1.Have you ever gotten “reader’s block” and how did you get through that?
Let me start by saying that I don’t ascribe to the idea of ‘writer’s block.’. Writing is a creative art, it takes inspiration, of course, but it’s also a craft. The only way to go about crafting is to sit-down and do it. Even if one is stuck at a particular point in a story, one can still write – about the trees and the sun outside the window, about the person sitting at the table across the café, about the clothes and shoes one is wearing. Just write. You never know what might come out of it. Now when it comes to ‘reader’s block,’ I once believed in such a thing – I’ve put down more than a few books before finishing them – but then I had a review from a reader who told me she’d stopped about twenty pages in because she couldn’t get past the clunky dialogue of the first scene. That scene is a first date between two characters who ultimately are disastrous for one another; it was meant to be clunky and awkward. If she had only kept reading, she might have enjoyed the book. So no, I don’t ascribe to ‘reader’s block’ now and next time I feel something approaching this feeling, I will power through. A good story might just be beyond that hurdle.
2.How did you balance writing your story your way and giving readers what they want?
James Baldwin says you cannot write for the reader; you must only write for yourself. Maya Angelou says you write for yourself and for your reader. All I know is that my primary concern is with getting the story out. The readers’ expectations are secondary. That’s not because I don’t care about the reader or what she thinks about my work, it’s because the story and its themes are what drive me. Often what I’ve thought my readers will take away from a story ends up being different to what they actually do, and that’s perfectly acceptable.
3.What was an experience you had when you discovered the power of words/language?
I spoke at the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities when I was twenty years old. I had been given a congressional proclamation to recite word-for-word. But when I thought no one would stop me from adding a preface to the reading, I did just that and ended up saying a few sentences about my alma mater. I knew then that language has power: people were shocked that I would ‘go off script’ at such an important event. Shocked, but not angry.
4.What’s your favorite under the radar novel?
‘Under the radar’ can mean different things for different people. Paula Fox’s work is unfamiliar to people my age and that’s a shame.
5.How much did real world people influence your characters and do you feel a debt to them?
All fiction is, in some sense, inspired and influenced by real people and events. As Emily Dickinson said, ‘Tell all the truth but tell it slant — Success in Circuit lies.’
6.How many unpublished or unfinished books do you have? After successfully finishing this book, do you feel any of those could be revisited?
While My Memory Told Me a Secret was being farmed out to agents, publishers, and then eventually being prepared for publication, I managed to write the first draft of a second novel. We’ll see what comes of it.
7.What did you edit out of this book?
I’m someone who edits as a write, and then again after I’ve completed an entire first draft, and again after a second draft, and again at the proof stage. Always editing! But at some point, one has to stop oneself. You can beat a thing to death otherwise and never be happy.
8.Do you read, or plan on reading, reviews of this book? If so, how do you deal with the good and the bad ones?
I read the pre-publication reviews from the three major outlets that released one, and I sometimes check Amazon, Goodreads, etc. for reader reviews. I take all reviews with a grain of salt. People come to things with their own prejudices and biases. As one of my reviewers said, you need an open mind to read my work.
9.Does your family support your writing career? Were any of them instrumental in the creation process?
The novel is dedicated to my husband, Lester. All of this is possible because of him. He’s the breadwinner in our house, as everyone knows that a writing career rarely pays huge dividends.
10.Do you like audiobooks, e-books, or physical books better? Why?
I only read physical books, but to each their own.
11.What is the most unusual or surprising element of your writing routine?
I can write almost anywhere at any time. I’m not precious about it. I’ve written on planes and trains, in hotel beds and on the sofa, at coffee shops and on the beach. If I don’t have my MacBook with me, I’ll write on my phone, or by hand in a journal, or on pieces of scrap paper.
12.What is your favorite time of day, season, and place to write? Why?
Writers do not have the luxury of having favourite days or times to write. You write when you need to write.
13.What is your favorite word and why?
A Tagalog word ‘mabuhay.’ I love that it can mean so many different things, plus it’s just a fun word to say!
14.Is there anything you’re currently working on that would intrigue or interest readers?
By nature, I’m not a superstitious person, but recently I’ve become very superstitious in talking about my work. I’ve let people read things and I’ve talked things up before they were ready, and I’m trying to avoid that this time.
15.Do you share books before they’re done or wait until you have a completed draft?
I’m making it a practice now to wait until I’ve a completed draft, and not just a first draft, one that’s been at least superficially revised.
16.Writing is usually seen as a solitary affair, is this true in your case?
Absolutely. I live in Paris, and my French is not so good. There are times when this bothers me, but mostly it affords me a degree of anonymity and seclusion which means that I can write in coffee shops without being distracted, I can go about town without running into anyone I know, and so forth. Writers are, I think to a large degree, introverts.
17.Do you start out with a concrete plot or let an idea or ideas lead you?
I usually have an idea of where things will end up, or at the very least I have a theme in mind, but I always let the characters and story lead me. My favourite question is ‘What next?’. Incidentally, asking ‘what next’ is a cure for the so-called writer’s block.
18.What book or author inspired you to start writing?
There was no one book or author, as I’m a voracious reader. Some of my preferences are Virginia Woolf, Zadie Smith, Paul Auster, and Siri Hustvedt. These are all people whose work I read and wish I could write like that.
19.Do you read any of your own work after publication?
I have done, but it’s not always a good idea. One has to be proud of one’s work. Publishing is an accomplishment, a bragging right. But when you read published pieces, you invariably think ‘Oh I would have said that differently now, knowing what I do now.’
20.Do you have a day job other than writing? Does that job ever get in the way of writing?
Thankfully I have the luxury to be a full-time writer.
21.Do any of your friends or family seem to have the writing bug?
They don’t, and I’d discourage any who did! Just kidding, but only just because writing a good story (hell, probably even a bad one) is exhausting.
22.How critical are you of your own work compared to reading other authors?
As I say, you have to be proud of what you’ve done, or otherwise don’t bother putting it out there.
23.How important is reading other authors to your own writing?
Reading is immensely important to a writer. You cannot write if you do not read. I see reading as at least 50% of my job. Every day I devote as many hours to reading as I do to writing.
24.How important is privacy to you as an author? Do you mind fans or plan on adopting a pseudonym?
I’ve never really understood the function of a pseudonym for ‘normal’ writers such as myself. It’s not like I have loads of fans or paparazzi queuing up outside my flat in Paris, but if I did, I should be glad to pose for photos and sign autographs!