Thursday, December 16, 2010

Menage a Trois: Part 1

It's wonderful having friends who are writers, sharing experiences, celebrating the good things and commiserating about the hard times. So first, some celebration: I am delighted that my great friend Vanessa Gebbie's first novel, The Coward's Tale, will be published by that venerable publishing house Bloomsbury, in the UK and the US, with hardback coming out in Nov 2011! Thrilling news and inspiring for all of us, it is a beautiful, poetic book, it's fantastic that a major publisher sees its potential for capturing a great readership. Congratulations!

Now, what is the title of this blog all about? Not just there to catch your eye... I have two writer friends, Sue Guiney - whose most recent novel, Clash of Innocents, was published in November - and Lauri Kubuitsile - Botswana-based author of 13 books - who are very prolific, writing all sorts of things, and a few months ago I thought I'd ask them how they did it. The 3-way conversation was fascinating, it went on and on... So we thought we'd split it in three parts and host a third each on our blogs, all on the same day - and also as part of Sue's virtual book tour. Hence: menage-a-trois. Right? Before I launch into my first third, here are their bios:

Sue Guiney: I'm a writer of fiction, poetry, plays. I'm a teacher of fiction, poetry, plays. Born and raised in New York, I've made my life in London with my husband and two sons.

Lauri Kubuitsile: I have 13 published books, including three books from my Kate Gomolemo Detective series. My children's book Mmele and the Magic Bones (Pentagon 2008) was shortlisted for the African Writers Prize (UK) and has since been chosen as a set book for all primary schools in Botswana.My short stories have won numerous prizes.In 2005, I was among three writers shortlisted for our national, biannual prize for creative writing the Orange/Botswerere Prize. In 2007, I took first position for the same prize.

And here's what we talked about. There'll be a link to Part 2, on Lauri's blog, at the bottom:

Tania: Hi Sue and Lauri. Tell us everything - everything - that you write!

Thanks so much for asking me to take part in this, Tania. So to begin, some may say my writing is all over the place:
Short stories
Magazine articles
My blog (of course)
Endless emails
Good morning Ladies,
Oh my- this might be a bit of an embarrassment showing explicitly what a writing whore I am but here goes:

Adult short stories
Short stories for kids
Detective novellas
Romance novellas
Adult novels
Children’s books
Magazine articles
Newspaper articles-primarily science and health
Newspaper column on writing books and publishing (this is new)
Radio educational programmes (science, maths and English for primary)
TV scripts- drama series for private production company and HIV/AIDS NGO
Science textbooks for primary and junior secondary school
English textbooks junior secondary

I think that’s it.
Tania: Wow! I had no idea that you were both so amazingly prolific. Ok next question, feel free to take your time with this:

2) How do you know what you're going to write before you start? Is it a conscious decision or not? Is it for some forms and not others?

Hi Guys. This is fun. I think I may be different from Sue as I must make a living from my writing, I must have a monthly income of a certain amount from writing. My husband is a government school headmaster (translated as low paying) and we have two kids. I need to work. I don’t want to take a day job. I want to earn my share from my writing. I know it is politically incorrect to say that I write to earn a living, but that’s it. Keeping it real- as it is.

I have two adult novels I wrote with no market in mind- I just wrote them- they sit unpublished and will likely remain there unless I break out and then conveniently die. From that experience, I know I don’t like writing that doesn’t get published. I view it as a failure (normally) or as a lesson when I’m being kind hearted.

So having said that, I always know where I’m going when I start. I don’t always know which publisher I will send to, or contest, or magazine but I know if I am writing a romance or an adult novel or a children’s book; I know if it will be genre or literary. I am an anal Capricorn – I plan most everything in my life, and after those first two ‘organic’ novels I decided I was going against my innate nature to do otherwise with my writing. Occasionally I will tweak something afterward to have it more streamlined for a particular mag or publisher that I eventually choose. I usually start with an idea that stews in my mind until it gets the right amount of ‘tension’ behind it, but when I get to work at the computer,  I know already what I am writing.
Hi Guys.  I’m back!
First, I want to say that I  think Lauri is amazing to be able to reliably have a monthly income from her writing.  That is something I have only dreamed of...I don’t think it is “politically incorrect” at all to say that you write for a living.  It is what I aspire to.  I am very lucky in that my family does not rely on me for income.  To be honest, if that was the case I’m not sure what sort of writing I’d be doing at all.

But as far as knowing what genre a new piece will be, like Lauri, I know at the start.  An idea will come to me, and the form it will take will come along with it.  With poetry, I do tend to sit down with my “poet’s head” on and think, “ok, it’s time to write a poem. What will it be?”  But with other genres, the piece itself will dictate the form.  For example, plays will grow out of a very visual kind of imagining.  Although all my writing, including poems, seems to originate with character, in a play I imagine that character in a specific space like a restaurant or a sitting room, whereas fiction places the character first and foremost in time.  When I write a story, the time is compressed, as in a day or a few hours.  In a novel, time expands to cover a series of months or a year.  Certainly, there have been great novels that take place in just one day (ie Joyce’s Ulysses). And there have been many short stories that cover an entire lifetime.  But for me, so far at least, fiction examines how a character evolves over time and the breadth of that time period helps to dictate the form.    But to be honest, I have recently found that the more pieces I have written and the more pieces I am trying to find a home for, the more I need to think about how much time I myself have.  Do I have the time or energy to begin to write something that I know can’t possibly take me less than a year or two to finish, like a novel, or should I wait before taking on another task of that magnitude and use my time to work on shorter pieces?  For the first time in my writing life I find myself in precisely that position right now.  I presently have a novel, 2 plays, a short story and a poetry collection “out there.”  I know all of them will eventually need revising and reworking.  So I’m holding off beginning the new novel I have in mind until most of what is already out there is really finished.  So I suppose I’m saying that the more writing becomes a business for me, the more I put brakes on myself and steer myself towards one genre or another, depending on outside unrelated factors.

Yes, this is fun.  Lob us another one, Tania!

Tania: This is fun! And very interesting. Is there anything you'd like to ask each other while I am formulating my thoughts?
...carry on reading over at Thoughts from Botswana>>>>


Rachel Fenton said...

Oh cool - I'm enjoying to read at Lauri's...

Sue Guiney said...

Thanks so much, Tania. What a great idea this way. Should we turn it into a book :-) ?

Vanessa Gebbie said...

So good! Off to read the others.

(and thank you for the mention - thats really kind!)

Lauri said...

Thanks for starting this conversation Tania. Perhaps if all goes well we will continue it in London in February. (that would be lovely...)

And Vanessa-HUGE congrats and so completely deserved!! Can't wait to read the book.

Tania Hershman said...

Rachel, hope you enjoyed it all!

Sue - it took long enough to turn it into a blog post! :)

Vanessa, my absolute pleasure!

Lauri, ah yes, that would be fabulous!