If I lived in Europe, I would want to be a part of the Geneva Writers group partially because I just miss my friend Amanda Callendrier, who is part of the group, but also because I’d like to work with people like Katie Hayoz and Nancy Freund. But until I get that chateau, I’ll have to settle for just getting to know these wonderful folks through the interwebs. Today, you get a bit of that privilege, too, because I’m honored to host Nancy Freund for today’s Writers Write interview. Enjoy.
1. Tell me about your latest work.
In addition to getting a husband settled into a new job and new country, a kid settled into his university freshman year in another new country, and my other son settled into being a teen-ager in the same country with me, my latest project is the fabulous and all-consuming job of starting a new global indie publisher, Gobreau Press, and launching our first title, Rapeseed. Its pubdate is September 1st, and I’ve been at it 24/7, flat out, for months. Loving every minute of it.
Rapeseed tells the story of Carolann Cooper, a synesthete with cross-wired senses coloring her numbers and letters, and muddling together phantom smells, sounds, and turbulent memories – often focused on secrets she’s keeping for her husband and from her husband as well. His job moves the family from Kansas to England, tearing them away from their carefully constructed history. Carolann has to untangle her own story to restore her marriage, but her teenage son is making new foreign friends and rushing toward a dangerous future. Even through the sensory disruptions of her neurological condition, she can clearly see she’ll have to choose to save one or the other.
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
Books were and are just about the most important thing! Fiction, non-fiction, humor magazines, you name it. Both of my parents worked for humor magazines. My mom was associate editor of Cracked in New York. She also dealt with the letters to the editor for a lesser known publication called Man’s Action. She’s never been shy. How I wish just one issue of that magazine would have survived! My dad ran the Stanford humor magazine, the Chaparral, in California. So I was born of that. A Cracked Chappie. It probably requires a level of insanity to want to start a publishing house – and certainly to write a bunch of fiction.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
I write best in surrounded solitude. I love to write in pubs and restaurants, with all kinds of distant action around my periphery. But often I need empty space, an empty house, a big open field, a quiet forest. I can “talk out” a scene or a chapter into a voice recorder on a long walk and then come home and type it up, fine-tuning as I go. Today, people must think I’m on the phone – sometimes I am, leaving myself long-winded messages. But in the early 90s, walking around Wimbledon Common with my voice recorder, I got some funny looks.
4. Who are you reading now?
Today I am savouring every page of two writers I know through the Geneva Writers Group – Bret Lott’s Oprah-pick Jewelis truly a gem on every page. I am purposely moving through it like molasses to make it last. Same thing exactly with Katie Hayoz’s YA astral projection novel Untethered. I loved your recent interview with Katie! She’s the coolest writer I’ve met recently, and that book is awesome. The last book I whipped through was James Salter’s All That Is. A lot going on there, but I didn’t need to slow myself down to savor it.
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
Three all-time favourite books? An evil, evil question because there are a hundred all-time favourite books! (And if I get a hundred, I’d need a thousand). But ok, three: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I taught high risk high school seniors in LA, my first job out of grad school, 39 “kids” (some already married, some with children, some already in and out of jail, some living in their cars, some in gangs) in a classroom coded by the fire department for maximum 24 children. I arrived the week before school and learned we had no textbook. My goal was to keep them coming to class. And by the way, I was told, some of your students might be on drugs. So I ran straight to UCLA and checked out everything I could find on Lewis Carroll and Alice and I tried to make it work as their first required reading. It was NOT entirely successful. In some respects it was a disaster. Those kids tore me to pieces the first few weeks. I lost like 20 pounds from stress! But they kept coming to class, and suddenly I think there was actual teaching and learning going on. I did win a Rookie Teacher of the Year award in our school district, and I think that’s one reason why. I will love Lewis Carroll all my life for that. Two more? Murakami’s Wind-up Bird Chronicles which I read alongside my son while we toured universities. A wonderful intellectual connection there. Reading Murakami’s like what they say about excellent paintings – every time you look, you see something different. One last one? Richard Russo – Nobody’s Fool. That guy knows PEOPLE. Can I just throw Pat Conroy out too? And Myfanwy Collins? And OMG, Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose. Wally Lamb, I Know This Much Is True. And Barbara Kinsolver’s Poisonwood Bible!
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
I’m terrible with balance! I had a blog for a while, and all I wanted to do was blog! I got no fiction writing accomplished. Now I’m starting a business, and even though it’s directly connected to the fiction, it’s pulling me away from writing. It’s like I’m building not just a platform but the whole support structure behind it. But I’ve always loved the business side of things. I do seem to do things the hard way sometimes, but I guess I’m hoping the “platform” will build itself naturally. Naive, probably.
7. What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day is all over the place. The one thing I try to fit in to my routines is a little gym time or a good walk and some kind of structure around my meals. I’m type 1 diabetic, so I have to keep my head on straight with that, no matter where the rest of my day might be spent in fiction-ville.
8. Describe your dream writing space.
For the first time I have a great office in my house. Bookshelves and file cabinets on two whole walls, room for my dog to lie at my feet, a chair to sit and read, and a view of the lake and Swiss mountains. From here, we look across to Evian, in France. I think I finally have my dream space! But I also like a beer-stained, crowded English pub for writing. I’m easy to please.
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
Silly, but the hardest writing critique I’ve had was when a friend and beta reader once said “I don’t see anything wrong with it.” She didn’t gush or say anything good about the novel, but she just couldn’t find anything to criticise either. I knew it had utterly failed – at least for her. Once an agent told me I needed to write more like Girl with a Pearl Earring. That was just weird.
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
My best advice is just keep doing it! Writing is great fun, but submitting is awful. Your best work almost always comes back to you, dealing huge blows to your psyche. Don’t quit. Launching any creative endeavour takes crazy perseverance. It’s all a war of attrition, so DON’T ATTRISH.
Nancy Freund is the author of four novels to be published by Gobreau Press, specializing in “expat and elsewhere fiction.” Born in New York, raised in Kansas City, and educated in Los Angeles, she is a citizen of the U.S. and the UK and lives in French-speaking Switzerland. Writer-in-residence for Necessary Fiction in September 2012, she has also had shorter works published in BloodLotus Journal, The Istanbul Review, Offshoots in Geneva, and Zurich-based literary magazine The Woolf. She is the 2013 winner of the first Geneva Writers Fiction prize, for Marcus, chosen by American novelist Bret Lott. Rapeseed is her debut novel, coming out in September, 2013. You can find her work at www.nancyfreund.com or on Facebook.