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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