Q. and the all-important: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like for you?
JR. Muscle memory. That’s where it is now. I can’t imagine not having a book I’m working on. In other words, I have to be working on something. So, in some sense, I never fully enjoy “finished book” because I’m always at least thinking about the next one. In the same way, I never feel I’m in “no book” territory.
You don’t get a lot of resolution in your creative life if you’re a novelist (at least I don’t). It’s probably why I do crossword puzzles. Resolution is immediate.
JR. How can they not? When I first started writing, I was in NY and single. Now, I’m in Savannah, married with two kids, and a professor of writing. Save for that first novel, I don’t borrow from my own life as the foundation of a novel. Yes, my characters grapple with the same anxieties I grapple with, but they aren’t me in a fictional guise. But as the challenges have changed in my life, I think they’ve changed for my characters as well. And my interests have shifted. Five years ago I would never have thought about a book in Mexico. Now, I can’t imagine not writing it.
JR. I’ve been accused of bucking genres. My first two books were clearly thrillers, based around historical documents. Then I dove into historical fiction entirely with three books in Germany and Spain in 1919, 1927 and 1936. Yes, there was a mystery in each of those, but the mystery was always less important than the political and social anxieties that the characters were dealing with. Some reviewers called them historical fiction, others literary fiction, still others mysteries. And then I jumped to my last book, which is Savannah 1947 – a much more intimate novel, less about the historical backdrop and more about one man’s struggle. And now I’m doing contemporary Mexico in one book, and 1606 Venice in another
So, I don’t really think in terms of genres. I just write what excites me. So far I’ve been lucky enough that my publishers let me do that.
Q. Note to Self: (a life lesson you’ve learned.)
JR. Writing is hard, maybe harder than anything else in the arts for the simple reason that everyone thinks they have access to language. Very few people walk around thinking, Yes, I can design a dress or produce a self-portrait. But everyone thinks, Hey, I can write. Just look at me on Facebook….
But that’s not true, which makes writing even harder if you really want to take a stab at it.
So, the lesson I’ve learned is: do whatever you can to make writing easier while you’re writing. Take the pressure off and just try and get a single sentence down that you don’t hate. Some days, that one sentence is enough. It paves the way for the days when you write 5,000 words and you can’t imagine how you did it.
Give yourself a break. Writing is hard. Don’t make it harder than it has to be.
MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with best-selling AUTHORS! August: Mega best selling author, Susan Mallery. September: Jonathan Rabb. October: Alretha Thomas. November: Joe English. December: Molly Gloss. Coming this winter: Jayne Ann Krentz (Amanda Quick) and Patrick Canning.