Note: Amanda will be presenting a workshop on what voice can do for your writing at the Mount Diablo California Writer’s Club on October 11th 2014 from 9:00 to 1:00 p.m. at Zio Fraedo’s Italian Restaurant 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill, CA at ($35 members; $45 nonmembers and includes breakfast). RSVP is required. Contact Robin at firstname.lastname@example.org (please respond by October 8th). Sign-in begins at 8:30 a.m., breakfast at 9:00 a.m. We hope to see you there!!
1. In one paragraph, summarize your book Going to Solace.
My debut novel, Going to Solace, offers stories to live by—literally. It’s Thanksgiving week, 1989. We’re in the Pineys, two hollows just outside Garnet in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Life may be going along for some, but for others, somebody’s sick, real sick, dying sick. Through interwoven narratives, we track a handful of characters whose paths cross at a local hospice called Solace. Some are country people. Some are far-flung, fancy people. All are helpers—resourceful family members, improvising professionals—each one determined to beat back death, or hurry him on about his business. In the end, they must find a way to stand up from the bedside and walk back into life after the dying is done. Neither grim nor roseate, it’s a book whose tone is bracing: often funny, sometimes wrenching, ultimately comforting.
2. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
What matters to me is that we all keep at it with gusto, with more joy than pain. I’m all for prying those two words apart, “aspiring” and “writer.” By saying, “I aspire to write,” I’m already telling the story of someone who’s not writing when, in fact, we can always choose to write. Hey, I’m someone who squeezed her writing in over decades of paying the rent and taking care of loved ones. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I am saying it’s simple. I don’t aspire to write, I write. It’s on my calendar. Fifteen minutes a week or fifteen hours a day. Two words on the page or two thousand or none, zero. Those days count too. I chalk that silence up to the percolating we need before words appear. Bottom line, writing is a Just-Do-It opportunity we all share. The great news? The astonishing news? Guaranteed, if we keep at it, the work accrues. It takes shape. Eventually, we get good at it.
And then there’s aspiration, but it’s usually not writing to which we aspire (even when—especially when—we’re avoiding it!). For most of us, aspiration has to do with other things. Publication or adoring readers. The imprimatur of a hot agent or a mega-bucks movie deal. Or maybe we dream of creating a classic that lives on for centuries. We need our aspirations. They provide jet-fuel to our daily practice of writing. But we mustn’t confuse putting gas in the tank with the adventure of travel itself. The writing is the point. For me, that’s both an accurate and sustaining truth. To keep going, I have to love keeping going, even through the wanderings-in-the-wilderness of hollow drafts and demoralized edits. I aspire on walks, in the shower, as I drift off to sleep. But when it’s time to write, I just write.
3. What authors have most influenced your writing?
Oh, my goodness, the flood your question triggers. There are some writers whose work so slays me that I’ve found myself closing a book or finishing a story or poem with a deep conviction that there’s no reason for me to write another word. I’m a Southern gal. The deities to whom return are Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty and William Faulkner. I bow to Mark Twain and Anton Chekhov. And then there’s my man, Shakespeare. As Woody Allen says (in Annie Hall? Manhattan?), “Well, I’ve got to model myself on someone…” More recently, I’m knocked out by the work of all kinds of contemporary writers: Elizabeth McCracken, Frederick Busch, George Saunders, Michael Ondaatje, Karen Russell, to name way too few. I’m a slow reader. I like tale tellers. I also like writerly writers whose stories sing through exquisite language.
4. What has been the biggest challenge on your path to publication?
The only important challenge has been and continues to be writing work that is so damn good it makes your teeth hurt. The rest of it is dogged determination. I’m a thin-skinned person who taught herself to go for the long haul, to submit and submit, weathering the endless No’s for that eventual Yes. It’s also been hard for me to find my editor(s), that is to say, professional readers who both resonate to what I’m up to and have an ability to send me farther, faster. That’s an ongoing search.
5. What is your writing routine?
Writing is my favorite thing to do, even on bad days. It took me years to realize this, to drop my fear of inadequacy enough to feel that pull toward the page. I write pretty much daily. I’m a morning person. My husband and I get up early and read the papers—you know, real newspapers that smell of ink and ink your hands—big photos, gorgeous, large type. Old-school stuff. Then he’s off to work and I’m upstairs “in harness.” These days I have to set a timer reminding me get out of the chair and onto the treadmill. That’s not to say it’s all one happy flow; it’s not. But here’s a tip: before I abandon the desk each night, I leave myself a task, written on a Post It. I set it right here on my keyboard for the morning, so I won’t have any blank-page paralysis. If I’m in the middle of drafting, I leave myself a prompt. If I’m editing, I leave a next step or focus for the coming session. That helps enormously.
6. Your range of writing is amazing – playwright, short stories, novels, and children books. What is your favorite form?
At the moment, prose fiction, long or short, feels wonderful in comparison to writing for performance. On stage, the rich world I’m imagining can only be hinted at through dialogue. What a pleasure to be free to capture any and everything running through me more fully. It’s daunting but liberating.
7. If you were to describe yourself as a children’s book character who would that be?
Aspirationally? Wilbur. I’d love for someone to weave over my head “SOME PIG.” More seriously—well, Scout lives in my mind. That’s an adult book about a girl, but her relationship with Atticus—I love the way she loves her daddy. Oh, and one more. This one for little kids. I really love Little Bear in A Kiss for Little Bear, a book that serves as my model for the perfect picaresque story.
8. What is your greatest writing weakness?
No question, it’s the weakness I can’t see yet. It’s the flaw in the writing I can’t recognize because I don’t know enough. I hate that moment (and it happens all the time) when I’m reading stuff back and I see a blunder, a hole, a stretch of boring or confusing or just plain unreadable junk. It’s suddenly so obvious. It’s been there all along. Why didn’t I see it before? Those are not good moments. But, of course, that’s the literal experience of learning.
9. Tell us about your DreamTime series.
I haven’t thought about that in a while. Thanks for asking. The material for DreamTime grew out of a musical project. I had written the text for a children’s cantata with a composer I often work with, Jeff Langley. At the same time, I was considering migrating from the stage to the page. Going to Solace was in draft. So it occurred to me to adapt the cantata into a children’s book and self publish it in order to learn about publishing from the ground up. That’s so me. I come from DIY stock. It was one of the great decisions of my life. I taught myself book design. I studied the publishing business. I partnered with my niece; her childhood drawings became the illustrations (after much adjusting through Photoshop). Then I registered as a publisher with Lightning Source and learned the whole distribution and marketing routine. Phew.
I learned a lot in ways that have stood me in good stead with traditional publishers. Meanwhile, those books live in my heart. They present bedtime as an adventure—great for boys, for rambunctious kids and for children who are afraid of the dark. I published different read-out-loud versions customized for different kinds of caretakers, all with a sensitivity to the needs of same-sex parents, and an awareness that families come in all shapes and sizes.
10. How do you balance writing with life?
You know what? I don’t. At this age, with my stepson all grown up and a husband who loves to work as much as I do, I get to go overboard. What a privilege. As long as I have a little brain power left and the sheer good fortune of relative health, it’s all about go-go-go on the page. I find that very happy-making.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Amanda McTigue. To learn more, visit her website at www.amandamctigue.com. Ask your local bookstore to order Going to Solace for you or order it online at Amazon. It’s available in hardcover, paperback and all e-book formats.