As part of my ongoing guest post series on creative writing in this blog, Scott Bryson, the editor of Cigale Literary Magazine answered questions a week ago on what leads him to choose a short story for his publication.
Today I give you Suzy Vitello Soule, den-mom for the hottest creative writing group in Portland with names like Chuck Palahniuk, Chelsea Cain, Diana Page Jordan, Cheryl Strayed, Lidia Yuknavitch. She talks to us about her famous writing group, her reading, her writing, her teaching, and last, but not the least, The Moment Before, her new book.
1. In your experience, what should an author keep in mind while creating or joining a creative writing group? What sort of group dynamic brings out the best writing from its participants?
Chemistry, I’d say. Which is a bit of a crap shoot, isn’t it? The kernel of our group began with a local mentor, Tom Spanbauer, and morphed from there. We’re big on “no homework,” meaning, we give feedback on the spot after a participant reads his/her pages. It develops a critical muscle to do it this way, but it also lets loose a knee-jerk emotional response to the work, which is valuable, but takes time to navigate as the recipient.
2. You teach creative writing. Could you tell us more about it? Where can we find your classes? What do you like best about teaching creative writing and what puts you off?
I’ve found a great place to teach, LitReactor – an online writing community which attracts a wonderful and diverse array of teachers and students. Look for my next class in April. I’ll soon firm up what I’ll be teaching.
What I love about teaching creative writing is that I learn so much from my students as I follow their paths, their stories, their hearts. As far as what’s off-putting, every once in a while there pops up a pedantic know-it-all who seems closed off to the journey. But that is very, very rare at LitReactor.
3. Your writing is vivid and forceful, and I love how you use details to bring your characters to life. Technically, what do you find the most easy part of creative writing, and which part do you find the hardest?
Thank you! I enjoy the initial foray into new territory, surprising myself. I suppose the hardest thing is to trust that, eventually, the sentences will take shape in a way that approximates the feeling in my heart. Patience is not my strength. I want it all NOW!
Revision is so underappreciated. When you back away from your initial sprint and allow your subconscious to engage, you (magically, it seems) have access to a more technical and objective part of your brain. It’s that combination of authentic outburst and craft and rigor that finds its way into the hearts of others.
4. If you had to give just three pointers on ‘creative writing technique’ to an aspiring author, what would they be?
1.Read your work out loud.
2.Enter into that space of the unknown by unpacking the smaller moments and following your depth of inquiry.
3.Resist completing energy in dialogue. In other words, take the reader someplace new instead of resolving conflict within scenes.
5. If you had to choose three of your favorite authors and their best works, which would they be? Why did you choose these in particular?
I absolutely adore Laurie Halse Anderson. Wintergirls and her new one, The Impossible Knife of Memory. Her precision with voice, her accuracy, and her fresh approach show me how exciting that sort of discipline can be. I also love stories by Antonya Nelson. Her irony is masterful. Oh, and Tom Perrotta’s Little Children. A creepily delicious book. I’m a fan of contemporary realism, I suppose. And darkness. Always a pinch of darkness.
6. Which of your characters is closest to your heart, and why?
I’m pretty sure I don’t have a standout favorite. My main characters tend to be heroines who are a bit, shall we say, left of normal. Lily, Brady, Liz and Sisi – they are the four main characters in the three books I’ve written and rewritten recently. What fascinates me about these characters is the ways in which they discover their strengths during their meander through my psyche. They all start out in crisis. All seem to have experienced a level of maternal abandonment, and so, I become their mother as I write them through peril and eventually shepherd them to a better place.
7. Tell us about your newly released book, The Moment Before.
It’s a love story. Between the author and the city in which the book takes place. Between the main character, Brady, and her dead sister, Sabine. And, subtly, between Brady and Connor, the boy who also loved Sabine, but was implicated in her death. That’s more than a run-of-the-mill love triangle, yes? More like a love web.
8. What was the spark of the story, and what was the writing process like? Who is your target audience?
Brady had been living inside of me for quite some time, and when I sat down to write a book that began with the death of a loved one, her voice permeated my every thought. The story crystallized around a plot whereby Brady would discover things about herself – strengths, weaknesses, her capacity to love – as she uncovered more information about Sabine.
My target audience is young adult, but I’m finding that my readers are less definable by age than by their expectations of story. Looking over reviewer comments, it appears that Moment appeals most to a certain type of indie reader. Readers who tend to enjoy the nuances in humanity and enjoy a more lyric and wistful approach to coming of age. Plus, there’s that Keep Portland Weird vibe running throughout.
Suzy is giving away a copy of THE MOMENT BEFORE book (an e-version), plus an electronic version of Averil Dean’s new erotic thriller, ALICE CLOSE YOUR EYES, to two randomly selected commenters a week after this posts. So if you’re leaving a comment here, you might expect a copy of one of these wonderful books!
About Suzy Vitello Soule: As a founding member of what the Oregonian has dubbed Portland’s “hottest writing group,” (whose members include Chuck Palahniuk, Chelsea Cain, Lidia Yuknavitch, Monica Drake and Cheryl Strayed), Suzy’s name has graced the acknowledgement pages of many a book. Her own award-winning writing has appeared in a bunch of journals and anthologies. THE MOMENT BEFORE is her debut novel. Suzy lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, Kirk, and son, Carson.
Find out more about Suzy’s projects on www.suzyvitello.com, where you can also read the first chapter of The Moment Before.
Buy The Moment Before here, the linked page leads you to all sorts of places on the web the book is selling at, including Amazon.
Become her friend on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.
Blurb of The Moment Before:
“Don’t get me wrong. I loved my sister. I never, not once, wished her dead.”
Brady and Sabine Wilson are sisters born eleven months apart, but they couldn’t be more different. Popular Sabine, the head cheerleader dating the high school hunk, seems to have all the luck, while her younger, artsy sister “Brady Brooder” is a loner who prefers the sidelines to the limelight.After Sabine dies in a horrific cheerleading accident, grief unravels Brady and her family. Once recognized for her artistic talent, 17-year-old Brady finds herself questioning the value of everything she once held dear. Her best friend betrays her. Her parents’ marriage is crumbling. And the boy everyone blames for the accident seems to be her only ally in the search for answers in the wake of her sister’s death. As an unlikely friendship emerges, Brady learns more about Sabine – and love – than she bargained for.
Would you read The Moment Before? Do you have raging questions related to creative writing or her book that you want to ask Suzy Vitello?
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This is great! I posted a link on my Facebook page so my writer friends can read the entire interview. I especially liked the advice about “unpacking the small moments.” That is the kind of technical advice–something solid to try–that you don’t often get in writing classes.
So nice to hear, Shelley, and thanks for the comment!
“Revision is so under appreciated.”
Absolutely–it took 11 rounds of revision for my last book, and I’m still not sure that was enough 🙂
I hear you, Ken!
Wonderful interview! I, too, love Laurie Halse Anderson’s ability to put me in the moment in a fresh way. And I love your description of your characters being left of normal, veering into that hint of darkness. Too often I have found, especially in YA, authors keep the characters light and airy. While I love a good angel food cake, they serve no purpose in creating real characters. We all have darkness in us and around us. I look forward to reading “The Moment Before”. Congratulations!
Great comment! And I LOVE the angel cake metaphor. I realize that not all YA readers like, oh, I don’t know, double espresso dark chocolate, maybe? I always have as a reader, so I cannot imagine writing against that tendency. Thank you for your insight!
Chemistry and revision really stand out in this interview. I agree, revision is extremely valuable. Emotion is good, even raw emotion, but too much of it, can overwhelm a story. I’m currently reading a book that could have benefitted from some revision. There are times when this book is downright depressing. The concept is good, but the emotional drain while reading it takes away from everything else. I’ll save the rest of my thoughts on this for my review when I finally finish reading it. Enjoyed the review. Best of the weekend to you!
Thanks for the comment! Revision can also be fun. Let’s not forget that! Often, while revising, I get to a whole new and deeper level of understanding of my characters.
I loved your interview and feel like I learned so much. It was inspiring and made me feel energized, wanting to work on my new book. I need energizing in the winter! I loved the specific writing tips; they were not vague and they can help take us to that next level. I love YA and I am ordering your book on Kindle right now! Thank you!
Dixie, how sweet of you! Nothing makes me happier than to hear that something I said in conversation inspires an author to write! Go work on that new book!
Great tips and information. New voices are always a great help.
Best of luck.
Thank you so much, Heather! (Though, my voice is more rusty than new … I love the idea of myself as an “emerging author” – in fact, my publishers just told me my book is a Nook First! http://ow.ly/i/4nRRC )
Congratulations on the Nook First, Suzy!
I used to be a member of an online writing group. But I never participated in “on-the-spot” or “on-the-go” critic, but it seems like a good idea. And the tip on dialogue is a gem. 🙂
Hey! Your comment gives me an idea. What about forming a Google “hangout” online off-the-cuff critique group? How cool would that be?
Sounds like an excellent idea. I am in.
I really like her third tip tip on writing. Something to keep in mind when I edit the dialog in my manuscript!
It’s the secret to keeping the pages turning. Repeat: “never complete; never complete; neve…”
“Resist completing energy in dialogue. In other words, take the reader someplace new instead of resolving conflict within scenes.”
This is superb advice, thanks for the insight!
Again, I must credit Palahniuk. You notice, too, in films, it’s a technique that builds tension — Thanks for the comment, Matt.
Thanks for posting the interview! I’ve heard of LitReactor (because of Palahniuk) but didn’t realize it was a full on “university” of sorts.
June, I hope you’ll consider taking a look at their classes. Such a diversity!
Agree with Suzy, the Literactor classes really helped my writing.
I’ll definitely have to check it out! Thanks.
Well so nice !
I’ve never considered your tip–resist completing action in dialogue. Take the reader someplace new. What a great idea.
Hi Jacqui. I have Chuck Palahniuk to thank for that one. He’s always drilling that into our heads…
One of the reasons I read blogs is to be enthused and learn something more about writing – this interview delivered on both accounts – brilliantly.
I really owe Damyanti so much. What a generous interview here on her blog. And I get to meet all these cool people!
Suzy, you’ve been such an interactive and friendly guest, the best kind! Thanks for doing this interview.
The pleasure is all mine. I really love the energy here!
Thank you – the interview was a breath of fresh air, straight from the heart and to the point.
Aw. Susan, so nice to hear!
Great interview, Damyanti. Suzy Vitello Soule is another author that is now on my To Read List. Good luck with, The Moment Before.
Thanks so much, Dana!
Thanks, Dana, I hope you enjoy TMB as much as I am now.
Thank you for this interview.
I’m also a member of a writing circle. But we do our homework. However, some times I’m surprised by how I encounter the story on the page and as the author reads it. Fortunately, there’s time to comment on both.
Wishing you much success with The Moment Before, Suzy.
Great comment! Yes, there is something to be said for the distinction between a reader privately savoring your words on the page versus hearing the words out loud with the pressure of needing to formulate helpful critique.
I should amend my comments in the interview to add that, on several occasions, we’ve done “whole novel” critiques, where we get a month to read/comment on another member’s novel, then meet for a round table discussion (while we eat a wonderful meal, of course).
I am now seriously looking forward to the day I get to go to the bookstore (1.5 hours away) to grab a copy of ‘The Moment Before’ and learn more about these characters! I love how Ms. Soule described Brady as having been “living inside of me for quite some time”. That is how my YA fantasy series came into being and, for some reason, people tend to look at me oddly if I say that the dragons had been whispering through my thoughts and asking for their story to be told. FINALLY, someone who ‘gets it’!
Thank you for posting this interview. I enjoy reading your blogs and those of your well chosen guests.
Hi Estyree. Thank you so much for your comment! I don’t know where you live, but perhaps you could call your bookstore in advance and ask them to order the book? It’s not as widely available as I wish…
I will check out your YA fantasy series!
I live in NW Oklahoma…I do plan on visiting Amazon when I have some book money. In order to get to my town, you have to either be truly lost or really, really want to be here.
If you find my series (The Stone Dragon Saga, beginning with Dragon on My Neck), I hope that you enjoy it! I have so much fun writing it (and having those late night conversations with characters) that I almost forget I put it on Amazon and Kindle 😀
Fantastic! *runs to Kindle to check it out*
I really enjoyed reading this wonderful interview. It’s nice to hear how persons are inspired by others,and reading this has also motivated me to work even harder at my writing, and finish the books I’ve started. If Suzy can make the effort to teach and write, then I’ll drink more coffee and complete my assignments too.The books seem very interesting and will be added to my wish list. Thank you for this.
Thanks so much for your comment, Michelle. Oh, the rigors of finishing projects. Boy, do I ever know that one!