What was your first “win” that made you confident that you were doing the right thing?
My very first writing win was when I gave my first completed manuscript to Kaisha, and she told me she loved it. Her positive feedback prompted me to pursue my writing with more seriousness. I always secretly dreamed of being an author but doubted my abilities. The final “win” that told me I was, beyond a doubt, doing what I was meant to do was the scholarship offers that came in from the universities I applied to for my masters of fine art in fiction. The scholarships were based on my writing sample. If they were willing to put money behind my writing, then it must mean it wasn’t horrible, right? I’m not always convinced. Those writing demons of self-doubt are tricky bastards, and they love mind games.
What is the biggest risk that you’ve taken?
So far, the biggest risk I have taken was flying to San Francisco to pitch my novel at a writing conference. I’ve never been so scared in my life. I kept from puking all over myself and convinced several agents to read my manuscript, which they are doing right now. While at the conference, my novel’s first page was read out loud in front of an agent panel and critiqued in front of the conference. That was terrifying as well. I managed not to pass out, and the experience was invaluable.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
I have gone on a Hemingway-style fishing trip with my dad through parts of Oregon and Idaho. So far, that’s it. Kaisha and I are planning a drive through the South and will certainly make some Faulkner stops along the way. My dream is to wander France and see the spots that Proust writes about in In Search of Lost Time.
What is the first book that made you cry?
I’m not a huge book crier or anything crier. When my second-grade teacher told me I was too sensitive in front of the whole class, it shut my tears down right away, and I have spent my whole life suppressing them. Maybe when Thorin dies in The Hobbit. I’m joking (mostly). I believe I cried when I first read Little Women. I shed a tear or two at the end of Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream. I remember crying over Their Eyes Were Watching God, and I’m sure there have been others, but they aren’t coming to mind right now.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Writing energizes me. Sometimes it becomes an obsession that I cannot deny, and I lose myself in it for days. I always feel rejuvenated afterward. Querying is a whole different story. Querying can go jump off a cliff.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Putting your work out there before it is ready, or giving it to someone for feedback without carefully vetting them as a critique partner first. I can’t tell you how many people I have talked to who went to the trouble of writing a story, only to have their excitement and dreams squashed by poorly given, destructive feedback. Yes, your first, second, third, or even tenth draft might suck. That’s okay. Writing crappy prose is a part of the writing process. When you are just starting, you need to find people who will be gentle and constructive and help you to craft your draft into the story you envisioned. Many people suck at giving feedback. It is a skill no less than writing!
Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
A big ego can certainly help writers. As a writer, you face a ton of rejection. It is a part of the job. Eventually, you will face a scathing critique partner. Agents, editors, and publishers will say no. Journals will send politely worded rejection letters. Competitions will pass you over. Critics will point out your weaknesses. People will leave poor reviews on Goodreads. The dog will poop on the lawn, and you will step in it. A healthy ego helps if you can muster it. I have always struggled with my ego. I wish I had infallible confidence in my own writing. Thankfully, I have friends who have infallible confidence in my writing to keep me going when my self-doubt gets the best of me. What I do have are dogged tenacity and unwavering obsession. Too much time has been spent on this endeavor to abandon it. Sacrifices have been made (not human ones, mind you) and those won’t be in vain. Besides, I’m a better human being when I write.