Lisa See On Her Novels’ Screen Adaptations + How Writers Can Master the Craft of Writing + The Role of Critique Groups

Lisa SeeName: Lisa See
Author’s Website:
Twitter – @Lisa_See
Facebook Fanpage – Lisa See

Hometown: Los Angeles
Based In: Los Angeles
Education: BA in Modern Greek Studies
Favorite Read: Angel of Repose.

If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be…A landscape designer

Author Crush: I have to choose one? Not possible! Here are a few I’ve been reading lately that I like: Ruth Ozeki, Willa Cather, Jess Walter, Adam Johnson

Fiction or General Publishing How-To Book I’d Recommend: My mother, Carolyn See, wrote one. It’s called Making a Literary Life. And it’s great!!! But it’s less about the actual writing than it is about how to become a writer. I don’t know if you can get useful writing advice about plot or character from a manual, but I do think you can learn a lot about what it takes to be a writer, publishing, and editing.

Up Next: I’ve just finished China Dolls. It takes place during the nightclub era in this country during the 1930s and 1940s. At that time, there were Chinese American nightclubs, in San Francisco mostly, that featured performers who billed themselves as the Chinese Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the Chinese Frank Sinatra, the Chinese Houdini, the Chinese Fill-in-the blank. Sometimes they would go out on the road to perform on what was called the Chop-suey Circuit. I’ve spent the last three years interviewing many of the perfromers, including the Chinese Ginger Rogers, who is now 96. Oh, and she’s actually Japanese not Chinese! So, China Dolls is about three girls who start out as chorus girls at a nightclub (based on the real life San Francisco nightclub, the Forbidden City) and what happens to them. Of course, they each have secrets. It wouldn’t be one of my books if the girls didn’t have secrets!

Where do you prefer doing most of your writing?

In my office, which is in my house and looks out into our garden.

Some would say you have a fascination with China.

I’m part Chinese. When I was growing up, I heard many stories about the family. But I also loved Chinatown. My parents were divorced when I was three and I moved around a lot, so Chinatown and my grandparents’ house were the constants in my life. Other things could change around me, but these two places stayed the same. After I wrote On Gold Mountain, I wrote three mysteries that took place in contemporary China. These allowed me to explore modern China and also think about how the past has influenced and continues to influence U.S.-China relations. With Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love, I went back to the deep past, where I was able to look at things that my family still does today but that I really hadn’t understood. In a sense, writing books allows me to research things I haven’t always understood in my family: why candy is given at funerals, why there’s such an emphasis on sons, or why lettuce leaves are given to dragons during Chinese New Year.

Did you expect Dreams of Joy to top the New York Times bestseller’s list? And it actually debuted there too!

It debuted at Number One! Continue reading

Marian Szczepanski On The Merits of an MFA Creative Writing Program + Character Development + Generating Publicity

marian-author photoName: Marian Szczepanski
Author’s Website, Facebook
Hometown: Greensburg, PA
Based In: Houston, TX
Education: BA, University of Notre Dame; MFA, Program for Writers, Warren Wilson College
Briefly: Playing St. Barbara, debut novel. Clackamas Literary Review, Peter and Jean de Maine Award for emerging fiction writer. Houston Press Club, second prize, magazine feature writing Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow, literary fiction fellowship, Hedgebrook, residency fellowship, Vermont Studio Center, residency grant.
Favorite Reads: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, In Sunlight, In a Beautiful Garden by Kathleen Cambor, The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard, Empire Falls by Richard Russo, Possession by A.S. Byatt. Anything by Hilary Mantel or George Saunders.
Pet Peeves: People who dismiss literary fiction as “too hard to read” or “boring.”
If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be…An archaeologist.
Author Crush: I’d love to have a dinner party with Flannery O’Connor presiding.
Fiction or General Publishing How-To Book You’d Recommend: Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway (no serious fiction writer’s bookshelf should be without it), Because You Have To: A Writing Life by Joan Frank, Mystery and Manners by Flannery O’Connor, Bringing the Devil to His Knees, ed. Peter Turchi & Charles Baxter
A Kite in the Wind, ed. Peter Turchi & Andrea Barrett, Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott, The Joy of Writing Sex by Elizabeth Benedict.
Up Next: A short story set in Yorkshire, England, and a novel set in the Ozarks.

Do you remember the day you got your first library card?

Unfortunately, no. However, I do recall that I made good use of it.

What did you enjoy reading as a kid?

L.M. Montgomery’s Emily and Ann books, especially Emily of New Moon. I named my middle daughter Emily after its heroine.

You went and studied journalism in college. Would you say that the researching and analytic tactics your learned helped with novel writing?

Absolutely. Every novel requires research of some sort. For Playing St. Barbara, I had to research everything, from coal mining technology in the 30s to popular radio shows in the Pittsburgh area in 1941. The internet was essential, but I couldn’t just rely on that. I’ve been interviewing people since I was in college, so I’m not shy about asking for information. It’s always been my experience that people, especially those who are experts in their respective fields, are more than willing to oblige. And I learned that the best friend any writer can have is a librarian. They’re the best research assistants ever.

Why 1928, and why a coal mine, as the backdrop for Playing St. Barbara?

I grew up in coal country in southwestern Pennsylvania, and my grandfathers were immigrant coal miners. Women are largely overlooked in mining literature, and I’ve always been interested in women’s history, so they became my focus. I set the novel from 1929-1941 in Fayette County because it was a period marked by postwar immigration and significant labor unrest. It was irresistibly dramatic material that directly related to my family background.

What other eras do you find fascinating besides the 1920s? And would you consider visiting that era for a book in the future?

I’m not inherently drawn to writing historical fiction. I enjoyed the research process for Playing St. Barbara, but I was drawn to the subject primarily because of its relationship to my personal history. I’ve started another novel with a contemporary setting, so I don’t see myself time-traveling via fiction anytime soon.

You’ve stated that you attended an MFA program and don’t regret a thing about it. How did it contribute to your growth as a writer?

I was an intuitive writer who knew nothing about craft. As an MFA student, I Continue reading

Hilary Fields On The Importance of A Polished Manuscript + Character Crafting

Hilary FIelds-photoName: Hilary Fields
Author’s Website
Hometown: NYC
Based In: Santa Fe
Briefly: Bliss is my first work of commercial women’s fiction, though I did write three historical romances under a different name some time ago, and one of them won Romantic Times’ Best Historical Adventure.
Favorite Read: My two all-time favorite series are Tolkien’s LOTR and Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In women’s fiction, I love Kresley Cole’s Immortals after Dark books and enjoy Kristan Higgins a lot.
Pet Peeves: Men who wear cologne, the sound of the 6 train pulling in to Spring Street in Manhattan, cold coffee. Ugh!
If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be…That’s a tough one. I’ve always worked in industries at least peripherally related to writing, because reading and wordplay are vital to my happiness. I’ve worked as a copywriter and in literary agencies, and currently write content for the web.
Up Next: My second novel for Redhook books is still unnamed, but should be out in a year’s time! It’s about a travel writer who winds up at the Last Chance Llama Ranch, finding a second chance and a forever home amongst a cast of truly unique folks.

When you think back to your childhood, do you associate it with books?

Oh yes. One thing my parents always made sure of was that we had access to whatever we wanted to read. Our whole family loves reading, and I used to stay up all night devouring books and then be terribly tired at school!

How did you get interested in writing?

I guess I just looked at some of the stuff I was reading and thought “I bet I could do that!” I have always been interested in creating fantasies and storylines, and when I couldn’t find what I wanted on the shelves, I just decided to write it for myself. Even when Continue reading

Mary Brock Jones On How She Does Research For Her Historical Novels + The Future of The Historical Fiction Genre

Mary Brock Jones (2)Name: Mary Brock Jones
Website: Mary Brock Jones
Blog: Mary Brock Jones Blog
Facebook: Facebook Page
Goodreads: Goodreads Page
Twitter: Twitter Handle
Hometown: Born on a farm near Oamaru, South Island, New Zealand.
Based In: Auckland, New Zealand.
Education: BSc, Zoology; BVSc, Veterinary Science, and have just finished a Graduate Diploma, English.
Briefly: I live in Auckland, New Zealand with my husband and a cat, now that our sons have all grown up and moved out. We recently bought a farm just north of the city, so escape there most weekends to wrestle with the gardens and play farmer, then traipse back to town and the traffic during the week to earn the money to pay for it. I write historical romance novels and science fiction, though have only had my SF short stories published so far. Novels: A Heart Divided (Escape Publishing, April 2013) and Swift Runs the Heart (Escape Publishing, Sept 2013). Awards: RWNZ Clendon Award Reader’s Choice, 2012.

Favorite Read: There are so many books, but ones I have read repeatedly include Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series, Nora Roberts Chesapeake Blue, Nalini Singh’s works, particularly Kiss of Snow and Slave to Sensation, Catherine Asaro’s Skolian series, particularly Diamond Star, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series and M.M. Kaye’s Trade Winds. As you can see, I like series. Other favourite authors include Robert Heinlein for sci-fi, the brilliant Georgette Heyer for historical romance, Jayne Anne Krentz and her alter egos, Jayne Castle and Amanda Quick, and fellow New Zealand contemporary romance authors Jackie Ashenden and Karina Bliss. A stand out book that defines for me what it means to be a New Zealander is Man Alone, by John Mulgan. Trade Winds also gave me the lines of Elizabethan poetry that epitomize what storytelling is for me.

“Teach me to hear mermaids singing,”
From John Donne’s “Go and Catch a Falling Star”

With a host of furious fancies
Whereof I am commander,
With a burning spear and a horse of air,
To the wilderness I wander.

By a knight of ghostes and shadowes
I summon’d am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond the wild world’s end.
Methinks it is no journey.
From “Tom O’Bedlam” by Anon.

Pet Peeves: Kindle e-books open at the beginning of chapter 1, rather than at a blurb to remind me what the book I bought months beforehand is actually about.

If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be…Maybe a journalist, so I could indulge my ‘nosiness’ even more.

Author Crush: Dorothy Dunnett for the vividness and glory of her writing.

Fiction or General Publishing How-To Book You’d Recommend: Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Writer’s Digest, 2001.Stephen King’s On Writing, Hodder, 2001.

Both of these are easy to read, and very much ‘can do’ books. Also helpful are the many standard screenwriting guides, for tips on how to structure a story, communicate information non-verbally and keep your writing and dialogue tight and effective. Examples are Save the Cat by Blake Snyder ( ), Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field, and Screenwriting Tricks for Authors (and Screenwriters!) by Alexandra Sokoloff.

Up Next: I’m currently working on a science fiction novel, involving a climate change theme.

What’s the first book that comes to mind when you think of your childhood?

All of the Narnian books, for the fantasy and the characters. Talking animals — irresistible!

How did you get interested in writing in the historical romance genre?

I’ve always Continue reading