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.
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.
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.
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