What a pleasure to announce Katherine Center's new novel HAPPINESS FOR BEGINNERS -- now out in the world!
If you haven't heard of it yet, here's something to draw you in: "Such a charming, heartfelt novel about a woman who needs to escape from her life in order to rebuild it. I read it all in one delicious gulp." -- Sarah Pekkanen, author of The Opposite of Me
Katherine is here today for a quick Q and A -- and generously offering some brilliant writing advice.
Here we go:
Current obsessions -- literary or otherwise.
Oh, so many obsessions all the time! I just churn through them, getting seized by one topic after another: Old houses, swing music, typography, paper flowers, sign painting, the entire state of Maine, line dancing, whales, embroidery… On and on.
Writing Tip #17 for Aspiring Writers – or #47 or #2. Your pick.
Write the story you want to read. Not the story you think your smart friend wants to read. Or the story you think will impress your writing group. Or the story you think will be a bestseller. Write the story that your own inner reader would love more than anything to curl up with for an afternoon. There are infinite stories you could write. The real question is, which one is yours?
Some writers hate to write. Other writers love being engaged in the creative process. How would you describe your relationship with the page?
I love to write. I love most things about the writing life, actually, though different parts have their upsides and downsides. But there's no downside to the actual writing. For me, that's always blissful. I love the early first-drafting, when I get a rush of endorphins like I've just fallen in love--and I also love the editing and re-working. The only time writing is hard for me is when I have a deadline that I'm stressed about meeting--which does happen sometimes. I am a mom, after all, and when my kids are sick or it's somebody's birthday it can be hard for me to focus on writing. Like, if people need me in the real world, it can be hard to give myself permission to go to an imaginary one.
Have you learned to strike a balance between your writing life and the other aspects of your life?
No. And yes. Depending on the month. I am not organized or disciplined or habitual. I write when I'm in a frenzy because an idea has caught fire in my head. Some weeks, I don't write at all and it feels like I might never do it again. Then, inevitably, a spark of a story turns into a flame and everything else is an interruption. Mostly, I write all day when my kids are at school, and that's a pretty good balance. But when I'm caught up in a story, the school day isn't nearly enough time. It's hard for me to stop and start. I go on writing retreats a couple of times a year when I can just be very quiet and listen to the narrator's voice in my head. I can get more done in five days that way than in five regular weeks.
If you teach the craft of writing, why do you do it -- other than cash?
I like to teach writing from time to time because it helps me refine what I think. I like to read books about writing, too, for that same reason. I don't have a writing group or anything, so reading about how it works--and why--helps remind me of different aspects of the process. It's so complicated! So many different things have to be working well on so many different levels for a story to really work. You're never done. You're never like, "Now I know everything about writing." I'm constantly trying to figure out how to do a better job.
What project of yours was the easiest writing of your life? And, flip-side, which one was the most like wrestling bears? (And could you tell before you started or did they turn on you, for better or worse?)
This new book, Happiness for Beginners, was the easiest project of my life--hands down. It wrote itself. It really did: I was just taking dictation. I think maybe I just had the right characters in the right situation--and the premise of the story was the fuel that carried it through. I was curious to see what would happen--and how it was going to happen. I was pulled along the way you are when you read a good novel. Like reading a page-turner, only writing one. Flip-side, the hardest project was my next book (the one I've just turned in that will come out next year). I was still so in love with Happiness when I started it, it was hard for me to shift gears. I can write and revise all day and all night, but a story is never going to really knock anybody's socks off until the characters magically come to life and light the thing from the inside. It took a while for me to find the magic on my last one--but I did finally find it. It's always a little scary though, because I don't know how to force it. All I can do is keep writing and hope the magic happens.
KATHERINE CENTER's newest novel is Happiness For Beginners. She's the author of four other novels about love and family including The Bright Side of Disaster and The Lost Husband. Her writing has appeared in Redbook, People, USA Today, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, and Real Simple. A graduate of Vassar College and the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program, Katherine lives in Houston with her husband and two sweet children.
Visit her website at http://www.katherinecenter.com