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Meet the WritersImage of Lauren Winner
Lauren Winner
In the winter of 2003, Lauren Winner took some time to talk with us about her favorite books, authors, and interests.

What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer -- and why?
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. This had something of a cult following when I was in high school, and I read it at the urging of my then beau. It didn't lead me to take up gonzo journalism, but it was the book that taught me that being a writer didn't mean necessarily writing fiction. I'd heard of "creative non-fiction' before I read Thompson, but I didn't have a sense of what it was, or how it worked.

What are your favorite books, and what makes them special to you?

  • Ashley Warlick's first novel The Distance from the Heart of Things -- Gorgeous prose. Also, encouraging for young writers. Warlick wrote The distance from the Heart of Things in her early 20s. And yet she is wise and believable and masterful.

  • Kristen Lavransdatter by Sigird Undset -- I didn't discover Kristen till last year. A lot of my friends read this as girls, when they were reading Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie. But they missed out! It is worth reading, or rereading, as an adult, not least so that you can read Tina Nunnally's marvelous new translation.

  • Mystery and Manners by Flannery O'Connor -- She's known, of course, for her fiction, but this summer I reread the occasional essays in Mystery and Manners and thought -- as brilliant as her fiction is, her prose is even more transparent; deadlier.

  • Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson -- This is no mere collection of household hints. I wish I could write like Mendelson. Her prose does not suffer fools.

  • The Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward -- Not merely one of the most influential American history books of the twentieth century. Strange Career is also a lesson in why history matters in the present day. And, like Mendelson, Woodward suffers no fools.

  • M.F.K Fisher's The Art of Eating and Supper of the Lamb by Robert Capon. What is there more pleasing to the senses than good food writing?

    W H Auden's poetry. Yes, I admit it, I was turned on to Auden by the reading of "Funeral Blues" in Four Weddings and a Funeral, but I subsequently discovered the wide wonderful Auden world.

  • Lately, I have been reading that wonderful sub-genre of mysteries, The Cozy -- My favorites are Murder at the PTA Luncheon by Valerie Wolzien, and, most recently, the Hemlock Falls mysteries by Claudia Bishop.

    What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
    I am not a big film buff. I think this is a negative comment on me, not a comment on films! Somehow they don't hold my attention as books do. I could, however, happily watch a Maggie Smith film every day.

    What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
    I'm pretty eclectic when it comes to music. I like ragtime, and folk, and choral music. If I were sent to a desert island with just one genre, though, it would be chamber music. Specifically string quartets.

    If you had a book club, what would it be reading -- and why?
    Sometimes I think I am the only woman in Charlottesville who is not in a book club. This is a very book club-ish town --I have often thought of starting a book club at my church. I'd like to read books that are not explicitly "Christian," and then discuss them through the lenses of Christianity. That might mean reading The Lobster Chronicles or Sophia Peabody Hawthorne's 19th-century travel writing, or... practically anything!

    What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
    There is no more satisfying feeling than giving the perfect book to the perfect person. This Christmas, I'll be giving several people Vinita Hampton Wright's new novella, The Winter Seeking, and I'll also be giving several special folks Marguerite Yourcenar's novel Memoirs of Hadrian. I think I've given away more copies of Hadrian than any other single book.

    Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
    I am incredibly disorganized, so my computer just barely carves out space on my desk -- it keeps good company with heaps of papers and books. This fall, my mother was dying, so my writing schedule got fairly knocked out of whack, but in a good, theoretical universe, I start writing at 4 in the morning. Otherwise, I am too easily distracted by incoming email and ringing phones! Only folks on the other side of the world (and I don't know that many) email me at 4:00 a.m.

    What are you working on now?
    Finishing my dissertation!

    Many writers in the Discover program are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
    My most thorough writing training came in academia. My dissertation advisor is one of the best writers going, and if I've learned 1/10 of what she knows about crafting prose, I'm doing well. But it still has been quite a process to turn away from the rules of academic prose and write more fun, more popular books (it's even harder to turn back and finish the aforementioned dissertation, but that's another story).

    If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be -- and why?
    The novelist Nancy Lemann. I feel a little absurd saying that she needs to be "discovered," because she certainly has more acclaim than I. But I am always stunned when my friends let slip that they have not read her. She is a poet who writes in prose, and her prose sounds like what it describes -- the decadence of New Orleans. Her first novel, The Lives of the Saints, is hard to beat.

    What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
    Read all the time. And read differently than you read when you were just doing it for kicks. Reading for craft, for technique, is radically different than reading only for information, or only for pleasure. Read with a pen and a notebook in hand and dissect the books you read. And don't just limit yourself to reading books in your genre. If you are a novelist, read sonnets. If you are a playwright, read reportage.

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  • About the Writer
    *Lauren Winner Home
    * Interview
    In Our Other Stores
    * Signed, First Editions by Lauren Winner
    *Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life, 2002
    *Mudhouse Sabbath, 2003