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Who Are Your Top 10 Favorite Writers?

Today is a fun blogging day — a couple of “10 Favorite” lists.

I make these lists about once every, well, 10 years. They not only show who influences us most deeply as readers and/or writers, but also who grabs our hearts, minds and souls. The 10-year period between lists also shows how we’ve evolved as people. Several on my lists have remained the same over the years, but one or two invariably switch out each decade.

That said, who are your 10 favorite writers? Also, since it is National Poetry Month, who are your 10 favorite poets and/or essayists? Mine are listed below, with a quick bit about each.

Please use the comment feature on this blog to let us know who your favorites are, and why (at least for a few of them). We’ll post a composite of the responses at the end of April.

Bob’s 10 Favorite Writers, in no particular order (except for number one):

boyle

T.C. Boyle

Jack Kerouac — My all-time favorite. ‘On the Road’, and ‘Dharma Bums’ are classics of his tireless stream of consciousness writing. Did you know he wrote ‘The Subterraneans’ in 72 hours — and included a 1,200-word sentence in there?

T.C. Boyle — a mastermind of fiction and short story. He’s carried the mantle among American short-story giants since Raymond Carver died.

Anne Rice — I’m not so hot on her books (except for ‘The Vampire Lestat’ and book one of her ‘Christ the Lord’ series), but her writing is amazing. Who else can keep readers up for two nights with more chilling scenes?

Anne Rice, bewitching at a book signing

Anne Rice, bewitching at a book signing

Thich Nhat Hanh — This Vietnamese Buddhist monk has written some of the most beautiful, applicable books of the past 50 years, his style succinct and full of love.

Laura Hillenbrand — Journalistic narrative gets no better than ‘Seabiscuit’ or ‘Unbroken’, does it? She’s awesome.

Elmore Leonard — My man Elmore, a master of realistic dialogue and snappy, fast-paced storytelling. I read a Leonard novel every time I want to improve my pacing, or simply when it’s time for a great story and some laughs.

John Gardner — 90% of my fiction knowledge comes from the late, great novelist and author of the best book on the craft, ‘The Art of Fiction.’

Anais Nin

Anais Nin

Hunter S. Thompson — Forget how bizarre he was as a person; he greatly influenced me through ‘New Journalism’ (the grandparent of narrative non-fiction), his writing for Rolling Stone, and his two gems, ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and ‘The Great Shark Hunt’.

Anais Nin — Classy, erotic, cultured, full of irresistible imagery and beautiful writing. Unless your religious beliefs preclude you from doing so, every man should read a Nin book if they care about the innermost worlds of their women.

Joyce Carol Oates — She’s written hundreds of short stories and more than 40 novels. She plunges us into her characters’ worlds within two pages; I feel like I’ve lost my skin and identity when reading her. And her storytelling? The best. In her classic book ‘Blonde’, she admitted she felt like she was Marilyn Monroe while writing it. Priceless.

10 FAVORITE POETS

Gary Snyder, in his element

Gary Snyder, in his element

Gary Snyder — My idol as a poet and steward of the land since I was 16. In my opinion, he’s the greatest poet/essayist alive (and a pre-eminent translator of classical Chinese poetry). He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974. In recent years, I’ve had the honor of befriending and being mentored by him. Love the man.

Paramhansa Yogananda — As beautiful soul poetry goes, this Indian yoga master has the touch. ‘Songs of the Soul’ is a classic.

Wislawa Szymborska — She recently passed, but in 2012, Gary Snyder called her ‘the best poet in the world.’ Her winning the Nobel Prize backs his claim.

Wislawa Syzmborska, the Polish wordsmith extraordinaire

Wislawa Syzmborska, the Polish wordsmith extraordinaire

Mary Oliver — How can you not love Mary? Her incisive images and attention to rhythm and detail are beautiful and exact.

David Whyte — He brings the spiritual, natural and inner human worlds together seamlessly; I get goose bumps every time I read Whyte aloud.

Billy Collins — Roll up your sleeves, pour coffee, and survey the little quirks and bits of magic in the everyday world. Billy engages us in the most accessible poetry of the last 50 years. (His protégé, Taylor Mali, could easily fill this slot – but with more obvious humor.)

Mary Oliver, bringing her words to life

Mary Oliver, bringing her words to life

Percy Bysshe Shelley — Let’s dial back the clock. Shelley only lived to be 29, but he defined the 18th-19th century Romantic poetry period. Such beautiful poems, and he mastered the difficult combination of storytelling and lyrical verse.

Rumi — There were more than 100 great Persian, Arabian and other Middle Eastern poets from the 8th through 15th centuries; Rumi has lived on. Who doesn’t feel better and deeper after reading one or two of his poems? Honey for the soul.

Li-Po — Like Rumi, he stands tallest among China’s wandering poets in the 7th through 10th centuries. Want to be a Chinese landscape? Read him aloud.

Sappho — She brought written form to lyric and spoken verse 2,700 years ago, creating Western poetry as we know it (though she wasn’t the first; Sumerian Enheduanna penned her poems on cuneiform tablets 4,500 years ago). Sadly, only about 2% of Sappho’s work survives; she was as prolific as Shakespeare.

There are my lists. Looking forward to seeing yours!

ON SALE THROUGHOUT NATIONAL POETRY MONTH: Backroad Melodies, by Robert Yehling. $9.95 print, $1.99 Kindle, .99 Matchbook. Through April 30. http://amzn.to/1Hb62Ei

Low Res Cover Backroads

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Looking at Writing with a Sideways Glance

festival of booksblog 1 (This is the second of two blogs on the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books)

What happens when you put four novelists in a room and ask them for their take on the world? Chances are, you’ll get four very different impressions – eloquently stated, of course. Unless one is Ernest Hemingway. He’ll get it done in eight words or less – noun, verb, predicate. Time to go fishing.

For some reason, this crossed my mind as I entered the “Sideways Glance” panel discussion at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. The name caught my eye and lured me in (score a point for good branding and titling); it didn’t sound like the usual conversation about plot points or how good someone’s sales are going.  “You come at the truth from a sideways angle through the words you choose or images you create,” moderator Chris Daley, the fiction reviewer for the Los Angeles Times, said. “There’s a surprising inevitability at the end.”

Given that definition, event organizers picked the right cast. These authors shared very, very different takes on the worlds they create and how they create them.

Other Blogs on LA Times Festival of Books

A Taste of Eternity

Crime Fiction Collective

Independent Writers Network

The panelists included Jess Walter (Beautiful Ruins), Diana Wagman (Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets), Fiona Maazel (Woke Up Lonely) and David Abrams (Fobbit). All four books are available on Amazon.com and through bookstores. This quartet could not be more different, in appearance, personal background, hometown, or literary preferences, all of which created what had to be one of the top discussions at the two-day festival.

To state the case, here are one-sentence descriptions of their newest books:

• Beautiful Ruins: A funny, romantic tale of a near-affair in Hollywood that rekindles 50 years later. Says the Washington Post of Walter, “As talented a natural storyteller as is working in American fiction these days.”

• Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets: A woman learns how to deal with the deranged iguana owner who kidnapped her.

• Woke Up Lonely: A wild ride through North Korea and the vice section of Cincinnati with the leader of a cult and a covert agent.

• Fobbit: A stunning behind-the-lines war story that takes place at a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Iraq. Stunning not only for its poignant scenes, but also for its humor.

If you’re a writer trying to sell your novel to an agent or publisher, here is the first thing to take away from this cross-section of books: the storylines are unique, distinctive, and quirky in their own ways. In all four cases, the authors tossed aside others’ notions of what readers would buy, and wrote their stories. Their styles couldn’t be more different: Walter is sweet and funny; Wagman hilarious in a dark, twisted sort of way but also a laser with character development; Maazel a dazzling wordsmith and purveyor of the richly textured multi-plot; and Abrams a former soldier who writes between-combat scenes with the depth of Tim O’Brien, the humor of Elmore Leonard and the emotional richness of Joyce Carol Oates. He kept a daily journal while in Iraq, then grew a book out of it.

As for Wagman, who also won the 2001 PEN Award for new fiction and wrote the screenplay for Delivering Milo, the movie starring Bridget Fonda and Albert Finney? Trust me on this: looks are deceiving. I was all set to listen to a prim, proper, bespectacled, short-haired Midwestern professor expound on fiction. Instead, she sent the capacity crowd into hysterics time and again with her twisted, raw humor, leaving the youngest and wildest looking author – Maazel – in stitches and saying, “I’m a wuss compared to you when it comes to sex scenes and blood and gore.” As it turns out, Maazel is the professor – she teaches at Columbia, Princeton and NYU. And she’s in her 30s. How’s that for a great mind?

How different from “what sells”, as we often read in magazines or are told, are these books? While writing, all four authors admitted to seriously doubting their stories would sell, no matter their publishing pasts, because they were so far removed from typical mainstream fiction. But guess what? They sold – and all four books are being hailed as among the top books of the past year. In Maazel’s case, it earned her a spot in the “Top 5 Under 35” as one of the nation’s best young novelists.

It goes to show you: there’s no cookie cutter formula to writing, selling and buying great novels. All of them hold true and fast to the famous quote by southern novelist Flannery O’Connor: “To the hard of hearing, you shout, and to the almost blind, you draw large and startling figures.”

During the panel discussion, each of the four made numerous comments that bear repeating. Rather than take the rest of the morning to build a story around it, one way too long for a single blog, I thought I’d leave you with some highlights:

David Abrams: “There is no real truth. To immortalize your experience you have to manipulate it to some degree. To tell anyone a truth, you have to tell a story, and if you tell a story, you quit telling the actual truth, because you’re always moving facts and memories around.”

Diana Wagman: “I love it when life surprises you, or I hear something that just takes everything I think I know and believe and sends it flying. I’m always looking for what makes people laugh and cry, or what makes them change … and then I add my own little twists and things I would do to people who kidnapped me …”

Jess Walter: “Each of my books tends to drive the thematic interest of whatever I’m carrying around at the time (of writing). That’s what is on top of me, ready to come out, so I find characters and time periods to match.”

Fiona Maazel: “Good writing, really good writing, is a matter of getting at things through the back door. We can all go through the front door, but what happens when you peek in, sneak in, creep in? Like, how would you describe desire in a way no one else has tried, in a way that messes with your comfort zone? I like to write stories that tell the same truths over and over again from new angles that make you see them fresh.”

Ready to take these words into your writing or reading week? I sure am.

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Brewing an Adventure Romance Saga: Interview with Stephen B. Gladish

Author Stephen B. Gladish

Author Stephen B. Gladish

(NOTE: Stephen B. Gladish is the author of a trilogy of adventure romance novels: Mustang Fever (2007), Storm Chasers (2013), and a reworking of a 2005 novel, now entitled Island Fever and currently in the final editing stages. The three books tell the interwoven stories, adventures, challenges and triumphs of a few memorable characters – Chance Chisholm, Luke LaCrosse, Annie Banner, Moana, and Cheyenne Autumn. Gladish is also the creator and co-editor of the 2006 anthology, Freedom of Vision, featuring writing from behind prison walls. He served in the Air Force, and is a retired creative writing teacher from Pima (Arizona) Community College. His writing is adventurous, colorful, deeply engaging and filled with characters who bring out the best qualities in each other … and themselves.)

WJ: Steve, what types of adventure did you weave into Storm Chasers to illustrate the title?
SG: It includes four variations of storm chasing: tornadoes, nuclear detonations, attacks via helicopter, and white-water rafting.
WJ: How would you describe the book in a long sentence?
SG: The storm chaser protagonist, Luke LaCrosse, locates and records deadly tornadoes in our nation’s Tornado Alley, is blasted and temporarily blinded as he tracks nuclear detonations in the Pacific, hunts down the deadly enemy in Vietnam, and effects a stunning rescue as a white-water guide Idaho’s “River of No Return,” through all of which he struggles to reconnect with and win back his childhood sweetheart, the one consistent love of his life.
WJ: That’s a long sentence — almost a taste of Jack Kerouac! Speaking of which, who are some of the authors that influenced you most over the years, as a novelist and as a teacher of creative writing?
SG: I have a long list, both from writing and teaching. All are pretty well-known authors: Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Louis L’Amour, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Emmanuel Swedenbourg, J.D. Salinger, James Fenimore Cooper, Larry McMurtrey, Herman Wouk, Ken Kesey, Stephen Crane, Langston Hughes, Stephen King, Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote, Walt Whitman, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Robert Frost, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Harper Lee.
WJ: Back to your latest book. Where did the idea for Storm Chasers come from?
SG: I wanted to call attention to the importance of weather in everybody’s lives, especially with all the climate change going on right now. I served in the US Air Force 6th Weather Squadron (Mobile) and the Severe Weather Warning Command in the early ‘60s. In this fictional story stemming from real life events, I take the reader through the sheer adventure of Luke LaCrosse growing into a man just as the military venue designs it. From a weather warrior, he graduates to become an officer and a pilot, one of the few who came home from the Vietnam War psychologically unscathed.
In addition, I spent a lifetime of study especially on the cruel euphemism “global warming,” which I find a blurred, imprecise way of “dumbing down” the debate. The real definition is catastrophic climate change. Global emissions of carbon dioxide were a record high in 2011, and we had record high temperatures in the U.S. in 2012. The build-up of human-related greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels and forests must not be ignored. Because of catastrophic climate changes, the world faces multiple catastrophes including: sea level rise of five feet, with sea levels rising as much as twelve inches a decade, staggeringly high temperature rise, permanent Dust Bowls, massive species loss, more intense and severe hurricanes, masses and clusters of tornado outbreaks, huge enlargement of area in Tornado Alley. There are other unexpected impacts, such as the violent rainstorms in Italy in October 2011 that inundated towns of the Cinque Terre, Vernazza and Monterosso, and almost sank Venice. As George Orwell said, “During time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.
WJ: How long did it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?
SG: Twelve months and three hundred desert trail runs in the Rincon Mountains.
WJ: All of us who write novels have our dreams of seeing the motion picture version. With that in mind, which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
SG: If they were a little younger, Matt Damon would play Luke LaCrosse, Josh Brolin would play Chance Chisholm, and Elizabeth Hurley would play Annie.
WJ: Here’s a question that comes from the Next Best Thing Book Blog Tour, which I thought was quite revealing for readers who want to get a better grasp on an author’s influences and style: To which other books would you compare Storm Chasers within your genre?
SG: Though not technically in my genre, many of Louis L’Amour’s stories take an innocent young man with strong moral values into situations where he must prove himself as a man in order to win the woman he loves: Sackett, 1961; To Tame a Land, 1965. All American literature begins with Huckleberry Finn, the story of an innocent boy who runs away from his Pap and all the sins in the culture of his time. Luke too runs away from a broken relationship into freedom. Both Luke and Huck find a true friend on their adventure. Huck’s adventure rafts on the Mississippi River; Luke’s adventure sails in the Armed Services. Herman Melville’s Typee, the first romance novel based in the South Pacific, has an innocent and moralistic hero as well. The Jason Bourne character from the Robert Ludlum series has parallels with Luke LaCrosse. Masculine qualities, an adventurous and ambitious protagonist, needs to win.
WJ: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
SG: The desire to fictionalize key events from real life, to show the infinite possibilities of life, to demonstrate what it takes to grow into a man. To bring to attention the dangers of catastrophic climate change; recent massive outbreaks of tornadoes; possibilities of present day nuclear bomb disasters, which in 1962 the United States strove to avoid as they developed and tested the most powerful deterrent; a thermonuclear arsenal.
WJ: Tell us a little more about Luke LaCrosse. He is quite a morally strong protagonist, truly a model for young men today even though you’ve set the story in the 1960s. On top of that, you show romantic love not as a quick, perfect event, but as something that, in many cases, you have to pursue for years.
SG: Luke’s odyssey, like Ulysses’, involves one challenge and temptation after another, as we experience Annie Banner and Luke’s tortuous and seemingly tenuous romance. Luke the adventurer has the need to feel like a warrior; he is quietly rebellious, leading to moments of anti-authority. He may be the last soldier to settle down, while Annie comes from a traditional upper class authoritarian family intent on her marrying anyone other than Luke. They both grow away from their families in independence. Theirs is an extraordinary journey with reversals and crashes on the proverbial rocky island shores, in war and in peace. They pick themselves up and in their separate crafts set sail again, hoping to connect finally on the sandy shores of a harbor home.

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It’s Time for NaNoWriMo!

What will you be writing for NaNoWriMo?

After nearly a year-long wait, NaNoWriMo has finally arrived. National Novel Writing Month used to be another convenient literary designation on the calendar where librarians, bookstore owners and people in the literary world paid a little special attention to the novel — like they do in April with National Poetry Month. 

However, a few years ago, someone came up with the crafty idea of giving National Novel Writing Month a clever acronym and a community-based

The month of November is a great time to dive deep and write a novel — or any kind of book.

website, designed to help writers actually spend the month of November writing a novel.

The result has been extraordinary: the advent of NaNoWriMo. Beginning Thursday, Nov. 1, more than 1 million writers — along with many college and high school writing programs, community writing groups and professional writers clubs — will log on to their personal pages on www.nanowrimo.org and take the wordsmith’s challenge: to write at least 50,000 words in one month.

I’m going to be among them. While my effort won’t necessarily be fiction — it will be the start of my memoir, working title Do I Have a Story For You! —  I’m just as pumped up as everyone else. During this month, I will spend a couple hours per day (or more, on some days) writing out the stories for my memoir, while also chatting with and supporting other writers in my NaNoWriMo support group. My goal will be to write about 2,000 words per day, to get to that magical 50,000 word mark. And I’m going to have a lot of fun doing it.

It sounds daunting to write 50,000 words in one month. If you’re soloing, it can be very daunting. Which leads to the beauty of NaNoWriMo: while you’re cranking out your novel, memoir or story, so are more than a million others. There is a group energy and consciousness that, I swear, you can feel. Everyone is elevating everyone else. For a golden month, we’re not the only writers engaged in the solitary act of writing a book. I sure felt it last year, when I jumped into the fray very late (because of teaching duties) and still put out the first 20,000 words of my novel-in-progress, Open Mic Night at Boccaccio’s, in the last 10 days of NaNoWriMo.

In 2011, more than 3 billion words were recorded on NaNoWriMo’s official count, which is drawn from the individual daily word count updates of each participant. That’s a lot of stories, a lot of minds stretching out to produce their works. Several of my writing support group partners started and finished entire novels; others really got into it and wrote 14 to 16 hours per day.

Do you have a story you want to write? Do you want to try this out? I sure hope so; NaNoWriMo is an absolute blast. Log onto the website, fill out your profile and a few words about your desired story — or collection of short stories — and be ready to log on Thursday and write, write, write. And let us know how you did!

 

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Southern Storytelling at Its Finest: Interview with Robin Jordan

Robin Jordan is the author of the forthcoming novels, Lovelady Road and Sunday’s Corners. Her distinctive, well-crafted combination of home-spun storytelling, tight, intriguing plots and unforgettable characters, all set to a delicious narrative voice, will keep her readers coming back for more. It also feels right at home in a Southern literary tradition populated with authors like Carson McCullers, Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor — all heroines of Ms. Jordan, who is an expert in Southern literature and will speak on the subject in January at the University of Nebraska. In this interview with Bob Yehling of Word Journeys, who edited both of her books after meeting her at the February 2010 Southern California Writers Conference, Ms. Jordan shares the qualities that make Southern storytelling such a hallowed tradition, as well as her mixture of real and imagined experiences in the crafting of Lovelady Road and Sunday’s Corners.

 WJ: First of all, could you tell us a little about your background, in particular how you fell in love with storytelling and the storytelling influences you had growing up?

Robin Jordan: I think first and foremost would be from my parents. They didn’t so much as tell stories as talk about the people they knew when they were younger, events they witnessed, or even things their parents told them. When I was a child, I didn’t care for their stories. I thought they were tedious and boring. Yet, as I got older, I realized that I associate much of my past and my heritage through stories such as those they told.

WJ: Storytelling is a huge part of your narrative voice, and your protagonists are good storytellers. What is it about telling a story that gives you so much joy and delight — which is obvious from the way you bring your tales to the page?

 RJ: For the most part, I find a lot of humor in things I don’t think other people see. The eccentricities of the South are fabulous. In Lovelady Road, I wanted those oddities to be out there, to let folks know that while the South has had its checkered past, there are also some really great things. In one chapter of Lovelady Road, I wrote about a squirrel getting into a church during a funeral and the chaos that ensued. I’ve seen birds in churches; why not a squirrel? I want to tell stories in which the reader comes away feeling something for the characters or the storyline. I want to inspire emotion in the reader.

WJ: In Lovelady Road, you use the point-of-view of an adolescent to convey some pretty serious, often intense adult situations. Why do you feel that we draw so deeply into adult stories told from the eyes of adolescents, in this case a very intelligent and precocious adolescent?

 RJ: As an adolescent, Ruth Anna says some things that most of us have said or wish we would have said before we grew into guarded adults. From my perspective, it seems most of us are drawn to adolescent stories because the character, the story, or the timeframe reminds us of a time when life was simpler, more innocent.

WJ: Lovelady Road sets classic, multi-layered Southern rural setting and atmosphere deep into the characters’ inner lives, as well as providing colorful background. This is a technique that we’ve come to known through the works of McCullers, Welty, Faulkner, O’Connor and others. Why is it that Southern settings make such great “characters” and add to the story?

 RJ: It seems everything in the South is more vivid than in other places. I think the South and the people in it are bigger. Southern folks are more outgoing than they are in other regions of the country, but they are also more judgmental. Here, the weather has such extremes, heat and humidity in the summer, ice and cold wind in the winter. Poverty is rampant in any area, but only in the South will you see junk cars on blocks! Of course, all of these elements added together make for a great story setting.

WJ: How much of Lovelady Road is informed by your background growing up in Tennessee?  

 RJ: Quite a bit of it! My grandfather was truly a moonshiner, and I do know how to make moonshine. I also have peculiar relatives! In the past, my aunt did go to the funerals of people she didn’t know, and my brother did build his house inside a garage.

WJ: Nearly every novelist embeds stories from their lives, at least a little, in their works. Could you share a couple that appeared in Lovelady Road and Sunday’s Corners.

 RJ: In both, Lovelady Road and Sunday’s Corners, I mention quilting. When I was young, my mother worked for an organization called LBJ&C. At that time, it was a federal program designed to promote community awareness. At least once every week, my mother would drive around and pick up older women and they would go to a central location where they would spend the day quilting. In the summer, my mother dragged me along rather than pay a babysitter, so I spent a lot of time listening to those women tell their tales, watching them stitch together quilts from rags, and eating a lot of good food. There was always a potluck lunch. Now, my mother is the only one of those quilters still living, but she has Alzheimer’s and can no longer remember any of it, which makes me the sole survivor to tell the stories. To my knowledge, I am the only one who has any of the quilts those ladies made – I think that’s worth remembering.

WJ: I see a novel brewing…

RJ: You never know!

WJ: Sunday’s Corners is an entirely different story than Lovelady Road, with a split location between wartime Paris and the South. What prompted you to come up with storyline of intrigue and mystery that was set in two widely different locales?

 RJ: Sunday’s Corners started off with a dream. I dreamed about a woman, wearing clothes from the 1940s, getting off a bus. That was all there was to the dream, but I was intrigued by it, so I started doing research. I wanted to find a woman charged with some crime during that era. What I found were American women convicted of treason following World War II. I took that tidbit of information and built Sunday’s Corners.

 As for Lovelady Road, it started out when I told a friend that I was considering a short story about a moonshiner with a broken finger. My friend’s first question was, “How did he break his finger?” At that point, I didn’t know how or why he had a broken finger but as the characters evolved they entertained me, and I just kept writing. Pretty soon, it was novel length!

WJ: The characters in Sunday’s Corners capture the essence of the Southern experience even more than the more tightknit crew from Lovelady Road. Could you talk about how you develop your characters, and what you are looking to achieve from them when you deliver their story on paper?

RJ: I start off by imagining what I think a character looks like. More times than not, they often physically resemble somebody I have known in my life. For personalities, I take a little bit of this from one person and a little bit of that from another and create an entirely new person. Sunday’s Corners was much harder to write than Lovelady Road. I think much of that was due to the time in which the story takes place. Many of the scenes and characters in Lovelady Road seem like places and people I’ve actually known. However, in Sunday’s Corners I had to improvise and imagine a lot of it, because I do not have personal knowledge of wartime Berlin or Paris of the 1930s.

WJ: One of the most impressive facets of your writing is the way you write so simply and beautifully, yet convey one complex situation after another. A lot of it has to do with the local vernacular you use in your narrative. Could you talk about how you developed this voice and how it helps you convey the story with greater immediacy to the reader?

RJ: I hear the story in my head, and I want the reader to “hear” and “see” the scenes as clearly as I do. I also want each scene to flow naturally and seamlessly from one to another. When I’m writing a scene, there are a few questions I ask myself: What do I hear? What do I see? What do I smell? Would I say that? Would I say it like that? There are a lot of colloquialisms and slang spoken in the South. To not include those in my writing would be to rob my characters of a lot of what makes them Southern.

WJ: You will be speaking and reading at the University of Nebraska soon for your work on Southern literature. What are the most endearing characteristics of Southern lit to you, and what do you think keeps us coming back for more?

RJ: It seems that the peculiarities of the Southern people are what most folks outside the South love about the region. Developing characters with oddities that a reader can love or hate is what compels the reader to pick up the book and, then, keep turning the pages. Southern people are down to earth. In a time when everything is so complex, it’s a pleasure to sit down and read about characters or settings that are simpler.

WJ: Will we be seeing the characters from Lovelady Road or Sunday’s Corners in any future novels down the line?

 RJ: It’s possible. There are always other characters and storylines to be explored.

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