Sunday, July 10, 2011

1/2 Dozen for Kim Wright

1/2 Dozen for


on first novels, agents, invisibility, the narcoleptic effects of the Food Channel, divorce, kid shoes,
and opportunity that arrives
in the form of crisis.

Current obsessions -- literary or otherwise.

I have a very intense relationship with the Food Channel. I’m a bit of an afternoon napper so lots of days I lie down on the couch around three and turn it on as white noise. There used to be this guy who painted on TV whose name I can’t remember but he had a gray afro and did these really trite landscapes and he had an insanely soothing voice. He was always saying things like “Let’s give this tree a little friend” and then he’d paint the second tree beside the first one. I loved him. His voice would knock me right out no matter what I was doing, and now the Food
Channel serves a similar function. “We’re now going to whisk three eggs and add them to the flour….” It calms me down and helps me rest. Reaffirms my belief that the universe is a benevolent and comprehensible place. If I ever met the Barefoot Contessa on the street, I’d probably go narcoleptic.

I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?

The idea that inspiration just swoops down like an angel from a cloud has always bugged me too. Would that it were that easy! But there are moments when I get a snatch of dialogue or a scene that just seems to come to me intact and so I have to concede that inspiration exists and is a real factor in the creative process.

Love in Mid Air is my first novel but I’ve been a full time nonfiction writer for thirty years and I’ve trained myself to look at every situation and ask “Where’s the story?” Because that’s how nonfiction writers make their living. I remember once being in one of those Stride Rite stores with my toddler aged daughter wondering why kids’ shoes were so expensive and if it really was necessary to buy children the orthopedically designed shoes for $30 instead of the $5 ones from Target. And that turned into an article for Parents magazine. Or one time I was in a restaurant noticing how many varieties of gazpacho I was suddenly seeing on menus and that turned into an article for Cooking Light.

So coming out of this more journalistic background, it was almost instinctual for me to look at my real life as inspiration for articles. And after I got divorced, I noticed that all of a sudden all these women were telling me their “unhappy marriage” stories. It was weird. People I assumed were happily married, if indeed I ever thought about their marriages at all, were practically flagging me down in the grocery store and whispering, “Things aren’t good.” It was like when I got my own divorce I had publicly failed and so I was now the safe person to talk to, the one they knew wouldn’t judge them, and I was becoming the repository of all these stories. I started writing them down. My first thought was that it was a nonfiction book about women who initiate divorce and then one day I thought “Nah….This is a novel.”

The minute I started thinking of it as a novel, Elyse’s voice started coming to me and I had a quick take on the shape of the book. And when an idea comes to you like that – already intact and with a calm kind of certainty, I suppose that is inspiration at work.

What’s your advice to someone who’s fallen in love with a writer?

Fall on your knees and repent to the God of your choice because evidently you’ve committed some horrible atrocity in a past lifetime. I can’t imagine anything worse than being married to a writer. I know a lot of them and we’re all weird.

Writing Tip #17 for Aspiring Writers – or #47 or #2. Your pick.

My writing tip number #53 is that while everyone is moaning and groaning about the fact publishing is changing so fast, and we’re all in this horrible flux and no one knows what is happening, and it’s all so scary and awful…. that you should look for the opportunities in this transitional period. Because now, more than any time in publishing history, there really are multiple paths to getting published.

It used to be that if you couldn’t get an agent who would in turn take your book to a big publishing house then that was it, you were pretty much fried. Now I see at least three routes open. If the first one – i.e., the agent and the big house – doesn’t work out, you can go directly to a small press or you can self-publish. Self-publishing used to be this ghastly process of seeking out a vanity press and paying them to produce your book in large numbers which you then had to peddle yourself. There was stigma over having gone that route and a big upfront cost they were rarely able to recoup. But thanks to print on demand, ebooks, and the Internet, it’s much easier now to self-publish and the stigma is fading fast. And as for small presses, they are actually a better fit for a lot of writers. In the future I see the big houses handling the more blockbuster style books and more and more of the literary writing going directly to small presses.

So – as the Chinese philosophers say – crisis is another form of opportunity.

Tell us a tale from the publishing world – something, ANYthing about that process from your perspective.

For me, finding an agent was the hardest part. I searched for over a year and was rejected from something like 25 or 30 agencies. The odd thing is that I had two very close friends who had preceded me into publication and both of them offered to introduce me to their agents. But I had this very wrongheaded idea that I wanted to make it on my own and that if my book was good it would succeed on its own merit without any need for networking and introductions. I felt sticky about “using” my friends in this way and part of me believed that even if an agent took me on in this manner it would be as a favor to my friend, not because he or she believed in my book.
Finally, the series of rejections wore me down to the point that I asked my friends to please ask their agents to look at the book. And two weeks later I had an agent.

This was something I had to learn the hard way, but looking back I want to kick myself for being so stubborn. And so arrogant too, in a manner of speaking. Because I now see that publishing is totally a world of relationships and the whole business revolves around knowing a friend of a friend of a friend. I’m working on a book right now that’s about publishing, a how-to guide for writers and it will be published by Press 53 in September. And there are whole chapters in there about building a support group, networking, getting plugged into other writers so that they can help you and you can help them. Because this sort of give and take interaction is the lifeblood of contemporary publishing and I’m hopeful I can stop readers from making the same mistakes I made. And one of those mistakes was trying to break in via a query letter instead of an introduction.

What kind of child were you, inside of what kind of childhood, and how did it shape you as a writer?

I was an only child who lived way out in the country so in some ways it was a solitary childhood and in other ways it was almost enchanted. The first thing it did was make me a reader. The bookmobile came and parked on the corner every Tuesday and in the summer I would ride over on my bike at 10 am, get four books, ride home and frantically read them, then try to pedal back and turn them in so I could get four more before the bookmobile lady left at 4. We could only take out four books at a time. I can’t remember why.

My big fantasy game was that I was a secret agent. This was the early 60s, the height of the cold war, and I loved James Bond movies and shows like The Man From Uncle. So I would sit in this tree wearing a black turtleneck – this was summer in North Carolina, mind you – looking for communists. This prepared me for life as a writer just as much as the reading because I think being a writer is very much like being a spy – you’re always on the periphery, observing other people, trying to ascertain motives and predict their actions. The superpower I always craved was invisibility and I remember once I was sitting with a group of friends who were all writers and quite a few of us said we had fantasized about being invisible as kids.

Even now, I’m very conscious of point of view in my writing – what tree I’m sitting in as the writer, so to speak – and what I can or cannot see from this position. And I still like to wear black turtleneck sweaters.

Kim Wright has been writing about travel, food, and wine for more than 25 years and is a two-time recipient of the Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Writing. Love in Mid Air is her first novel and she is presently at work on a mystery about Jack the Ripper.

To read more 1/2 Dozens by novelists, essayists, poets,
short story writers, and agents, click on the below.

Laurie Foos

Susan Henderson

Chantel Acevedo

Caroline Leavitt

Danica Novgorodoff

Rebecca Rasmussen

Laurel Snyder

Tatjana Soli

Julie Buxbaum

Randy Susan Meyers

John McNally

Justin Manask (agent)

Melissa Senate

Steve Kistulentz

Christopher Schelling (agent)

Dani Shapiro

Jeff VanderMeer

Catherine McKenzie

Emily Rapp

Stephanie Cowell

Elizabeth Stuckey-French

Paul Elwork

William Lychack

Leah Stewart

Michelle Herman

Lise Haines

Benjamin Percy

Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Karen Salyer McElmurray

Kim MacQueen

Crystal Wilkinson

Michael Griffith

Laura Dave

Andrew Scott