The Dames are pleased to welcome back fiction author Laurie Boris. Hi, Laurie! Tell us about your latest book, Sliding Past Vertical.
Sliding Past Vertical is not a typical love story. Sarah, a graphic artist, has made a few mistakes…okay, a bunch of them. Her life in Boston has not turned out the way she planned and everything is going wrong, including her codependent relationship with a charming-but-kinda-sleazy guitar player. Fortunately, her old boyfriend Emerson (no stranger to codependent relationships himself) is just a phone call away to help her clean up the mess. When her current mess is too big to handle, she decides she needs a radical change. This move puts her back in the same college town where Emerson still lives. And much too close for everyone’s comfort.
Sounds great! Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
Sure! I’m writing a “spinoff” novel based a character from Don’t Tell Anyone who wanted his story told. It’s been a great writing challenge for me so far. Also on the burner this year are a couple of romantic suspense novels. I hope to publish at least one of these in 2014.
It starts with coffee. I’ll write for a few hours, taking breaks to stretch and get more coffee. If anyone tries to talk to me, I’ll get crabby, because the characters are still wandering around in my head telling me things. They don’t like the competition.
As a coffee addict and a writer who needs complete isolation when she writes, I can completely understand the “crabby” bit. When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
They are, at least for the first draft. I’ve tried it the other way, but it hasn’t worked out so well. An experiment with outlining lead to a near-mutiny, and I found myself letting the characters call the shots on scenes and then trying to shoehorn them into my plan. So I stopped and gave the story back to them. They were grateful. So is my husband, because I am much less crabby now.
Yes! The same thing happened to me when I tried writing from an outline; my main character completely rebelled and it took me twice as long to write the book. Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?
A foot or so from my left hand sits a copy of The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. I really, really want to be reading it right now. I love baseball novels, especially this one, chock full of tasty prose with far more going on than just the game. My current favorite authors—TC Boyle, Joyce Carol Oates, JD Mader, so many others—look at life a half a bubble off plumb and not always on the pretty side. That appeals to me, because I’m fascinated with the “human” part of human nature: the part that’s flawed and broken but still redeemable.
Starting to hear the them from The Twilight Zone in my head. I love baseball, too! What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?
When I make a connection with a reader. I’m huddled away in my room, pouring out the story I want to tell, the stories my characters tell me, and after, six, seven, thirteen drafts, I often develop a skewed perspective on whether it’s working. But when I start hearing from readers that they liked what I wrote or at least identified with it, I feel like I’ve done my job. It forms a complete loop.
What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?
Well…clichés become so for a reason. On the cliché face of it, you will write with greater authenticity about actual life situations you’ve experienced. It’s in your blood; it’s in your pores. But I think a lot of writers have allowed themselves to be hamstrung by that advice. Writers have boundless imagination. We have empathy. We have the ability to learn. Arthur Golden dressed and made himself up as a geisha to get a better feel for the characters in Memoirs of a Geisha. I think we write what we want to know or what we want to better understand. I’ve written from the point of view of characters I’ve never been and never will be, mainly because I want to tell their stories. If I don’t listen well enough, or if I don’t allow myself to empathize with them, readers will sense that and the story will feel false.
Exactly! Describe your writing process once you sit down to write—or the preliminaries.
I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths. I’ll try to listen to the characters in my mind. Then I’ll start typing. Some of my writing friends say that they see their characters first, that their early scenes are visual and have lots of detail. Maybe I’m just odd, but I hear them first. I hear the dialogue, the conflicts. I’ve tried experimenting with outlining a novel, but either I don’t have it yet or my mind doesn’t want to go there. So I go back to listening. That’s why so often my first drafts look more like screenplays.
I can’t say I’m as quick as you are to get to the typing point, but I do the same thing, listen to the characters before I start writing. Did the classics have any effect on you in your formative years? (Shakespeare? Alice in Wonderland? Gulliver’s Travels?)
Because of the way literature was taught in my school district, and because of my own distaste for being told what to think, I turned away from the classics for a while. To me then, Shakespeare, Melville, and Steinbeck meant themes and symbolism that I didn’t necessarily see or believe in. I’ve forgiven my teachers and assigned myself to reread many of the books I’d been force-fed as a student. Several of them, like Moby-Dick, A Separate Peace, and The Grapes of Wrath, have become my favorites. I hope kids today are encouraged to reach outside the box and give their own interpretations of what they’re reading.
Are you in a critique group? If so, how does it work and specifically how do the members help your writing?
I’m in a critique group, and I consider it some of the most valuable time in my schedule. Even when—especially when—the members of the group tell me what I don’t want to hear. I trust their experience and opinions. The other writers will tell me if something isn’t working or if a character’s motivation is not clear. And by critiquing the other members’ work, I’m also learning. It’s a reciprocal relationship.
Any good suggestions for overcoming writer’s block?
I suffer not from “block” but “overwhelm.” Staring at a blank page usually means that I’m tired. So I’ll work on something else or take a break. Getting out for a walk or a swim usually shakes something loose.
“Overwhelm”—I like that! What is your VERB? (this is a big poster at a local mall)? If you had to choose ONE verb that describes you and your behavior or attitude, what would it be?
My last verb was “swim.” These days it’s “breathe.” My mind gets ahead of itself at times, and once in a while I have to remind myself to slow down and enjoy the view. Plus, a wise writing coach once told me that you can’t breathe and panic at the same time. It felt like good advice.
Thanks so much for joining us today, Laurie. I’m looking forward to your new book and the one that comes next. Readers, if you’d like to find out more about Laurie and her work, please visit the following sites:
Amazon author page: http://www.amazon/author/laurieboris