Hello Jack! It is So GREAT to have you on my blog.
What are some of the things that have influenced/inspired your writing? Can you share some writing experiences with us? Compress these three questions into one:
Four people have shaped my writing world: Jack Moodey, Thom Gunn, Robert J. Ray, and Natalie Goldberg. As a naïve and very young poet, I met Jack Moodey. Of course, being young and stupid, I knew everything so in a discussion with Jack about poetry, I asked him if he’d ever written an epic poem. His reply: “Six lines or eight?” BAM. First idea that this might be harder than I imagined.
Then I met Thom Gunn who was teaching poetry at Berkeley. He called me in one day to talk about my latest poetic effort. I remember his words exactly: Jack, if you live in another man’s universe, it will be smaller than the one you create for yourself. Second BAM. Lesson? Don’t imitate your predecessors, create your own world.
Later, I met Robert J Ray, the mystery novelist and intellectual mentor to generations. Bob led me to “timed writing” also called “writing practice” or writing under the clock to free yourself from the internal editor. Third BAM. There’s an internal editor? Get that guy out of the way. Without Bob, there are no novels in my life.
Then, Taos. Natalie Goldberg and the Zen of Writing. In Taos, I listened to Natalie say: Writing gets more writing. You walk in the mist you get wet. Writing connects mind to mind. Finish what you start. Shut out the noise. Fourth BAM. No such thing as writer’s block, put pen to paper, it’s okay to write memoir. All writing is in the body. The body is the focus and the be-all and end-all of writing. You want to click into the viscera of being alive, shut out the noise, listen to the whispers of time and let them guide your pen.
Tell us briefly about your recently published book and what you feel is the most important topic/sub-message you share.
Gabriela and The Widow is a very personal novel not at all based on personal experience. It is a novel about two women, one dying—The Widow; the other—Gabriela, is blossoming. It is an archetypal Mother-Daughter novel working the idea that culture passes through women. It is built on the notion that our memory is fallible and that our stories have to be written down for them to be meaningful. It is a novel about the transformative power of love and respect. It is also a novel built on the idea that women share deep and universal secrets regardless of which culture they live in.
Like all authors, you have had your fair share of rejection letters. You obviously did not let the letters deter you. How did you keep your determination without getting discouraged?
In my writing life, the writing has always been more important than the publishing. I was published, as a poet, very early. I realized that unless I had a body of work I was useless as a writer, so I kicked back, found the discipline I needed, and kept on writing. Jack Moodey told me that he got one acceptance for every 300 submissions. The early success told me I could do it. I also learned that unless I had the discipline, I would not be a writer but someone who had written a book. I have seen many “sophomore or second book” failures because the writers blasted out that first novel on guts and adrenaline, but didn’t have the discipline to know how to do the second book. Roland Barthes breaks us up into two categories—ecrivains and ecrivants. The one writes, the other writes things.
It has been my experience, some things come quite easily (like creating the setting) and other things aren’t so easy (like deciding on a title). What comes easily to you and what do you find more difficult?
Discipline is my answer to this question—I write in scenes. Scenes have structure. Structure means: setting, character description, action, dialogue, intruder, conflict, resolution, climax and hook to the next scene. My experience has taught me this—you’re not writing a novel, you’re writing a dramatic scene. Each scene hooks to another scene. Scenes link together in plot tracks. Plot tracks are built on objects, characters, actions, or symbols. This process is an integrated one that starts with—the scene and its parts. I’ve put all of this information on the blog I keep with Robert J. Ray: http://bobandjackswritingblog.com.
Please describe to us your relationship between you and your editor. What makes an author/editor relationship a success?
Catherine Treadgold at Coffeetown Press in Seattle is the ideal editor. She’s a world-class soprano who trained with Mary Curtis Verna. She’s a novelist and a disciplined academic as well. She knows art and language and she’s both gentle and harsh with the red pencil. Unlike some editors, she doesn’t demand that you write the book she wants, but rather, she helps you find the best book in the writing you do. That’s a formula for a good relationship. The editor has to respect the aims of the writer, and the writer has to listen to the editor. It’s a collaborative process and unless both writer and editor respect that, it’s a lose-lose situation.
Is there any particular book when you read it, you thought, “I wish I had written that!”?
The Handmaid’s Tale.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? If yes, how did you ‘cure’ it?
No. I have never suffered from writer’s block. I write by hand on yellowed lined paper. I set a timer and write until the timer goes off. My discipline is this—finish what you start. Honor your words. Type up what you write. And, the most important thing—work with other writers. Force yourself to put pages on the table. Listen to what your readers tell you. Writer’s block can mean, and it means different things to different writers, that you’re afraid of what you’re doing. Get it out in the world. Don’t listen, as Natalie Goldberg say, to “monkey mind.” Monkey mind shuts you down.
What type of books do you mostly write?
I’ve written a broad range of books from book-length poems such as Josie Delgado to the non-fiction The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery. Right now I’m completing The California Quartet , all literary fiction. Blood is on a shelf by itself because I’m not sure just what it is so I keep it in a glass case apart from the other work.
Who or what inspires your characters and/or plots?
I have a disciplined approach to this—everything starts in a state of absolute chaos and I dabble at the writing until either a character or a story emerges, one with enough zing to make me want to know more. I spend a lot of time “writing about the writing” which means getting to know the Story, then working out a Structure, then, towards the end, paying attention to Style. Story begets Structure, Structure begets Style. Style is language honed into smooth blocks or rough cut hunks of emotion and energy.
Tell us about your writing space.
I write with pen (real ink, no ball points) on yellow 8.5 x 11 lined paper. That’s my primary space. I carry it with me all the time. When it’s time to get the writing off the yellow pads, I move to the computer. The computer space is a mess. Papers everywhere, wires to all the devices strung around, a couple of printers, lamps and junk—the writing space has to be chaotic for it to be any good. And then, of course, there are the books.
Is there anything you’d go back and do differently now that you have been published, in regards to your writing career?
I don’t think so. Where I am right now is the result of where I was. I look more to the future—what am I doing now that’s shaping what I will be? If you recall, Edit Piaf’s anthem, “Non, je ne regrette rien…” I don’t regret a thing. Put it another way—I wouldn’t be who I am if I hadn’t made the mistakes I did.
Do you do first drafts on a computer or by hand?
The pad of lined yellow paper is glued to my hand. I carry it everywhere. In the computer age, I’m not sure what a “first draft” is. I worked with some screenwriters for a while and from them I learned that what they call a first draft isn’t the same beast a novelist calls a first draft. To the screenwriter, that first draft is the first version you lay on the table for someone else to read. It might be the fiftieth draft of the work. In my own life, the work I put on the yellow pad must be the first draft—the first writing. Later in the process, when I have a story that needs another pair of eyes and a new brain, I type it up, print it out and call that the first reading draft. Computers have changed not just the way we write, but our brains and our sense of time and space.
How do you see the future of book publishing, both traditional, electronic and print on demand?
The industry has changed and will continue to change. I like the world of instant e-books, but I don’t own an e-reader. I like to buy books, carry books around, fall asleep with a book on my chest, sleep with books beside my bed like cats. The way I see it, the changes in the industry have forced writers to do more of the work publishers used to do. Like this blog tour.
What happens before sitting down to write? (Explain your creative process.)
In The Deification (Book One of The California Quartet) the main character wants to be a poet. So he writes: “Finished with his bookkeeping, Eddie flipped the notebook to the middle. He checked his watch—11:12 p.m. And then he wrote about the street and the night and how Layne looked when he went to work and how he dragged coming back. He wrote without stopping for fifteen minutes and then shifting his weight, he grunted and leaned harder against the stucco wall of the Greyhound bus station.”
That’s pretty much my discipline—write where you are, write what you see, write what’s in your head, write what you want to be. The perfect metaphor for my style of writing is the Moebius Strip—the inside is the outside. The discipline is this—write it, analyze it, rewrite it, analyze the rewrite then rewrite the analysis of the rewrite. The beginning is in the end, the end is in the beginning. Eventually, you end up with a book that fits together full of sentences that have become music.
Do you do a lot of research for your book(s)?
Yes. I read as much as I can. Science, anthropology, history—and of late, a huge amount of reading in genetics and biology. As a writer, I see how biological we are and I try to bring the insights of science into the characters and their stories. I spend a lot of money on books that don’t have “fiction” anywhere in their past. We are writing the current or contemporary versions of the great myths, and so we have to know what they are and where they came from. There’s more material for a writer in the work of Claude Levi-Strauss and Carl Jung that can ever be assimilated. They are thinkers about the way the human brain processes reality. They are the scientific companions of Natalie Goldberg’s right brain freedom.
What voice do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
Each novel requires its own voice. I let the novel tell me which way to go.
Have you received any awards?
What advice would you give to a new writer?
Work with writers who know more than you do. Take up timed writing, what Natalie Goldberg calls “writing practice.” Don’t be in a rush to get published. Write so that when you read it in ten years, you don’t squirm and ask yourself how you could have messed that up so much.
Do you have any book signings, tours or special events planned to promote your book that readers might be interested in attending? If so, when and where?
I have a release party planned for Gabriela and The Widow in late January, 2013. Later in the year, the last two volumes of The California Quartet will appear. At that time I’ll throw a gala to promote the boxed set.
Use this space to tell us more about your book’s characters. Anything you want your readers to know. Include information on where to find your book(s), any blogs you may have, or how a reader can learn more about you and/or your book(s).
All of my work appears under the Coffeetown Press imprint. I keep up three blogs, http://jackremick.com, http://blood.camelpress.com, and http://bobandjackswritingblog.com. The latter contains everything I know about writing, offered free to any writer who wants to use it.
I thank you for taking the time to share with my readers about being an author.
Thank you so much Jack for being on my blog and sharing your insights into being a writer! You are truly an inspiration to me and my readers!