If you are a fan of fairy tales and mystery, you won’t want to miss this interview with novelist Stephanie Feldman.
1. Tell me about your latest project.
My first novel, The Angel of Losses, just entered the world this week. It’s about a young woman named Marjorie who discovers her late grandfather’s notebook containing a dark fairy tale about a wizard and his partner–or enemy–the Angel of Losses. When a mysterious old man appears, claiming to have known her grandfather, Marjorie realizes that the story holds the key not just to her family’s past, but to an old debt that now threatens her estranged sister and baby nephew.
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
I was one of those kids who always had a book in hand, and I’ve been writing as long as I can remember, too. The role storytelling plays in the lives of both children and adults is at the heart of The Angel of Losses.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
I write in the mornings while my daughter’s in school. I finally have my very own writing space at home, but I find I need to move around to stay focused, so I often end up in the kitchen or local coffee shop. I need my computer—I think more quickly than I can write longhand. I usually listen to music, too. It gives me a little lift, and somehow, drowns out my inner critic.
4. Who are you reading now?
I just finished The Boy Detective Failsby Joe Meno, which, as you might guess from the title, borrows some old adventure story tropes, and now I’m reading Submergence by J.M. Ledgard, which is stark (the opening takes place in a war zone). As a reader, I like both genre-bending and straight realism, and tend toward heavier subject matter. Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn is next on my list. I just read Rebecca for the first time last year and loved it. Twisted gothic romances are my definition of a summer read—that’s probably all you need to know to figure me out as writer and reader.
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
Three books from my “favorites” shelf that I’m always recommending:
Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig. Two Argentine cellmates, an apolitical window-dresser incarcerated for homosexuality and a young political prisoner, become friends as the former recounts his favorite movies. The entire novel is in dialogue–realistic, lovely dialogue–which is a feat in itself. (Credit also to the translator.) And I love the combination of transporting, melodramatic tales and the intimate, evolving relationship between the two men.
Speciman Days by Michael Cunningham. Another set of interlocking tales, with three characters who inhabit an industrial-era ghost story; a contemporary detective story; and futuristic sci-fi story, complete with green alien. First of all, Cunningham’s language is beautiful, and it’s so smart the way he incorporates Walt Whitman and his verse and imagines the same people in wildly different settings.
The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman. This book—about a prostitute and a grave-robbing doctor during a cholera epidemic in Victorian England—remains a model novel to me. Beautiful writing, real characters, a measured and carefully constructed plot, and socially pressing themes.
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
I have an online presence, but I’m not sure it’s a writing platform. I like to write novels, so I don’t have essays and stories or other polished work to post frequently. I do enjoy Twitter and Tumblr, though, so that’s where I spend my energy. It’s great to connect with other writers and readers, and a fun way to take a break from long-form writing.
7.What is a typical day like for you?
I try to focus on fiction when I have a concentrated block of time in the mornings (my creative brain also works better that time of day). In the afternoons, I scramble to play with my daughter, run errands, and keep up with email and other online stuff. I fit in reading whenever I can. I used to work in an office, and strange as it is, I miss my train commute the most–the subway was my own reading nook. I may be the New York 7-train’s most devoted fan.
8. Describe your dream writing space?
Limited Internet access and unlimited caffeine.
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
After 10 years of submitting to agents and editors, along with another few years of workshops, it’s all a blur! What stands out most is the practice I’ve put in to responding. (My natural instinct is to wallow in despair.)
In every critique, I look for something I can use to improve the story. The more extensive, more detailed the critique, the better (I tell myself)— that much more opportunity to elevate the next draft. And there is a great rush of endorphins when you unlock a story’s problem, even if it’s a problem you couldn’t see until someone pointed it out to you.
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
Appreciate the work for the work’s sake. Of course, we all want to share our writing with readers, and many of us want to publish in one form or another, but we can’t allow the outcomes—reviews and “likes” and numbers—to overtake the meaning we find in the process.
Is that wisdom, or an impossible challenge? In any case, it’s what I’m struggling to master right now.
Stephanie Feldman is a graduate of Barnard College. She lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and daughter. The Angel of Losses is her first novel. You can read more of Feldman’s work on her website – www.stephaniefeldman.com or follow her on Twitter – @sbfeldman