The interview I had lined up today fell through, so I thought I’d take a stab at my own questions . . . just, you know, to see if I’m asking people ridiculously hard things that I don’t know how to answer myself. Prepare yourself for a rather postmodern post where I interview myself. 🙂
My latest book is called The Slaves Have Names, and it tells the stories of the incredible people who were enslaved on the plantation where I was raised. The book uses primary source research and my own imagination to craft timelines and profiles of these people, and it also tells my story of how I came to know these amazing individuals. I’ve been working on the book for three years – much of that time in research – and I’m so excited to have it out now so that others can know this wonderful community of people who survived despite the brutality and seeming hopelessness of slavery.
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
Most nights, Mom had to tell me to put the book down and eat dinner. I read all the time, as did my parents. I read everything I could – from National Geographic Magazines to George MacDonald novels to those Christian romances for teenagers that were titled with various women’s names.
I didn’t write much, though. Sometimes in the car, I would make up songs that were really stories, but beyond that, I was mostly just focused on reading. . . so that’s probably why I went to school for literature. I was hoping someone would pay me to read books.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
My goal is to always write 1,000 words a day, five days a week. Whether those words come in a blog post, a magazine article, my work-in-progress, just 1,000 words. I used to write in the morning – after I quelled my social media addiction but before I got too tired. But then I read a study that showed we are more creative when we are tired, so now, I usually save my time with my work-in-progress for the end of the day when fatigue makes me less of a brutal censor.
4. Who are you reading now?
At present, I’m reading Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, which is beautiful and hard and written with graceful power.
I’m also reading Veronica Roth’s Divergent. It’s completely fun and captivating, and I love the truly strong women in the book.
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
(For everyone who has answered this question before and commented on how hard it is, I get it now. I so get it.) Okay, so three books – first, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis is my all-time favorite. I read it as a child, and I re-read it over and over just so I can escape to Narnia.
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott speaks to my experience of faith – if not life – better than any book I’ve ever read. It’s wide open to the way God steps into life in so many ways, almost always never prim or proper.
Third, I’d say Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver OR Made from Scratch by Jenna Woginrich because these books inspired my vision for God’s Whisper Farm and showed me that – without a doubt – I could do this.
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
Well, right now, I’m definitely heavy on the platform side of the see-saw because I’m in the throes of book promotion. That said, I try really hard to think of “platform-building” as part of the writing process just as talking with people at readings is. Still, it’s easy to get lost in the promotion and forget the work. Hence, my goal of 1,000 words a day – it keeps me sane; it keeps me focused on what matters.
7.What is a typical day like for you?
Most days I’m up at 6:30 to, first, make coffee. Then, I pack P’s lunch and get us some breakfast. After he leaves for work, I sit down and take care of some jobs that are due first thing in my role as a contract writer. By 8am, I hope to be working on my blog post for the day and then I slide into social media, editing work, content writing, research for hire, and all the other pieces that make up my day as a writer and researcher. I often end the day by writing and then sometimes reading the work that members of our online writing community or my writing workshops have submitted for critique. I usually end the day on the couch with P watching Gold Rush or something from HGTV while I crochet and sip chamomile tea. . . that last part sounded kind of idyllic, and I guess it is.
8. Describe your dream writing space?
On the second story of a building where I can look out at as much of the vegetable and animals worlds with as few visual interruptions by the human world as is possible. I want a big window with a big farm table as my desk. Bookshelves all around. A dog bed at my feet and a tall cat tree behind so that all of can be in the same room without bloodshed. Fresh flowers on the desk . . . and light . . . lots of light.
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
In a workshop once, a woman who is now a dear friend told me that I seemed angry in my piece but that I was trying to play that off as cute. Of course, my reaction was to, well, get angry . . . but she was right. My own fears about being angry and expressing that anger in life were coming through on the page . . . her words gave me the impetus to be more honest on the page . . . and to stop hiding my real feelings under cuteness in my daily life, too. Still, her comments devastated me for a long time.
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
Write first. Don’t worry about publishers or copyright or images or agents. Don’t fret about sales or platform or the exact route of your extensive book tour until you have words on the page – good words that you’ve wrestled with for a long time. Because without those words, none of that other stuff matters. Write first. . . that’s the hard part. The other things – there are answers and guides for those when the time comes. But your work is to write.
Thanks for reading my interview, folks. If you have other questions for me, I’d love to know them, and I”ll do my best to answer honestly without a mask of cuteness. So what do you want to know?