Sex as a Second Language Interview
Interview with Alisa Kwitney and Deirdre Martin
You know the standard author interview format: Where do you get your ideas from, how many hours a day do you write, do you use a computer or dip a quill in your own blood. Yawn. Tired of the same old questions? Then find out what happens when two writers stop being polite and start asking each other what they really want to know.
Alisa Kwitney: Dee, when you look at your latest novel, do you feel A) Oh, my God, I can’t believe I didn’t catch that glaring mistake B) That’s a fine book. Wish I could remember how to write another one C) One of my other personalities must have written that, because I can’t recall a bit of it or D) Other (please elaborate).
Deirdre Martin: How about “All of the above”? I have a hard time looking at all my books after they’ve come out, because all I can see are the mistakes, whether they be in spelling, continuity, etc. I also see all the choices I DIDN’T make, whether it comes to particular words or a story arc or individual character traits. Inshort, I’m a raving masochist.
B) Every time I finish a book I think, “How did I do that?”, then plunge immediately into a blind panic, convinced I’ll never be able to do it again. Clearly I’m not the only writer who goes through this, as evidenced by the fact that you asked about it! I wish I had a deep insight as to why so many of us experience this, but I don’t.
Perhaps forgetting is a necessary component of being able to start fresh the next time; perhaps most fiction writers are inherently insane. I just don’t know.
C) I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who can’t remember the actual writing process. I can remember peripherals: the brain busting migraine that wrecked a planned day of writing; my computer dying and having a moment of sheer horror trying to remember if I’d backed upor not. But as for actually WRITING the damn thing? Must be my evil twin who commits the words to paper, ’cause it sure as hell isn’t me.
Alisa Kwitney: As often happens to me at the midway point, I am currently convinced that that the book I’m writing now is a foul stew of half-formed ideas that nothing can save. I’m stuck in a scene that isn’t going anywhere and I’ve lost all sense of how time is supposed to pass in this book. Does this ever happen to you,and if so, what do you do about it?
Deirdre Martin: This happens to me with every book. I reach the half way point and I think, “Oh my God, this books makes no sense, the pacing is off, the hero and heroine are boring, there’s no chemistry, the dialogue sucks, the book is going to be too short, the book is going to be too long, fill in the blank.” My husband refers to it as my “dance of self loathing”, and I don’t think he’s far from the mark. Of course, he doesn’t write fiction, so he doesn’t know what it’s like to construct an entire world out of you imagination and realize midway through that you meant to be in Miami, but instead you’re in Bismarck, figuratively speaking.
When I’m in the middle of a book and I’m thinking, “Well, my career’s over, because this is just a big, fat irreparable mess,” I
A) remind myself I feel this way every time I write a book. This doesn’t help, of course, but I do it anyway.
B) do NOT go back to look at the beginning of the book. I made the mistake of doing this once and completely psyched myself out. Couldn’t write for days. Wandered around the house wondering what I was going to do with my life because clearly, I wasn’t a “real” writer. A “real” writer would have a perfect beginning and everything would just flow from there…
C) get up and walk away from the computer. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to just leave the book alone for a little while. Let things percolate. Inevitably, something comes to mind (usually when I’m in the shower or falling asleep!) that solves whatever problem I’m having. For me, the key is not forcing it.
Alisa Kwitney: Speaking of not forcing it, lately I find that whenever I have a batch of hours to write, I find myself staring at the wall. It seems at the moment that the only time I can write productively is at three in the morning, or right before I’m due to arrive at an extremely important appointment.
Deirdre Martin: I find your process very interesting, because mine is the exact opposite. I love having a batch of hours at my disposal! It feels like playtime. I have a general writing schedule that I try to stick to, writing in the mornings if I can. If I can’t, I can and do write at other times, but never at 3a.m. (unless I have insomnia, in which case I self medicate with bad TV). I wonder: do you find 3 a.m to be a good time for you because your family is asleep and your mind thinks, “Ah, peaceful, now I can work”?
Alisa Kwitney: I think it’s more that when I do get stuck, it’s easier to break through when I know I’m “off the clock.” I sometimes find a big batch of hours intimidating, but when I only have fifteen minutes to write, or when it’s so late I’m supposed to be asleep so it doesn’t matter what I write, I get looser and let it flow. Or drip.
Mostly I do write while the children are at school, though, staying up late when I begin to fall behind my schedule.
Deirdre Martin: Interesting. I’m often up late at night, but it’s never crossed my mind to use the time to write. Maybe I’m too much of a perfectionist and I’m afraid it will be junk? When you get looser and let it flow–or drip–do you find when you go back to it in the morning, there’s stuff in there you can use?
Alisa Kwitney: The 3 a.m. stuff is usually usable, aside from the occasional use of the terms “brflgritz” and inexplicable references to the importance of the haj.
When you medicate with bad TV, what do you watch? I curl up with the Magnus (not the hero of my novel, my big Chinook dog) and find myself watching animal cops rescuing three-legged dachsunds. Last night I watched the Surreal Life. Nothing sexy happened with the actor who used to play Mr. Jefferson in the seventies, but I kept hoping.
Deirdre Martin: You mean Sherman Helmsley? You find him sexy, aye?
Alisa Kwitney: No, it was more of a weirdness thing…I mean, he’s not exactly the model for one my heroes.
Deirdre Martin: I was more of a Freddie Prinze girl in the 70s myself. Though I wouldn’t have thrown the Hudson Brothers out of bed for eating crackers, either.
As for self medication via bad TV, I love to watch televangelists. I love their names (Creflo T. Dollar, Pastor Shine and Dee Dee, and Rexella are a few of my favorites), I love their hair, and I love trying to figure out if they really believe what they’re saying or if they’re total scam artists. They manage to fascinate and repulse me at the same time.
I have to say, I love the name Magnus, whether it’s for a dog or a hero. It brings to mind all sorts of great words: magic, magnificent, mysterious, magisterial. Is this part of the reason you named your dog AND your hero Magnus? Or did you just like it? How much thought do you put into choosing character names?
Alisa Kwitney: I’m glad you like the name Magnus. I have a lot of baby name books and spend a fair amount of time naming my heroes and heroines. When it came time to choose the name of my puppy, I thought he was a bit like the hero I was writing — sort of big and strong and sweet and not as awkward as he initially comes across. Unlike the hero, however, he has a bad habit of jumping up and licking women on the lips.
Deirdre Martin: I think your boy Magnus is very well behaved for a dog his age. I have two ill behaved Newfs, Rocky and Winston, and when they jump up on someone, it’s dangerous. My husband and I keep talking about obedience training for them, but we never get around to it. Perhaps when they knock someone down and it results in that person having to have hip replacement surgery, we’ll finally DO something about their bad manners.
Alisa Kwitney: Speaking of heroes, your fictional menfolk come across as incredibly real and yet convincingly, sexily masculine. Do you have any tricks for writing from male P.O.V.? And do your dogs have anything to do with the writing process?
Deirdre Martin: Actually, an unruly Newf plays a prominent role in the book I’m currently on now, called “Chasing Stanley”. I guess you could say Rocky and Winston are the inspiration. Thanks for the kudos on writing heroes that come across as real. If I have any “tricks” at all about writing from a male POV, it’s showing my stuff to my husband, who’s a total GUY. He has no problem telling me a “A man would never think this way,” or “a man would never talk this way,” and then giving examples of what HE thinks a guy would say or how one would think. It’s led me to a very disturbing conclusion: no matter how suave or sexy or masculine the man, they all harbor an inner Homer Simpson.
Do you find men hard to write?
Alisa Kwitney: In many ways, I find men easier to write, even though my heroes tend to be blue collar alpha males, while I am a fairly classic example of a female Bobo (member of the bohemian bourgeoisie). I think that men are easier to write because there is no alternative but to sit down and get intuitive, whereas I can get too thinky with my female characters. Also, I always write outsiders, so my cop is Jewish and likes Swinburne, and my rescue diver has existential issues.
Hey, here’s a question for you. Your latest book revolves around a high school reunion. Who were you in the day? I was the odd geeky girl wearing vintage sixties velour when everyone else was prepped out and reading science fiction.
Deirdre Martin: In high school, I was the goody goody brainiac student newspaper editor/chorus geek. I worked part time at Dunkin’ Donuts and in the rectory of the local Catholic Church, where I got to do fun things like mail out Mass cards and cover for one of the priests when he was too drunk to come to the phone. By night, though, I was alterna- music Queen, listening to the Talking Heads, Devo and Ian Dury and the Blockheads, heaping secret scorn on my peers who listened to Boston– or worse, KANSAS. (All we are is dust in the wind, Alisa).
Alisa Kwitney: Lol. Yeah, I was a bit of punk myself. Well, listen, I’d better go write some pages. This has been great, though! (Runs off and hides her collection of Boston albums).
Deirdre Martin is the author of the USA Today Bestseller, The Penalty Box, as well as three other books. When not obsessively listening to music on her iPod, she can be found biking or glued to her computer, trying to come up with testosterone laden romantic comedies.
Alisa Kwitney is the author of Sex as a Second Language, along with a bunch of other stuff. She is currently trying to train her dog not to keep knocking the lid off the garbage, and is also working on a new novel about life for a big city woman gone country.