Q: If you could talk to any author from the past, who would it be? Why? Who would you NOT want to talk to?
A: I’d love to talk to Colette or Simone de Beauvoir. I love their work, and they both had such amazing, rich lives, full of writing and adventure and relationships. I would probably not want to talk to Violette Leduc, another literary idol of mine (her memoir La Batarde is one of my favorites). She was supposed to be fairly cranky. I don’t know why the authors I immediately thought of are all Frenchwomen. My French isn’t that great–we’d need a translator! (Though de Beauvoir spoke fairly good English.)
Q: And would you use a character to speak to that author, or yourself?
A: It would be great to have my character Eleanor Bell (a vampire poet) and her boyfriend Alfred (also a vampire, whose French is impeccable) do the talking. (Both are from my as yet unpublished novel, The Posthumous Life of Eleanor Bell.) They’d probably have a lot to talk about. Alfred might even charm Violette Leduc.
Q: If you got to borrow a character [or several], who would you choose?
A: I have wanted to write a Sherlock Holmes story ever since I was a pre-teen Holmes geek. Maybe one day I will–then I’d have an excuse to reread my beloved Annotated Sherlock Holmes!
Q: Do your characters talk to you? Do you see the stories as images? Do you ever argue with characters you hadn’t planned?
A: My characters talk to me all the time–or, rather, they talk at me. My stories often start out as dialogue. It’s what comes easily to me, and I suspect dialogue is what I change least in the revision process. I am more of an aural writer than a visual one (this is true of my poetry as well as my fiction), but I do see the images of my characters. I don’t know if I argue with characters I haven’t planned, but I sure do argue with my characters. They frequently want different things to happen than I have planned for them. It’s usually a question of my figuring out whether this is a legitimate, organic change that will enhance the story or just an exercise in the characters’ wish fulfillment that will cheapen the story.
Q: Have you ever wished for a particular character — or idea — to walk into your story? Has that happened?
A: Yes–a political activist. I find it challenging to write about political ideas in fiction, especially in a story that also has a speculative element. The novel I’m currently working on is both a ghost story and a political story.
Q: Do you ever get to a certain point, reading a story, and feel the click! as you have got to the point of no return/can’t stop now? Does writing ever feel that way? If you had to liken writing to anything, what would it be?
A: I do get to that point with reading and writing. It’s a wonderful feeling in writing, when instead of feeling resistant, ideas/dialogue/scenes are coming too fast to write ’em down and you just have to be writing, and there’s a total immersion in the story’s world. Writing a long work (or writing a body of work over time) could be likened to long-distance running. There’s probably about the same ratio of slogging and resistance vs. exhilaration and a feeling of accomplishment.
Q: What piece of writerly advice do you wish someone had given you?
A: You’re in it for the long haul, so be patient.
Q: What kind of advice do you wish characters listened to? Or offered?
A: Advice I wish characters listened to: Be patient! Also, deal with your past head-on so you can live in the present. (But if they did that, I wouldn’t have nearly as much to write about!)
Q: Is there something you do that no one ever asks you about? This can be anything — something unusual you eat, playing poker as a day job, a hobby, whatever you like.
A: For several years I was a freelance music critic for various Los Angeles magazines, most of which are now out of business. Most of my local friends were (and still are) musicians, I was going to see bands play several nights a week, and I was (and still am) obsessed with music, so it seemed the natural thing to write about it. Besides, as a teenager I’d read and reread such music magazines as Bomp!, Back Door Man, New York Rocker and Slash–to the point that they became a huge formative literary influence. Sometimes I miss music journalism, though it is also wonderful just to be able to listen to music without having to figure out how to describe it!
Q: Particular favorites for books, movies, series, comics, blogs, etc.?
A: A few favorite books: Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, Eight Years in Another World by Harding Lemay, Tunes for a Small Harmonica by Barbara Wersba, The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee, The Collector by John Fowles, Vida by Marge Piercy. Some favorite writers: Diane di Prima, the Brontes, Samuel R. Delany, Marilyn Hacker, Georgette Heyer, Sylvia Plath, Amanda Cross, Jo Walton, Ellen Klages, Dodie Bellamy, Dorothy L. Sayers, Neil Gaiman, June Jordan, Frank O’Hara. I’m addicted to Ai Yazawa’s manga NANA. For the past few years I’ve been working my way through the complete run of Dark Shadows on DVD. I’m a huge soap opera fan, especially of the 1970s-80s show Ryan’s Hope and the still running One Life To Live.