Welcome Author Marjorie Hudson

First, a big thanks to everyone who chimed in on last week’s blog, and congratulations to author Gigi Amateau, winner of our first-ever Write Despite book giveaway! Gigi was randomly selected to win a free copy of Tara Laskowski’s Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons. Gigi has quite a body of work of her own, and has graciously agreed to do an interview and book giveaway on Write Despite as well. Look for her post in the coming weeks.

- by Brent Clark (3)
(Photo courtesy of Brent Clark)

Now please welcome author Marjorie Hudson to Write Despite. Marjorie’s fiction and creative nonfiction explore the worlds of outsiders and newcomers, misfits and strangers, in the contemporary and historical South. See her website and her blog about her writing adventures: http://www.marjoriehudson.com

Thanks, Marjorie, for taking the time to chat with us.

   1)    What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

“Do it your way.” – Emily Herring Wilson.  Emily was my editor and mentor for my first book, Searching for Virginia Dare, which was a strange amalgam of history, interview, road trip, memoir, and fiction scene. When I wondered if that kind of strange combination was even allowed, she encouraged me to play. It’s been the best advice, and used it when compiling my story collection too, which includes both contemporary stories and historical fiction.

 2)    Please tell us your favorite three authors.

I read everybody I can get my hands on, and my favorites change from time to time. But some standbys: Henry James, Alice Munro, and Anne Lamott. I know it’s a strange list.

 3)    Briefly describe your journey to publication.

I was a shy writer for many years, hiding behind my job as an editor at National Parks Magazine. One day I got up my courage to ask for an assignment, and after that started writing features. When I moved to North Carolina, it was with the goal of doing more creative writing—it was cheaper to live here and I knew I could experiment more while freelancing. I worked at Algonquin books as a copyeditor for a number of years, soaking in the lessons of fiction writing, then started writing my own stories and sending them out. My first story won a small award. I was overly encouraged by that and started sending everywhere. A lucky break got me my first book contract—Emily Wilson called me out of the blue and asked me to write for her, and it turned into a book, Searching for Virginia Dare, now out in a new edition. Meanwhile, I was writing and publishing short stories. I finally collected some stories on the theme of outsiders in the South, that became Accidental Birds of the Carolinas. It took 20 years for me to refine those stories till they were ready, but it was worth the wait, because the collection got national recognition as a Pen Hemingway Honorable Mention.

SFVD Cover - 2013 (3) Just this summer my first book came out in a new edition,  Searching for Virginia Dare: On the Trail of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island, and I got to have a dream come true—keeping a book in print for more than ten years, and adding some exciting new material from my continued adventures. I remain obsessed with the mystery of the Lost Colony, and the legends and stories that continue to emerge from that moment in history, and have sought out new clues while traveling to Rome, London, and the Outer Banks in search of deeper understanding of the story of America’s first English child, part of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island.

4)    Advice for those now on the road to publication?

Find a writing community, a great teacher, a mentor. Keep the faith. You are the only one who can tell the story your way. You’ll need that writing community while you struggle, and creative work is a struggle, and you’ll want them around too to celebrate with when you publish! No one understands the sweetness of publishing better than another writer.

 5)    Do you write every day?

I schedule writing in. Some weeks I do other things. My favorite method is to take a month or more and write the same time every day. For longer projects, you must fit them around your life, and your job, to sustain them.

6)    What are you writing now?

I’m working on a novel draft. It continues the stories of some of the characters in Accidental Birds.

 7)    What are you reading now?

I read several books at a time. I’m reading Little Raw Souls, a new story collection by my old writing teacher Steven Schwartz. I’m re-reading The Disobedience of Water, by Sena Jeter Naslund, also a story collection. I just finished In the Garden of Beasts, about the American ambassador in Berlin during Hitler’s rise, by Erik Larson. And I’m reading three incredible novel manuscripts by friends, for my writing group.

Q & A—and a Book Giveaway! Welcome Author Tara Laskowski

Tara LaskowskiNeed help navigating the tricky rules of etiquette in some, shall we say, rather delicate circumstances? Tara Laskowski,  author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons (Matter Press 2012), has written a profoundly funny and touching guide for properly conducting yourself in situations of adultery, dementia, arson, homicide, and more.

Want a free copy of Tara’s book? Read on.

Tara is senior editor at the online flash fiction literary magazine SmokeLong Quarterly, and was their 2009 Kathy Fish Fellow and writer-in-residence. She earned a BA in English with a minor in writing from Susquehanna University and an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. Her submission of short fiction won the 2010 literary awards series from the Santa Fe Writers Project, and she has work forthcoming or published in several anthologies. Her story, “Dendrochronology” won second prize and publication for the Press 53 Open Awards anthology in 2010. Her story, “Ode to the Double-Crossed Lackey in ‘Thunderball,’” was nominated for Dzanc’s Best of the Web series for 2009, and her short stories “They” and “Like Everyone Else” were recognized by storySouth as notable online stories in 2004 and 2009. Another story, “Hole to China,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. A native of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Tara currently lives and works in a suburb of Washington, D.C. with her husband Art Taylor, her son Dashiell, and their two cats.

Tara, we’re honored to feature you here on Write Despite. Thanks for answering the following.

1) Best writing advice you’ve ever received?

I’ve got a few, is that ok?

1. Have fun with it. My favorite stories are the ones that I had fun with—whether that was experimenting with form, or inserting some crazy detail or action that made me go somewhere fresh with the plot, or just enjoying my characters and what they say. My time is so limited these days that if I’m dreading returning to a story to work on it, then I should probably just drop it for a while and do something else. Now, all that said, I don’t really find writing very ‘fun’ all the time—it’s hard work, even when you are having fun. But I think just generally, doing something different, not being afraid to play, is good advice.

2. Play to your strengths. Note, this is not the same as, write what you know. By play to your strengths, I’ll give you an example from my writing challenges. For my MFA thesis at George Mason University, I attempted to write a 500-page novel that was a historical love story spanning over several decades. It’s a great story, but it didn’t work, and after more than five years of working on it I realized why—because that kind of story is not my strength. I don’t write long time periods very well. I write short. Short moments, tiny pieces of time. I would’ve done better, perhaps, working on a novel that spanned one day in the life of someone. Or maybe a month. Or a summer. But not 25 years. No, no.

3. This one speaks more to process: You don’t have to write every day. (Sorry, I know that’s the point of your whole blog). But for me, who doesn’t write every day, who cannot write every day, this was a freeing moment. Now, that said, I do try to check in every day, even if that’s just thinking about my characters before bed. I do think it’s extremely important to keep your head in the game, even if you aren’t physically sitting down every day and writing something. So maybe I would just expand that one a little: Write in the schedule that works for you. If it’s every day, amazing. If it’s all weekend, great. Write in the morning? Go for it. Late at night? Sweet. Point is, figure out a schedule that works for you, and to hell with the way everyone else does it. Artists work in different ways, and there is no one formula for success. Just find what works for you and write. Above all, just keep writing.

2) Favorite three authors?

In all of the world? Living or dead? How cruel are you?? I wish I was Jennifer Egan. Does that count? I probably wouldn’t be a writer without J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, or John Updike. I’m already past my three. I suck at following directions.

3) Briefly describe your journey to publication. (How were you first published and how has that led to where you are now?)
Laskowski-bookI used to write in high school and got a few things published in the literary magazine there. I honestly cannot remember the very first publication I got. I know in college and even grad school there were a few hard-earned publications. In 2009, I won a writing fellowship at SmokeLong Quarterly, and that for me was a huge turning point. I started publishing a lot online and meeting a lot of really amazing and talented people, and after my fellowship was over I became an editor there, and now the senior editor. Being a part of the community in this way has really improved my writing and editing skills, and I am forever grateful for it. Last October, I published my first collection of stories, Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons.

4) Advice for those now on the road to publication?

The same ole, same ole: Read the publications that you are sending to. Please. Why would you want to be published somewhere that you don’t read? Also, every publication has a style, has a vibe about it, and once you start reading it, you kind of get it. It makes your acceptance rate go through the roof if you actually send editors the kind of stuff they like. Sounds crazy, but it’s true!

I think the same holds true for novelists. Researching agents, reading the books they place, is key. Otherwise you’ll never stand out from the slush pile.

5) Do you write every day?

No way. I wish I did. But I do think about writing every day, and I’ve become much more skilled at writing in my head. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/01/the-art-of-being-still/

6) What are you writing now? (If nothing, what are you reading now?)

I’m working on another collection of short stories, tentatively called BYSTANDERS, which is slow going. I’m reading The Magus by John Fowles, which I just started so I can’t tell you if I love it yet. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

YOU COULD SNAG A FREE COPY OF TARA’S BOOK, MODERN MANNERS FOR YOUR INNER DEMONS. JUST TELL US WHY YOU’D LIKE TO OWN THIS AMAZING COLLECTION OF STORIES BY POSTING YOUR COMMENT HERE. WE’LL PICK A WINNER BY AUGUST 1!