Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Kathleen Shoop – How To Write Fiction & Become a Better Writer

How long have you been writing? I’ve been writing fiction for 13 or 14 years, but it was when my son was born prematurely and I reduced my workload to be at home more that I decided I would treat writing as my job—even with my regular, formal part-time work.

When did you first know you could be a writer? I wrote my first novel and two of my neighbors would read it and give me feedback. The book had a ton of problems, but they would pull out the parts where they laughed their asses off or they felt it was moving or powerful or a character was strong and even with the novel’s problems, they would encourage me and in their reactions to what did work, I found the place in me that said, “this is what you should be doing…” I think they really demonstrated the power others have in supporting someone’s work.

What inspires you to write and why?  Life! Nearly everything I see is inspirational to me in some way. Even boring events are ripe with material. The way one woman digs through her purse and pokes at her phone with her long nails slipping off the buttons, or the man who is so bored he doesn’t realize he’s just picked his nose in a room full of fellow parents…there is no experience that isn’t in some way usable in my writing.What genre are you most comfortable writing?

What inspired you to write your first book? College life inspired my first book. I lived with one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. She was absolutely everything I was not—self-assured, sassy, brilliant, carefree, self-depricating, and a smoker. We were both drinkers…but we just clicked on some level and spent so much time doing stupid, dangerous/hilarious things that never failed to make me think, “oh, my God, I have to write about this…” I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone else like her—someone with such a fully developed sense of who she was and what she needed to do or not do to accomplish her goals.

Who or what influenced your writing once you began? I joined writers groups like FatPlum in Pittsburgh and PennWriters in Pennsylvania. There I met lovely people willing to not only support the content, the actual writing process, but they supported me as I went down the path of traditional publication. I found an agent, but she didn’t sell the first book she took on and then she turned down the others thinking they weren’t marketable—too small and quiet to be breakout novels. These groups and the individuals in them really helped me wade though the next steps in that situation.

Who or what influenced your writing over the years? Well, as publishing changed and opened up to self/indie publishing, my mentors changed a bit. There are many that I met in those original groups whom I still see and talk to regularly, but as I took on the responsibility of not only turning out the best book I could, but added the jobs related to publishing, I found I needed to meet with people who were doing that.

What made you want to be a writer?  What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general? For me, it’s the revision after the first and second drafts. I adore the first draft—just letting it all out…and I adore the finished product, but in between…it’s painful for me. I’ve started to enjoy the process of revision more, I really, really like playing with the exact words I want to use and the way I want a sentence to flow, stop and start. That has grown on me a bunch as I learned to trust that the words are there, that the first choice was not necessarily the best.

Did writing this book teach you anything and what was it? This book, Love and Other Subjects, taught me a lot about my career path. The novel was inspired by my first years of teaching and the group of women I lived with at the time. They were absolutely incredible people and teachers and I was just okay…oh my gosh, the single smartest thing about me at that time was that I knew what I didn’t know. And I was smart enough to go find the answers when no one had them at the school or in the county. I was a good teacher when I could boil down my day to actual teaching (like I was able to do at the very high-functioning, wealthy suburban district where I did my internship)…but add in discipline, chaos, and the plethora of stuff many teachers have to do beyond actually teaching and I really struggled at the time. The book also allowed me to explore race, friendship and love in a way that my first two books didn’t. Love and Other Subjects was just such a fun book for me to write. Very straightforward compared to the others I’ve written. I guess the book also is a reflection of what I learned professionally over the years more than a project that taught me in the way my historical fiction does. The race issue required me to really examine my experiences with friends and work as well. Writing about another race in a fictional way is tricky. I can only hope it comes across as respectfully done, that it shows the character of Carolyn growing in what she understands about other races and cultures.

Do you intend to make writing a career? It already is my career!

Have you developed a specific writing style? I don’t think so. All three books are about different times in history and each required a completely different style…I’m writing a follow-up to The Last Letter right now and I’m finding that as soon as I’m in the writing, that voice comes back…that tells me it was the right one for that book.

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Genre – Women’s Fiction

Rating – PG15

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