In an ongoing series of author interviews (check out the others here) I’ve invited Jo Perry to answer my usual questions.
For those of you that haven’t come across this series before, I ask the same questions to different writers to let my readers compare everyone’s habits. I’m a believer that you can never define the ‘right’ way to write, but you can get inspiration from others. If you’d like to have a crack at the questions, don’t be shy, send me a message through my contact page.
So, thanks to Jo for answering my questions – I’ll hand over to her right now…
What’s your track record – what have you written?
I wrote poetry, wrote and produced episodic television, and did reviews and articles before I arrived (late) to novel-writing. My series of mysteries feature a dead man and a dead dog who leave the afterlife to fight crime and injustice–– Dead Is Better, Dead Is Best, and Dead Is Good––and are published by Fahrenheit Press/Fahrenheit13. I am working on the fourth book in the series now, tentatively called Dead Is Beautiful. Please don’t hold me to that title.
Why do you write?
I can’t help writing. I’ve always written. I wrote poems until I got mad and broke up with poetry a decade or two ago.
I’ve been writing some short stories now, too. I feel at home writing and I when I’m writing I feel free.
My father was a comedy writer. When he wasn’t writing jokes, he was writing letters. The sound of his typewriter was the soundtrack to my family’s life. My husband is a novelist so nothing’s changed except that keyboards are silent now.
What makes a successful days writing?
When I find myself in a place I didn’t plan or expect, or when a completely new character arrives unannounced, or when my heroes find themselves facing a problem or conflict I didn’t engineer in advance––or when they feel something new––that’s a successful day.
A good writing day is a day when I get lost in what I’m writing and have to find a way out––which will lead to the next day’s getting lost, of course, but that’s what’s exhilarating.
A good writing day is a day when I can overcome my doubts and simply write.
A good writing day is a day when I keep going even when the book scares me.
Whether these “good” days add up to “success” is another thing–the reader gets to decide that. But when I’m not bullshitting myself, when I have trusted my characters to know what they are doing and who they are, when the stuff I write feels true, that’s a win.
When do you feel most productive?
The point one reaches in a novel when one is pretty much living inside it, even dreaming it, is when I am most productive.
Do you have a writing routine? What is it?
Usually after lunch. When the coffee is fresh and strong and there’s no escape and Glenn Gould is playing Bach––that’s when I’m in the zone.
What stops you from writing?
Everything. Nothing. The cats. The dogs. The hummingbird feeder, which I see is empty right now.
People I love. People I hate. The mail. Dust. Twitter. Newspapers. Politics.
And when my energy flags, when my confidence has taken a hit, it’s easier to not write than to write. Writing requires vulnerability, don’t you think?
And yes, writing is a pleasure. But it is also failure and often lonely. Writing is risk-taking. Writing means not-knowing. Those are not always fun feelings.
Writing requires selfishness, too. You can’t do stuff on demand, you can’t be nice all the time, you can’t be constantly social and write much.
Saying “yes” stops me from writing.
Saying “no” is the most reliable writing aphrodisiac.
Say you’ve hit a slump. What do you do to get going again?
I rewrite. And rewrite again. Yeah, and again. I keep going over the book or story until I end up seeing the stuck place in a new way. But sometimes, too, I just have to stop writing and let my subconscious work on the problem that my rational mind can’t solve.
I’ve found my way around dead-ends in my dreams, while scrubbing the sink, walking the dogs. The answer will come when my mind is elsewhere.
What advice would you give someone who can’t get their writing going?
The best advice is advice from mystery writer, psychologist and writing (and writers’ block) expert Dennis Palumbo. I recommend him highly–his books and his writing/pyschology stuff.
Palumbo distinguishes the writer from what she’s written. He advises the stuck writer (and I am paraphrasing) to think about the problem as completely separate from herself, as not being “her” problem at all: The writing slump/problem/block does not originate with you, your abilities, deficits, etc. It’s a practical problem, a problem on the page, that is all. It’s fixable.
The problem’s source could be plot . It could be character. It could be dialogue. But viewed the problem/block as separate from the self is liberating and clarifying.
The other advice I got was this: Writing is thinking.
The explains why writing is so fucking hard.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever had?
My husband, novelist Thomas Perry suggested this: Listen to all criticism. Even when it’s ludicrous and factually “wrong,” The reader is reacting to “something”–he may not express that something clearly or locate it accurately in the text, but it’s there. Pay attention, find out what’s bothering him.
That said, you have to be true to your book, to your characters. You can’t please everyone. Although it’s scary, be yourself. In the end you have to please yourself. You have to live with what you’ve written.
Where can people find out more about you?
I have a website: www.authorjoperry.com that introduces me and my books.
Want to appear on Write with Phil?
Jo responded to a shout out of mine on Twitter – you can follow me here – but as you’re reading this you might want to talk to me directly! I’m happy to consider author interviews, guest posts or anything else you can think of – send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or check out my contribute page.