Sunday, July 25, 2010

Nell Gavin Interview

1: What is the most productive time of the day for you to write?

Time of day doesn’t matter. I’m an entirely undisciplined writer, and I will write when I feel gripped by the story. And I will only write the part of the story that grips me. That means I write out of order, beginning first, then ending –that’s my only “outline” and “structure” - then the middle back and forth, back and forth. I don’t know at first how the beginning is going to progress to the end because I allow the characters to write the middle.

I can go months without writing, and then become totally obsessed, intense, and completely focused. That’s really draining, so I can’t sustain it for more than a few weeks. It took me six years to write Threads, and it’s taking me longer to finish my second book.

When I was writing Threads, I mostly wrote in my head as I drove an hour to work, and then home again. I typed what I’d written after I put the kids to bed, and there is no line in that book that wasn’t interrupted by a request for juice. I also had a tape of the book running constantly through my mind, and would periodically hear an alarm that there was a grammatical error, or misuse of a term here or there, or a sentence that needed to be tweaked. The alarm could go off at any time during the day, whether I was near the manuscript or not.

2: Do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer?

Computer only.

3: What do you draw inspiration from?

Writing is a catharsis for me. I write to purge things. For instance, in Threads there are some mentions of rape. The entire book is an allegory. Everything is symbolic and a metaphor.  Each time I mention rape, think “corporate politics” because that was what I was writing about. In fact, I was writing about a specific situation in a specific company, and thinking about specific people.

The major theme of the book is “forgiveness”, which you can probably guess is a problem I have - I don’t analyze and write about problems I already solved. I worked through a real issue with an old friend, piece by piece, year after year, and reached the point at the end of the book where I was able to let it go and forgive. Nothing about the issue bothers me anymore, so the book was successful in moving me past it.

In my second book, I’m purging something else. So the second book is entirely different, and entirely unrelated to Threads.

4: Do you set goals for yourself when you sit down to write such as word count?


5: Are you a published or a self published author and how do you come up with your cover art?

I’m both. I self-published Threads because I didn’t want a publisher telling me to change anything, or telling me how to write. I was a software product manager – the boss. I wasn’t willing to relinquish that to a big publisher for my own creative work. I also understood that the book was too different to appeal to a large publisher, and that the theme of reincarnation was scary to a lot of people. In particular, Threads falls under about six or seven genres, which is always problematic. It’s essentially just “literary fiction”. In retrospect, it seems I’m ahead of the curve a lot, and Threads was way out there. Publishers want things that are hitting the “wave” right now, and sure enough the offers I got came with the caveat that I rewrite Threads for today’s wave, and I didn’t want to. However, I was contacted by an agent in Europe, who translated Threads into Italian and sold it to Italy’s biggest publisher, so I am officially “published”. That experience reinforced my belief that I’m an indie all the way.

My 12-year-old son drew the cover art. I took him to see Cirque du Soleil, and the next morning he was drawing pictures, telling me about this dream he had, inspired by the circus. He drew the original picture on black paper with White-Out, and I Photoshopped it. I know it isn’t great cover art in the professional sense, but I was proud, I thought the picture was really cool, and I’m a mom. He’s 24 now, and also a writer, and he still tells people he created my cover art. He may have even put it on his resume – I don’t know.

6: What drives you to choose the career of being a writer?

I always knew I was going to write, always, but I didn’t want to. I had no idea what to write about. I just figured I would know when the time came, and I would do it. At the point when I began writing Threads, I was still a software product manager, which means you have all of the responsibility for the performance of everyone on your team, and no power to fire anyone when they don’t perform. You simply have to step in and do their job for them when they flake out, or quit, or take maternity leave, all in addition to your own job, in order to meet the deadline. I always met the deadline. And you take the blame when things go wrong, and you’re caught between the demands of executives, the demands of the customer, and the demands of your team. You have a major crisis every day. So it’s a grueling, stressful, difficult job and I took it home with me.

Suddenly, I needed to write, and I had an idea of what I wanted to say. Threads was mental vomit. I began writing because I needed something to take off the pressure, and to take my mind off work. It was a safety valve. I probably couldn’t (or wouldn’t) ever write anything that complex and intricate again because I don’t have the same levels of stress to contend with.

7: Do you own an ebook reading device?

No, but I’m working on it.

8: Who are some of your favorite authors and What are you reading now?

I’m just about to read A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole for the second time. I also love the classics, like To Kill a Mockingbird, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I don’t tend to read genre fiction much.

9: What do you think of book trailers and do you have any plans to have any?

I don’t think much about them, and I have no plans to make one.

10: What are you working on now that you can talk about?

I’m working on a book about rock and roll in the 70s. I have to re-write the entire beginning because I’m not happy with it. No ETA.

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