What is the title of your class?
What’s one thing you hope your students will take away from this class?
A better understanding of the various—and most natural—ways to access your characters’ emotions, a concrete arsenal of techniques for conveying them, and a more finely honed sense of when and how to reign it all in.
What sorts of writers will you be reading/assigning in class? Why?
They will be numerous, both contemporary and classic, and excerpted mostly in brief, as this is only a three-hour class. Just to keep you on your toes, however, we’ll pay a visit to another genre or two so that we can steal their techniques (instructor rubs hands gleefully).
Can your students connect with you on social media? If so, how?
I’m always happy to receive an old-school email from students. Facebook I’m still sorting out, in the hopes that I can create something other than a really weird cocktail party attended by elderly relatives, former employers, members of my rock band, professional colleagues, and elementary school friends I haven’t seen in 35 years.
Are any of your works online and available to the public?
In the online archive of Narrative Magazine, under my name, are two short stories and an audio recording of an excerpt from my novel-in-progress. Registration is required but viewing of those authors who have not yet attained the status of literary luminary—ahem—is free.
What is your teaching philosophy?
Power to the people! Or rather, I figure it’s my job to illuminate areas of opportunity for writers who are learning to see what’s in their own work—and to help them hone a finely tuned B.S. Detector. I remember how hard it was in my early writing life to make progress without guidance, so I’m only too glad to share what I’ve learned (almost every class I teach deals with a topic that I myself have wrestled with in the past). But nothing makes me happier than a class that takes the reigns of a discussion and rides the topic at hand—with honesty, rigor, kindness, and a blustery kind of cheer—off into the sunset.
What advice do you have about getting into the habit of writing regularly?
Make a consistent time and space for it. Stick to it. Expect it to be painful at first, like the formation of any new habit. Depending on your constitution, get up early or stay up late or use your lunch break. Apply as much caffeine as necessary. Devise a way somehow, impossibly, to get enough sleep. Read, always. FIND CHILD CARE. Even if all you’ve got is thirty minutes, cram those minutes onto consecutive days—skipped days rob you of momentum and concentration and energy. Lower your standards, at least for the short term. Even if you do nothing for a while (or hate everything you do), report for work anyway at the appointed time and warm the chair with your butt; eventually, this exercise will be the only thing that makes you feel normal. Oh, and find committed writing buddies—preferably those with a sense of humor—and share your work with them regularly. They are your accountability system and your lifeline back to the human race.
What are you working on right now? Where did the idea come from?
Earlier this year, I completed the draft of my novel-in-progress, Shallow Waters, and am now eyeball-deep in the heavy revision stage. The seeds for this novel were born when I published my first story in 2000—perversely, I just didn’t want its protagonist to fade into oblivion. And so, over much time and many other projects, I began to spin a world around him. Not coincidentally, his world became the Texas/Mexico borderlands, where I grew up. It’s a juicy place for a writer to sink her teeth into, and for her characters to get themselves into all kinds of trouble.
What’s your favorite word in the English vocabulary?
I’m pretty sure it’s a toss-up between omphalos, vervet, and fondue.
Let’s talk writing inspiration. What’s the No. 1 thing that drives you to write?
Only one? Ha! I love words. Sentences. Language. Picking apart the intricacies of what makes another human being tick. Creating worlds. Thinking deeply. Silence. Discovering what I didn’t know. Bending to the will of my characters, who insist that I finish their stories. Wanting, desperately, to create something as beautiful and meaningful and lasting as some of the books I’ve read in my lifetime. The hard-won understanding that even if I fail utterly ever to reach these goals (and I do, daily—every writer does; it’s in the job description), that I will write anyway. Because the work itself is the meaning. The work is the inspiration.