Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Writerly Wednesday ~~ Author Interview with Ronlyn Domingue

RONLYN DOMINGUE is the author of The Mercy of Thin Air (Atria Books). The debut novel was a 2005 Borders Original Voices Award Finalist and was acquired in 11 other countries. Her writing has appeared in New England Review, Clackamas Literary Review, New Delta Review, and The Independent (UK). She earned an MFA degree in creative writing from Louisiana State University. In the past, Ronlyn worked as a grassroots organizer, project manager, teacher, and grant writer. Novel #2 is in progress, completion date heretofore unknown. Visit her at her site or Facebook.

1.) What do you like about contributing to The Nervous Breakdown?

I enjoy the magazine’s positive community spirit. When I started to write for TNB last summer, I noticed that comments on the pieces tended to be thoughtful and encouraging. Snarkiness rarely rears up. (And several writers have become friends, both online and in person.) There’s so much content diversity, too, from funny to serious, politics to personal stories, nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. I always find something wonderful to read. I think I’ve grown as a writer by having this outlet, a chance to share stories and ideas through nonfiction.

2.) If you had to name one thing that makes good fiction, what is it?

The ring of truth. To read a book for entertainment is pleasurable, serves the moment. To read a book that makes you feel—which connects you to the human experience in a way that speaks to you—feeds the soul.

3.) At a recent writers conference, you spoke on the difficulty of POV. Any advice on getting it right?
Trust the story to tell you what it wants. I once wrote a short story in third person limited because I thought it was a more literary approach. That’s what I was supposed to do. But after I finished the draft, I realized the protagonist had to tell the story in his own voice. It was a leap because the main character was a nine-year-old African-American boy. I often recommend the novel Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman because the story is told from several points of view. The perspective from which the writer writes shapes how the reader will perceive the work as a whole, as well as specific characters and situations. My opinion is that Perlman’s novel would not have been so profound if he’d chosen a more simplistic way of telling the story.

4.) I'm reading (and am captivated/inspired by) your The Mercy of Thin Air. The non-linear plot is fascinating but unusual. Did you have problems convincing your agent or publisher to let you do it that way?

First, thank you for the compliment. Second, to answer your question, no, not at all. No one ever suggested I change that aspect of it. I believe each book has its own inherent structure. A wise writer will pay attention to what the book reveals. The Mercy of Thin Air wanted to be told with the interweaving plot lines with time fractured as it was. Sure, I could have crafted the novel with a straightforward chronology, but that would have undermined its suspense and power.

5.) Do you have a handy-dandy list of three things emerging writers can do to improve their chances of publication?

(1) As often as possible, avoid words that end with –ing and avoid passive voice. You’ll be surprised how much your prose improves.

(2) Write what you want to write. Audiences don’t know what they want to read until they read it. Publishers can’t predict trends or what will break out as “the” hot books of a season. If you make it as a writer, that has as much to do with your own talent as it does with luck and timing. The former is under your control. The latter two are not.

(3) Be perseverant. You will have to work, not piddle, at your writing. You will face rejection—which feels terrible but it is part of the experience. You will have to work for what you want. For example, The Mercy of Thin Air took four years to complete. Then within 15 months, I researched and queried 60 agents—and was rejected by 59 of them. If I gave up at any part of this process, you wouldn’t be reading this now.

6.) When you read the Kirkus Review's thoughts on your book -- "Debut novelist Domingue weaves a tapestry of lost spirits and misplaced lovers...” -- did you get goose bumps? How much stock do you place in reviews?

Goosebumps, no. The experience was so surreal that it almost felt as if that and other reviews were about someone else’s book. As for what stock I put in them, enough to know they matter but don’t have the power to make or break a novel. Reviews serve a publicity function to get the title and author’s name out there. Good or bad, they also serve as a way to track a writer’s work in a cultural context. Ultimately, it’s the unpredictable force of word-of-mouth that changes a book’s life.

7.) Book two -- what is it, where are you in the process, and how is it different from your first?

Novel #2 will not let me speak about it specifically. At this point, the entire story is plotted, and I have sense of most of the significant connections among characters and events. It’s different from my first in its scope and depth. This is an epic story, although that doesn’t mean it will have an epic length. There’s a dark, brutal, archetypal quality to this novel that was not present in the first. However, like The Mercy of Thin Air, it ends in light.

8.) What draws you to the supernatural and psychological elements while crafting a story?

The stories pick me. I don’t choose them. Whatever interest I have in the paranormal and psychology gives me the ability to understand the evolving work intellectually. I’m able to separate the experience—then merge it back together. How do I explain this….I receive rather than imagine. Stories come in fragments of image, dialogue, “knowings.” I’m tasked with making sense of all of this, piecing it together in a meaningful and understandable way. For example, there are images within Novel #2 that I appreciate more fully because I’ve read a good bit of C.G. Jung. Those images would work just fine on their own, but with my knowledge, I’ll be able to add a layer of depth that may not have been present before.

9.) Best advice you give your students? Your "For Writers" section of your website is really nice.

I can’t generalize here. If a student or friend asks for my guidance, I pay attention to where that person is in his/her growth as a writer and what s/he wants to achieve. There’s no one-size-fits-all. My “For Writers” page keeps that in mind. Some people simply want to start writing. Others are ready to look for agents. A few others might be in the process of getting published and want to know what to expect. Every writer’s journey is different, and I strive to respect that. And I know I don’t have all the answers.

10.) Give us a look at a typical day in your life.

The other day, I made a comment to my sister that I live as a secular contemplative. I spend most of my daylight hours alone with my cat. The amount of time I spend reflecting on what I’ll write far exceeds the actual moments spent writing. I tend our vegetable and flower gardens either morning or evening. At night, my partner Todd and I usually watch a movie. This might sound horribly boring to many people, but for me, I need this silent, solitary space to produce the next novel. And I’m very grateful to be able to bring it into the world in this way.

Thank you for taking time away from your busy schedule to do the interview, Ronlyn.

PS for the POETS: We've got a really informative interview with our State Poet Laureate Dr. Darrell Bourque posted at the Rose & Thorn blog (oddly enough, called Roses & Thorns...hehe). If you love poetry, you'll love his perspective!


Vodka Mom said...

That interview was wonderful. Very informative - THANKS SO MUCH!!!


Deb Shucka said...

What a wonderful interview! I'm off to check out Ronlyn's site, and to get her book. Thanks for another great post, Angie.

Terri Tiffany said...

She sounds awesome!!
Here's my favorite thing she said:
Write what you want to write. Audiences don’t know what they want to read until they read it.

Love it! Thank you for doing this. I plan to check out that site.

Carrie Link said...

Spending my days alone with a cat sounds like heaven.

Great interview, Angie, thank you!

Angie Ledbetter said...

VM - It was a fun, interesting interview. Great person to brain pick with. :)

Deb - Glad you enjoyed. My pleasure.

TT - Thank YOU.

Carrie - Make the cat a dog and I'm there! The interview with Ronlyn was all my pleasure.

Karen said...

Great interview. I'll have to check out her books. Thanks

colbymarshall said...

Fun interview! Thanks! I agree with the "ing" words 100%. In fact, I agree with all the tips. Best of luck!

Angie Ledbetter said...

Karen, do check it out. There's lots of great stuff for writers at Ronlyn's site.

Thanks, Colby. Hope the world's treating ya okay...and that you also finally have acquired your tail! LOL

Anita said...

What a great interview! Thanks for doing it!

T. Anne said...

GREAT interview. I can't agree with you more about the ring of truth in fiction! Honestly I can do an entire post on just that one topic. It needs to ring true. Even if the story is a work of fiction, I want to believe it. Excellent!

Scott said...

Great interview. I love the item 2 answer to Question 5. It's what I've written about on my blog off and on lately. We have to write what we love to write and quit worrying about trends. Love. It!


p.s. even though i don't always comment lately, i'm still lurking in the shadows. : )

Angie Ledbetter said...

Anita - So glad you enjoyed it.

T. Anne - Glad you enjoyed! She's some nice/savvy author lady teacher, I tell ya. :)

So right, Scott! Write what ya wanna. And I totally understand about residing in Lurkville sometimes.

Robyn Campbell said...

Excellent interview, Angie. Thank you so much Ronlyn. A beautiful name, btw.

I love what Ronlyn says about, "no one size fits all," and how she tries to see where a writer is in his/her growth, before offering advice. That advice is the absolute best I've heard in a long time.

I'm heading over to her site and will def check out her book.

I'll check out the interview over at Rose & Thorn, too.

Awesome job, ladies! =)

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

Great interview! Thanks for all the information. :)

Stacy Post said...

I'm still way behind on catching up, but wonderful interview. I'm always looking for something good to read!

Kathryn Magendie said...

As usual, a comprehensive, interesting, and well-asked and -answered interview!

patti said...

Oh, MYYY! We meet again. Okay. If you hop by my blog, I'll put you on the roll so we don't have to keep meeting like this!

I visited your author Wednesday while you visited Jen. The coincidence cannot be ignored.
Nor the lemonade recipe (it's even hot in the Midwest, dear.)

Displaced Southerner,

Jessica Nelson said...

I love this! Love what she said about good fiction! Also, thanks for sharing about the agent hunt. Since I'm doing that...well, I've got lots of rejections and it's good to be reminded that it only takes one. :-)

Angie Ledbetter said...

Thanks Robyn! I loved that one-size quote too. And thanks for checking out the Rose & Thorn Poet Laureate interview also.

Roni - Love the writing info at your blog too.

Stacy - I think you'll enjoy Ronlyn's book. Tres interesting!

Hey Ms. Kat! Thanky. (You missed out not hearing Ronlyn speak in Houma...when your bahonkus was stuck at the author signing table.) hehe

Patti - Added you to my Rockin' Blog Roll. :D

Angie Ledbetter said...

Jessica - Yep, only takes one! (One with eyeballs that love your work.) :)

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