Cream Rises – A Writers Write Interview with N.D. Wilson

Ed Cyzewski, one of the most generous and thoughtful writers I know, connected me with N.D. Wilson, and I’m so very grateful.  I love a writer who is able to balance confidence with humility and who knows that our work as writers is about writing . . . that the rest will follow.  So today, enjoy N.D. Wilson in our latest Writers Write interview.

1. Tell me about your latest project.

Death by Living. The book is a combination of memoir, meditation, and narrative gratitude. The focus is on our own mortality and how gratitude for the past, and an accurate perspective of ourselves living in our divinely appointed moments, can help us live more fully and more faithfully as we create more of that past with our own choices and actions. Death By Living_Book Cover_High Resolution

2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?

I would say that they played as great a role as, say, meals. I ate every day. I don’t remember most of those meals (though I do remember some), but they still fed, nourished and shaped me. My parents were reading stories to us all the time. They were telling us stories all the time. My grandparents were telling us stories all the time. And we fed on those stories…because they really were meals–nourishing and shaping our imaginations, sensibilities, and loyalties. I can’t possibly begin to imagine my childhood without books and stories.

3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?

It varies depending on the stage of the project, but I’m currently on a kick of trying not to work nights (after years and years of writing at night). We’ll see how long I last! Even if I am doomed to fail, I’m attempting to write in the day and then do my reading and pondering and mulling at night. So far, so lovely. But when a deadline looms or a story grabs me by the back of the neck and demands that I finish it, I suspect that I will once again find myself sitting at a desk by moonlight, wondering if I will still be there at dawn.

4. Who are you reading now?

At the moment: Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear, Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe, Dark Lies the Island by Kevin Barry, Clear Winter Nights by Trevin Wax, and (my thriller airplane read) Siege by somebody or other.

5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?

That Hideous Strength (my favorite novel in large part because of its effortless and awesome myth-weaving), Orthodoxy (because it widened my eyes and still does), and Leave it to Psmith (brilliant and hilarious, its sap still won’t wash off my prose).

6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?

For me, it’s all the same thing. I haven’t really set out to build a platform, but I have tried to maintain a consistent voice/brand. I can focus on making my stuff as good as I can make it, trying to cook meals that taste great and smell wonderful from blocks away. If I’m doing that, I’m happy. I think many authors spend too much time ‘platforming’ and too little time seeking and soliciting tough criticism, refining craft, expanding insight, etc. There are some authors who go about their art like they are building bee traps instead of books. Nothing immoral about that, it’s just not who I want to be. I am on twitter (only because a publicist said I could set up an account or she would start one and begin tweeting for me–my handle became @ndwilsonmutters in snickering protest). I do enjoy twitter, despite its distractions. I forgot my linkedin password, and I have never plugged into Facebook (nor will I). To me, my inbox is a rustling pile of leaves. I crunch through it, missing the majority of what’s there regardless of import, and rely on others to tell me when to pay any attention to it. I love the business of creating, and the business of tasting the creation. The peddling my wares bit, well, let’s just call it a weak spot and leave it at that…

7.What is a typical day like for you?
Man, I need to get me some of those. What is this ‘typical day’ of which you speak?

8. Describe your dream writing space?

I built an attic loft above the covered porch that’s off the master bedroom in our very tall DIY home. I’ve now written at least…five books up there, and it still treats me well. Gorgeous view through rustling tree-tops, mini-fridge, bookshelves. I hope to add a spiral stair that directly accesses the loft from the bedroom. But before that, I wrote in the kids’ playroom, and that was awesome too (although it required headphones).

9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?

I want to be quick to receive criticism (any accurate criticism is my friend and will only improve my future work). But if something is clearly wrong (or just irrelevant), I blow it off quickly and move on. Recently, my horrified wife forwarded me an email in which someone wanted to toss something truly gnarly on me. I won’t even bother to repeat it here. My wife was upset by it, but it really didn’t bother me…because it wasn’t true. My texted reply (to my wife) consisted entirely of: Silly.

10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?

Focus on controlling what you can control, and don’t fret about the rest. Make your stuff as good as you possibly can make it, steward your gifts, refine your craft, and realize that you live in a world in which cream rises. He who is excellent in his work will stand before kings. Every truly great writer has a different story about how they rose up to cultural influence, but they all have one thing in common–they were truly great. Be faithful with what you have been given and God will bless it. Faithfulness and diligence please Him. No other critic matters. No other critic can remove that endorsement

ND Wilson_Headshot_High ResolutionN. D. Wilson is the best-selling author of the 100 Cupboards
trilogy (now in more than 20 languages) and the acclaimed Ashtown Burialsseries (both from Random House). Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl was adapted into the widely distributed “bookumentary” film of the same name.

He has adventured on camera for the National Geographic Channel and is currently involved in producing C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce for the screen (which he adapted himself). His writing has been featured on media outlets ranging from NBC’s Today show to NPR’s All Things Considered.

He was born and raised in Moscow, Idaho, where he currently lives with his wife and their five young kids (along with two tortoises and a snake). He is a Fellow of Literature at New Saint Andrews College, where he teaches freshmen how to play with words.

Leave a comment here on the blog and share this interview for a chance to win a copy of Wilson’s book Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World. A comment gets you one entry and each share another. In your comment, be sure to tell me where you shared it so that I can give you your full-scape of entries.

I’ll announce the winner on Tuesday, September 3rd. Good luck!

  • Kelly Chripczuk

    Yes! books as meals, that’s the childhood I remember and the one my kids are having.
    Sometimes it feels like it’s just the ones who’ve “risen” who say things like “cream rises.” I get the point, don’t focus on promoting yourself, focus on writing, but there’s some truth that we live in a wold where connections, privilage and opportunity play a large part. (but maybe that’s just the jealous, insecure part of me that’s been growing lately as, ironically, I’ve had less time to focus on writing and connecting . . . )

    • Andi

      I’ve been thinking about your comment for the weekend, Kelly, because a lot of me agrees with you . . . that it’s more than good work that gets us “to the top.” But I’m also pausing with that idea because I think about the fact that most of my favorite writers – Kathleen Norris, Marilyn Robinson, Chaim Potok – didn’t do all this marketing.

      Still not sure what to make of it. . . but thanks for helping me ponder.

  • Diana Trautwein

    Wow. Here’s a time when I feel really, REALLY old and out-of-touch. This interview is my intro to a completely new writer (I also saw his name on a home-schooling mom’s blog that I love, but wrongly assumed that he must be a home-schooler’s author – ha!) – new to me, that is. Thank you, Andi, for hosting Ed here and thank you, Ed, for giving me another list of books to read. Wonderful interview.

    • Andi

      Hi Diana, Without Ed’s introduction, I would not have known of N.D. Wilson either . . . not sure how I missed him, but I’m eager to keep reading his work. Thanks for reading.

      Also, you won the giveaway. I’ll be in touch.

  • Raye Cage

    I loved the answer in question #10 – “…steward your gifts, refine your craft…”.

    Question #8 – One of my favorite questions in your interview. I enjoy getting to peek into a writer’s creative space.

    • Andi

      Me, too, Raye. I loved Wilson’s advice . . . and his writing space sounds lovely doesn’t it?

  • Sandra Heska King

    I wanted to get this book when it first came out. But now, since I’m intentionally trying to develop that wide-eyed wonder, I think it’d mean even more. Shared on FB, Twitter, and Google Plus.

    • Andi

      Thanks for sharing so widely, Sandra.

  • Ryan Higginbottom

    I’ve seen so much good press on this book from people I respect. And this interview was great! I’d love to win this book.

  • Andrew

    Sweet! Love this author, love this book. Would love to win the giveaway.

  • Rachel

    I love this response about platforming! “I think many authors spend too much time ‘platforming’ and too little time seeking and soliciting tough criticism, refining craft, expanding insight, etc. There are some authors who go about their art like they are building bee traps instead of books.”

    If you want people to read what you write, you don’t need to push them into supporting you, you keep writing and writing and ripping up what you write and rewriting it until you’ve got something that people want to read. Remember what you want as a READER when you’re writing. Not that you’re writing for some particular audience, per se, but that you would actually want to read what you wrote.

    That’s the good stuff, I think. Honing your skills, sharpening that pencil.

  • LarryTheDeuce

    AndI, I love reading about these authors you feature here. I’ll be sharing this on Twitter and Facebook.