Monday, 25 February 2013
Author Interview: Jack Remick
About the Author:
I am a novelist, poet, short story writer, and script writer. I’ve taught fiction and screenwriting. I have a number of publications in national and local magazines including Carolina Quarterly; Portland Review; Café Noir Review.
Do you plan everything or just let the story flow?
In the early stages of discovery writing, I let it come. I practice timed writing—setting a timer for five, ten, fifteen or more minutes then write until the clock stays stop. I spend a lot of time “writing about the writing.” This is a process that precedes any scene writing but does go into backstory, time, and setting. For example in Gabriela and The Widow, my novel just coming out, I spent a couple of weeks working out the clothing details for Gabriela long before she ever appeared in a scene. Once I understood her character, I could map her clothing changes against character development. When I’ve gotten deep enough into the story through writing about writing, I then write a treatment. This is a technique I picked up from some screenwriters I worked with. After the treatment is fixed, I sequence the scenes to connect objects or characters. Here’s an example from Gabriela and The Widow:
1. We see Gabriela in Oaxaca through three changes—
A. She buys a real dress with blue and red flowers on it and she buys a pair of real shoes with laces. What we don’t see is that she has no idea how to tie laces.
B. Next we see Gabriela buying a pair of Nike running shoes like the shoes las Norteñas wear when they come to the shop where she works.
C. We are with Gabriela when she buys a pair of white shorts to go with her running shoes but this combination angers Nando who throws her out into the street—what we do know is that it isn’t the shoes and shorts that anger him, but Gabriela’s failure to give him a son.
2. On her own, Gabriela goes to Mexico City to work as a maid in a hotel. She now has bought a pair of Levis and two blue chambray shirts that she wears when she isn’t in her maid’s uniform. Her shoes are still the Nikes.
When the story has taken shape and I understand more about it, there’s not much need to plan anymore and this relates to your second question…
Do your characters ever want to take over the story?
They don’t take over the story, but I get out of the way and let them act and talk and get into trouble. What this means to me is that the “author” has to disappear. It’s their story, so let them tell it.
What is your favourite food?
It has to be what the Peruvians call “pachamanca.” In Quechua that means earth pot. You dig a hole, heat rocks, layer in pork, beef, chicken wrapped in banana leaves, lay in whole ears of Indian corn (choclo), cover it all and let it steam. A couple hours later, you unwrap this feast, spread it out on a table and you have one magnificent dining experience. Lots of beer is required.
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
I’m up at 5 or 6 each morning, but I stay up late. I like the quiet of both morning and late night. I do my best work then and there’s an added dimension—I’m working while everyone else is wasting their time in dreams. My books are my dreams so the sooner I can return to them, the happier I am.
Where do you dream of travelling to and why?
I travelled a lot early on, but now I’m content to mine my experiences to turn them into novels. I’m a note taker so I filled notebooks about my travels. Those notebooks now are good source material.
Do distant places feature in your books?
Yes. I lived in Latin America for years. I studied foreign languages and music in Quito, Ecuador. I have written three books with settings either in South America or France. I don’t do that to be “exotic” but the stories needed those locations. For example, my novel Blood, which deals with colonialism and natural resources, had to be set in South America. My book One Year in the Time of Violence finds a young American traveling in Colombia during a brief civil war. Gabriela and The Widow opens in Mexico then moves north.
Do you listen to music while writing?
It depends on what stage of development a novel is in. Early on I write longhand in cafes and coffee shops. I write on yellow lined paper and I use a timer (this is Natalie Goldberg’s “writing practice” as set out in Writing Down the Bones.) Later, while I’m typing up the writing, I listen to Bach. Bach is pure structure. I find that his music informs writing in the sense that in the fugues you hear patterns and transformations in much the same way that objects, characters, and action are introduced then developed in fiction. In the final stages of a novel, I need the quiet once again so that I can hear the words. I read everything aloud and I record or video myself reading. The is perfect feedback because I know this: if the words don’t fit in your mouth, they won’t fit in your reader’s brain.
Gabriela and The Widow is a novel about two women—a Widow and the young Mexican woman who comes to take care of her. It’s story about mothers and daughters and it’s a story about how the past being transmitted into the future. There’s a lot of pain and anguish, love and betrayal in this novel. It’s also a novel about story telling and the need to write down our histories.
What have you learned about writing and publishing since you first started?
The publishing world changed with the e-book, amazon.com, and create space. Writing and writing techniques have remained constant—Stories are told with action and image. Dialogue reveals character. I’ve learned more about the approach to a novel since I first started in that now I understand that Story is first. Then you look at Structure. Then Style. If I had known this earlier, I wouldn’t have stumbled around in the wilderness for so long. Now, I know to spend more time “writing about the writing” in the sense of discovering character, backstory, time, place, and setting before ever writing a scene. I think now that you don’t write a novel, you write scenes and in the scenes you find hooks that build into stories. I gave up thinking chapters when I discovered that the chapter is an arbitrary structure, just as a paragraph is an arbitrary structure in fiction. The basic unit of fiction is the scene. The basic unit of the scene is the sentence. Every sentence has to do double duty—reveal character and tell story. If I’d known all of that earlier…well, who knows?
Is there anything you would do differently?
I’m the product of all my mistakes. Without them, I wouldn’t be who and what I am today. One thing I would avoid is rushing into print. Early success can make it harder to accept the huge gaps between successes later. I’ve also learned that often our ideas are way ahead of our technique so some things you write early in your career would be better written if you waited a while. My first short story came out in Carolina Quarterly. Okay, I thought, that was easy. It took me five years of hard work to get the next one.
Who, or what, if anything has influenced your writing?
I’ve had three big influences in my writing life. Jack Moodey, a poet. Thom Gunn, a poet. Natalie Goldberg, a writer. All of these people in one way or another changed the way I write and think about writing. Natalie Goldberg gave me timed writing, what she calls writing practice—writing under the clock to put the internal editor to sleep. Thom Gunn taught me the discipline of the poetic line and the intense, compressed image. Jack Moodey taught me that every poem is an epic poem. He told me that the good poet finds the best line in a poem and then makes all everything else just like it. All of this carries over into my fiction—timed writing as a discipline that forces me to finish what I start. Moodey’s epic thinking forces me to turn every sentence into a model that can be the model for every other sentence. Thom Gunn’s discipline of compression and image leads to the realization that stores are told with action and image.
Anything you would say to those just starting out in the craft?
Write a lot before you try to publish. Take some writing classes. Study rhetoric. A useful book for this is Writing With Clarity and Style, by Robert Harris. Work only with writers who know more than you do. Beware of the phrase, “I really like your writing but…” Learn about timed writing as set forth in Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Don’t be afraid to fail, and don’t let failure eat you up. Every writer has boxes full of rejection notices, so don’t dwell on them. Don’t wallow in success. And above all, when you do get in print, don’t read your reviews. Hemingway said: “You’re only as good as your last book.” Bill Russell, the basketball legend said: “Money and success only make you a bigger what you were before.” Jack Remick says: “Discipline is your obligation to the gift.”
What are three words that describe you?
Disciplined. Curious. Relentless.
What's your favourite book or who is your favourite writer?
Blood Meridian. Cormac McCarthy.
Blurb of your latest release or coming soon book
Gabriela and The Widow is a story of chaos, revenge, and change. Gabriela seeks revenge for the destruction of her village. The Widow craves balance for the betrayals in her life. In the end, The Widow gives Gabriela the secret of immortality.
List of previous books if any
The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery, with Robert J. Ray
The Stolen House (out of print)
Josie Delgado—A poem of the Central Valley
Lemon Custard—Novella and Screenplay
Black Madonna in Blue--screenplay
Throwback and Other Stories—short fiction
Terminal Weird—short stories.
Any websites/places readers can find you on the web.
http://jackremick.com | http://bobandjackswritingblog.com Thank you, Jack and good luck with your books :)
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