In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll tell you right up front that this week’s Woman Writer Wednesday interviewee is one of my favorite people in the world, in addition to being the book “dealer” I go to when I need a hit of awesome. Chandra Rooney is the author of The Tarot Cafe: The Wild Hunt and all sorts of lovely things at her blog Dreaming In Red.
Today’s interviewee is writer/poet Rachel V. Olivier, whose most recent work, the apocalyptic romance Needs Must When The Devil Drives, is available from Sam’s Dot Publishing.
1. What/who inspired you to become a writer?
When I was a kid I was a big reader of the Little House on the Prairie books as well as the Little Women books. I loved Laura Ingalls and Jo March, the characters. They wanted to be writers. And they were the “face” of the authors of those books as Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott. I loved them. They were independent, they made mistakes, they said the wrong things, and sometimes did the wrong things, but they were funny and good and they wrote stories. I was nine years old and that’s when I decided I wanted to be an author when I grew up. After that, it was just figuring out what to write and what “being” a writer meant. I read lots of books, learning about the authors of my favorite books, like L.M. Montgomery, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. I also read lots of plays I remember finding in a back corner of the library. I don’t know why, but I was fascinated with plays and wanted to direct them in our backyard – maybe it was the Jo March thing. Anyway, I loved reading how the plays would set up the stage direction and the dialogue and figuring out how you would do that. That was all grade school. And sometimes the dream to become a writer would be shoved to the back while I considered being a nurse/doctor/missionary/architect/violinist – etc., but it always came back.
2. What do you like most about the genre[s] you write in?
I’ve always been a colorful magpie kind of person. I used to want one of those groovy rainbow-on-a-bright-blue-background bedspreads. I love signing my books and things with either silver or gold felt marker pens. I like sparkly crystals. I loved being in China, and going to a Chinatown in San Francisco, or here in Los Angeles, and seeing all the red and gold and black shoved together. I loved that. I love deep blue, turquoise, orange and yellow and green and purple and… I used to paint, though I haven’t in a long time. Not pictures, all the time. Sometimes I just put colors together on a canvas to see what would happen. Sometimes a picture would grow out of that, sometimes it wouldn’t. That’s what writing in the realm of speculative fiction does for me. To me, realist, contemporary literature is like working with charcoal on cream paper, there’s strength in it, but it’s not my strength. It’s interesting and a good mental exercise. I love black and white artistic photos, just as I love some contemporary or regular literature, but it’s not my strength.
And I get really impatient when people try to impose the “discipline” of “literachure” on my fun rainbow colored genre. I hate it when “they” (whoever they may be – sometimes people outside the genre, but many times people inside the genre, which is surprising to me) try to suppress the colors and life and joy in science fiction and fantasy. I feel like they’re trying to get rid of the merry-go-round and swings on the playground and only keep the bars because they’re “good” for you. Or trying to take my five dimensional world and make it flat and two dimensional.
3. What’s the best piece of writing-related advice you’ve received?
Doesn’t matter how much you talk about it, the writing won’t get done until you sit your ass in the chair and actually do the writing, do the work. That’s pretty much paraphrased from something I read on Neil Gaiman’s blog a while ago. I also remember seeing Vicki Petterssen saying something similar on Facebook. And it’s a truth I keep coming back to, I can do all the “pre-writing” in my head that I want, but it doesn’t count unless I actually sit down and put it on a page somewhere. And then, I need to keep at it – write, rewrite and revise until I’m tired of looking at it. Let it sit and revise some more. And then put it out there in the world to see what happens.
4. Is there any type of writing you’d like to try that you haven’t already?
I want to write murder mysteries. I love reading murder mysteries, but I’m weak at that type of plot structure, so I haven’t attempted it, yet. Though I have several outlines in a folder somewhere of ideas I’ve had. And I’d like to do hard science fiction, but those will come later I think.
5. You write poetry, which is a skill I have never learned and greatly envy! What inspires you to write poems, and does your process differ from your prose-writing process?
To me, writing poetry is like making liqueur or essential oils or espresso. It’s a distillation and refining process. There’s a feeling or some ephemeral something that I want to hang onto, to capture for a moment and try to describe and it wants to be it’s own discrete thing. Sometimes it’s a longer bit and sometimes it’s a shorter bit. But it’s usually just this thing, it’s ineffable, I can’t describe it, that I want to capture and describe or explore. It could be how the contrasting colors on a building with a splash of shadows in the autumn morning look or make me feel or think. It could be the turn my brain takes whilst people watching at a bus stop. Or I’m trying to process some experience I am going through or have been through, and trying to explore it. And like any craft distillation process, it takes time. You might jot down a few lines and let them sit for while and brew before you come back to it and work on it later. One poet friend of mine told me once that one of the ancient poets said it takes a decade to write a proper poem. I know that’s not always true, but I do know that for me that’s sometimes true. I have some poems that I worked on for years before I felt they were finished. And I have other poems that were finished much sooner.
Writing prose has some of that, but there’s more of a logical process in writing prose, with fiction or nonfiction (unless you’re writing one of those long epic poems that’s going to end up being a story – then it’s about the same). In prose, you might want to describe a certain feeling or process, but writing it out in magical words is just part of the process. If you’re writing a story, then you have a beginning, a middle and an end. You have characters who need to grow from the opening of the story to the end. You need to make sure the plot works and the mechanics of the storyline and action work.
I guess you could say that poetry is like spending time in your kitchen making rosewater or mead or some magical potion. You have ingredients put in just right. You take the time to make it brew. You have the pretty bottles and labels all lined up and ready to be filled. Writing prose, especially fiction, is more like making a holiday family dinner for 10. So, you might spend some time making sure you make things pretty and just right, but mostly you’re just chopping vegetables, checking on meat, doing dishes and wanting to make sure that everything is cooked and makes it to the table at about the same time so everyone can enjoy the meal.
You can read more about Rachel and her works here at Putt Putt Productions.