How writing about the Troubles in Ireland forced Paul to relive that time
  • Going deep with your writing so it becomes more universal
  • Learning to look back with kindness and forgiveness
  • The importance of intention in writing
  • Basking in having completed the book.
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