Another of the wonderful writers I’ve met here on this binary world . . . so appreciate her thoughts on platform and writing. I think you will, too – Faye Rapoport DesPres.
My first book, Message from a Blue Jay, was published on May 14 by an independent press in New Jersey called Buddhapuss Ink. Initially the manuscript was a collection of individual personal essays, but as I went through the process of working with an agent and submitting to publishers I received some advice to edit it into more of a chronological narrative. I took two pieces out, added two more, and edited the manuscript into a more cohesive book. The final result is what is sometimes called a “Memoir-in-Essays” – it reads as a memoir tied together by an introduction but maintains the individuality, to an extent, of the personal essays. The pieces work together to form a narrative of my “middle decade,” the years between 40 and 50 (but the audience of the book is definitely not limited to people in that decade). The book starts in the backyard of a rented house in Boulder, Colorado, at a moment when I began to re-evaluate my life, which had been somewhat rootless and nomadic up to that point. I hadn’t followed the “usual” path. The text explores a few important memories, then follows me through some travels back to places where I’d lived (England and Israel, for example) and through the discovery and experiences of some key relationships. I also write a lot about the natural world and how it informs the moments in the book, as nature and animals have always inspired me.
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
I often say that I was a restless child, which is true, so it was difficult for me to sit still and read a lot. I did have favorite series of young adult mysteries that I read faithfully (Trixie Belden comes to mind) and I read all of James Herriot’s books and some other classics, like Black Beauty (as you can tell, my love for animals started at a young age). I started a diary when I was very young and still have years of my old diaries on my shelves (now I write a “journal”). I also began reading and writing poems when I was in high school and fell in love with poetry. High school English classes introduced me to classics like Shakespeare. I have always been drawn to classic literature.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
It varies. During my studies at the low-residency Solstice MFA Program (at Pine Manor College near Boston), I did my freelance writing work in the mornings (I’ve done a lot of business, PR, and marketing writing, social media work, and manuscript editing to bring in a paycheck) and then worked on my creative reading and writing in the afternoons. A lot of the pieces that are in Message from a Blue Jay started as individual essays I wrote during the MFA program and then later submitted to literary journals. While I was working on the full manuscript for Message from a Blue Jay, I woke up early and wrote from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. every morning before the rest of the world intruded. I’m still trying to figure out a post-Message from a Blue Jay routine!
4. Who are you reading now?
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
As everyone probably says, this is a tough question. Just three? I am a Jane Austen fan, and I love Pride and Prejudice and her other work. I also was deeply affected by the Russian classics War and Peace and Anna Karenina. I’ve really enjoyed some modern work, too, including The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Of course, I love personal essayists, too, so…truly, the list could go on.
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
I find this to be a bit of a struggle as I work to promote Message from a Blue Jay. Because I have done social media work for businesses as a freelancer, I have been on social media for some time. I enjoy interacting and connecting with interesting people, and if you want to do this successfully through social media, you have to be present on a regular basis. This has helped me as an author and writer – it helped to connect with other writers and with editors, and to have that “platform” and following when I was shopping my manuscript. In fact, I met my publisher on Twitter (which was ironic, because my agent had been sending out my manuscript for months the “old-fashioned” way before it was requested over Twitter). But social media can be a bit too time consuming – all of those interesting people to meet and conversations to take part in and links to read! — and can really eat into your writing and just plain real-life living time. I now limit my time on the Internet (even if I have to use a timer) so that I can focus more on my writing again. When I am writing, I usually turn on the Freedom software to block the Internet.
7.What is a typical day like for you?
I don’t really have a typical day (much as Message from a Blue Jay shows that I haven’t really had a “typical” life!). Right now I have an office job in the mornings four days a week, and in the afternoons I juggle freelance work, writing, reading, working out, feeling restless, taking photos of the birds and wildlife in our backyard, humanely trapping homeless cats to get them to a vet and adopted to give them a better life, pacing, running errands, trying to figure out the rest of my life…in the evenings I spend time hanging out with my husband.
8. Describe your dream writing space?
I’ve written in all kinds of spaces, but I notice that I do best in a quiet, natural, outdoor environment…or in a space with a window where I can see a quiet, natural, outdoor environment.
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
When I started the MFA program, I had been writing as a journalist for many years. I hadn’t done much creative writing during those years, and I had never been in a creative writing workshop. The students in the group liked the vignettes I had presented as my first try at a creative manuscript, but one of the faculty members called the writing “flat.” I think I teared up a little bit. What I didn’t realize was that I had no idea yet how to “fashion a text” (to quote Annie Dillard, I think) in a creative way. That same faculty member approached me after the workshop and told me not to be upset and offered to explain what she meant. We met one afternoon, and she introduced me to some of the basic concepts of creative writing (which I needed after years of journalism – don’t get me wrong, I love journalism, but it’s different). Things took off after that, and I never looked back.
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
Work hard. Don’t give up. Listen to critique from people you admire and respect, and take other critique lightly. In the end, if you believe in something, stick with it. Expect rejection, and don’t let it stop you. Don’t let anything stop you. All that’s really important is that you can look back one day and say, “I gave it my all.”
Faye Rapoport DesPres earned her M.F.A. from the Solstice Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College, and she is an Adjunct Professor of English at Lasell College. Her essays, fiction, poetry, interviews, and reviews have appeared in a number of literary journals and magazines, including Ascent, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Eleven Eleven, Hamilton Stone Review, Platte Valley Review, Prime Number Magazine, Superstition Review, In the Arts, Fourth Genre, and the Writer’s Chronicle. Her website is www.fayerapoportdespres.com, and you can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.