alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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Killer Washing Machines: An Interview with Anna Breslaw

 

I met Anna last fall at a workshop about writing horror fiction for teens. Anna & I had brilliant conversations under the Pennsylvania stars about ghosts, celebrities, serial killers and writing for women. Trust me when I say that Anna has a strange and sparkling mind. We caught up again this week with a few questions about writing and things that go bump in the night.

anna

Your debut novel Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here is hyper-realistic contemporary YA fiction. But when we met last year you were working on something much darker for your next book. What’s the status of that project?

It’s driving me crazy! Haha. Yay honesty! I’ve actually turned it into an adult book (the protagonist is 29 now, my age) and am nearly done with the first half but keep going back and making changes, obsessing, et cetera. I might take a break and start a new YA project as a palate cleanser—I am thinking more of a love story this time, and maybe supernatural in some way—but definitely hope to finish it this year.

What personally scares you more—real-life things (serial killers, earthquakes, car accidents) or supernatural things (ghosts, monsters, zombies)?

Real-life things, unless Stephen King is somehow involved, in which case, literally any damn thing (cars, washing machines…).

Process time: Where and how do you work? Home office/kitchen table/on the train? Is writing novels different than writing for magazines?

I have a little desk in the corner of my living room that I work at—sort of an open home office, if you will—that faces my backyard. I’m pretty bad at keeping my writing schedule regular, or hitting a certain word count every day, but I know a lot of people swear by that. Although when a joke or a character idea or whatever comes to me when I’m outside the house (which happens often) I’ll jot it down in my iPhone. My Notes look crazy.

Magazine pieces are generally a lot more structured/formulaic than novels are, at least in the drafting phase. The arc is pretty clear, there needs to be a clear “takeaway,” and there’s a tight word limit so it’s hard to play around. Every word counts. It’s almost more like tweeting than it is like writing-writing. Whereas with novels, you can really go nuts and write long and then tighten it afterwards.

What do you wish you were reading but aren’t (because it doesn’t exist)?

So many things: Fran Leibowitz’s memoir, a YA novel by Junot Diaz, Mary Roach’s nonfiction take on the world of women’s magazines, fiction about this or this, an adult novel with a premise/spirit that’s similar to a Joss Whedon show

 Right now, who is the person/celebrity/fictional character you would most like to subject to a horror movie fate? 

 James Franco. He’s too chill. I don’t trust it.

scarlett

Anna Breslaw is a New York-based freelance writer and author who mostly writes funny things, or things about women, or both at once. Previously, she was a staff writer at Cosmo and a sex & relationships editor at Cosmopolitan.com. She’s also been a contributing writer for Jezebel and Glamour.com. Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here is her first book. You should follow her on Twitter.

If you too would like to drink wine and meet writers like Anna–though I can’t guarantee the talk about serial killers–and you’re writing for children or teens, I suggest you check out amazing catalog of workshops offered by the Highlights Foundation.


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From Crocodiles to Butterflies (aka Short Stories vs Novels)

Thanks to the Indiana Arts Commission, I recently received an Individual Artist Grant for 2013-2014 to support my work-in-progress, a Young Adult fantasy novel about some very bad ponies and the end of the world. As part of that grant, I’ve agreed to write about what I learn as I shift from writing short fiction (500-6000 words) to writing novel-length fiction (60,0000 words and up).

The first thing I’ve learned:
I’m happier.

Even though I have only ever dreamed of writing novels—even though short fiction doesn’t satisfy me as a reader— somewhere along this crooked path of becoming a writer, I veered from my novel goal and detoured down short story lane. It was a crooked, treacherous lane, and I soon strayed into a mire of crocodiles, quicksand, and biting insects.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/neeravbhatt/3816605467/

Photo by Neerva Bhatt, via Flickr

I set out to write my first novel way back in 2005. It was a mystery novel about art fraud in Philadelphia. I made it to 53,000 words, and realized that I don’t have the kind of brain that does mystery plots. My consolation prize was that it had two great villains who I’m still kind of in love with, Yuri and Vassily (aka The Fur Brothers).

What that novel didn’t have was an ending. I thought I should probably get some practice at this ending stuff. I set a reasonable goal that I thought would take care of the problem: I would bang out three short stories with good endings: problem solved.

I figured it would take me 3 months, tops.

[*SOUND OF HYSTERICAL CRYING*]

Dear Reader, I may have been a bit fuzzy on how to end a novel, but I didn’t even know what a short story was for. I never read any, except the ones assigned in Lit classes. The result? I languished in the Crocodile-Quicksand Badlands trying to figure this out for THE NEXT EIGHT YEARS. Eight years when I could have been writing novels.*

A combination of circumstances and some good things happening with my short fiction last year, have set me back on the broad well-paved thoroughfare of writing novels. My little cart of words trundles smoothly along, while I enjoy the pleasant country views, good company, and the occasional butterfly drifting by.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/khoatran/214597579/

Photo by Khoa Trần via Flickr

In June, I attended Kij Johnson’s Fantasy & Science Fiction Novel Writer’s Workshop** at the CSSF in Lawrence, KS. After being told everything that was wrong with our projects and spending two weeks ripping out what we had and starting over, many of my workshop-mates were grumbling and daydreaming about returning to their comfort zone: short stories. They felt that there at least they knew what was going on.

Fishbowling at CSSF--with Brooke Wonders, Dale Ivan Smith, Rebecca Wright, and Emily Hall

Fishbowling at CSSF–with Brooke Wonders, Dale Ivan Smith, Rebecca Wright, and Emily Hall

Not me.  All I could think was: “I’m free!”

For many, writing short stories is “easy.” My Clarion West instructor Margo Lanagan recently said that “Short stories involve less angst than novels…It doesn’t require so much heavy lifting, psychologically.” I have the utmost respect for Margo, but that’s just crazy-talk.

I honestly feel like I have been let out of a cage. At last, I can leave all the aggravations (see: sharp-toothed reptiles, biting insects) of short stories behind. It’s true that writing a novel still means dealing with a full complement of the parts I don’t like about writing, but it has so much more of the parts I do like.

On the other hand, I’m still on the first draft. So what do I know?
I guess I’ll find out.

Stay tuned for next time when I’ll talk about Common Problems of First Novels.

If you’re a writer, what’s your preference? Flash? Short Story? Novella? Novel?
If you’re a reader, what would you rather read? Short stories or novels?

*The moral is: Don’t let this happen to you. You want to write novels? Write novels. Just make sure you finish them.
** This is a fantastic workshop. You should go.