Author Interviews

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Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Author interview no.601 with multi-genre writer Cyra McFadden (revisited)

Back in January 2013, I interviewed author Cyra McFadden for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the six hundred and first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author Cyra McFadden. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Cyra. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Cyra McFaddenCyra: Originally from Montana and the daughter of a rodeo family, I’m a former college English teacher, freelance journalist and newspaper columnist.  I now live on a houseboat in San Francisco Bay.  My best guess as to why I became a writer is that it’s because I’m a voracious reader.
Morgen: Living on a houseboat sounds like fun. I’m fairly tall (5’10 / 1.78m) and thought I’d feel cramped but a former neighbour sold their house and bought one and it’s surprisingly roomy. I’ve described you in the introduction as ‘multi-genre’, what do you write?
Cyra: I’ve written both fiction and non-fiction, and flirted with film and TV writing.
Morgen: I’ve flirted with script too (for the defunct Script Frenzy in April 2010) but prefer the flow of prose. The only non-fiction I write is about writing. :) What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Cyra: Two books, “The Serial” and “Rain or Shine, A Family Memoir.”  That one’s about the rodeo world and was a Pulitzer finalist.  I’ve also written slews of articles and god knows how many newspaper columns.  No pseudonyms, although I’m considering “JK Rowling”.
Morgen: :) Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Cyra: “The Serial” is my first eBook, thanks to Apostrophe Books. I have been involved in the process, which has been great fun.  As for paper vs. eBooks, I read both. Also the backs of cereal boxes and grocery lists found on the street. Nothing in print is alien to me.
Morgen: <laughs> I read anything and everything too, I always have, although my reading’s slackened in recent years so one of my New Year’s resolutions is to read every night before I go to bed, even if it’s just a short story. I love reading almost as much writing and I’m not sure why I don’t do both on a regular basis… of course grouting the bathroom is much more fun. :) Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Cyra: Oh lord. I have hundreds of favourite books and characters.  As for who should play characters of mine in films, I’d only suggest George Clooney as my rodeo announcer father, whose dashing looks made strong women faint.
Morgen: A great choice. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books?
Cyra: Yes, thanks to Knopf, who published them.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Cyra: I’m eternally working on my novel-in-no-progress.  I also edit other people’s books, my version of an actor’s “day job”.
Morgen: :) Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Cyra: No.  I’m a binge writer instead of a write-every-day one.  As for writer’s block, I think I suffer more from “oh god this is hard I really should get that cobweb down from the ceiling” syndrome.
Morgen: I’m sort of the same; my chunks of writing are every November for NaNoWriMo although in 2012 I did write a short story (mostly <500-word flash fiction) from 1st May to 31st October and plan to resume that routine on 1st February. I’d only realised last year that 300 words a day is 100,000 words a year so it’s feasible for everyone to achieve that. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Cyra: I always have a plot in mind, or when writing non-fiction, a scheme of organization, and never end up sticking with either.  Fictional characters have other ideas in mind.  As an essayist, I sometimes change my own mind in the course of examining an idea.
Morgen: They do, and I love that about them. :) Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Cyra: With regard to the first two, banging my head repeatedly and hard on a horizontal surface works.  (In a pinch, so does a vertical surface.)  My characters are believable because I threaten them with painful deaths if they aren’t.
Morgen: <laughs> Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Cyra: I edit and edit and edit, then edit my editing.  Then I read in a review how effortless the final product sounds, run water in the sink so no one can hear me and sob.
Morgen: I like to think that my writing’s not far off fully-formed, and I’m generally happy with the flash fiction I produce but I did edit The Serial Dater’s Shopping List seven times, had two first readers go through it and I’ve still had a reader pick out some errors (I’m so pleased she has because I plan to paperback it this year). Do you have to do much research?
Cyra: For journalism and other non-fiction, yes.  For fiction, I mainly eavesdrop.
Morgen: I love that. If I see a juicy situation, I pretend to turn up the volume on my iPod but I’m really pausing it. :) What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Cyra: First person is easiest and third person is the most versatile.  I hate second person, and also the continuing present tense:  “He points the gun at you.  Time stands still.  You’re disbelieving, frozen with terror.” No, actually I’m not.  I karate chop him, take his water pistol away and tell him to grow up.
Morgen: <laughs> Second person is an acquired taste and few people have acquired it. Stella Deleuze is the only author I know who, like me, prefers to write in it and we both admit we’re weird. :) Do you write any poetry?
Cyra: I venerate poets but can’t write poetry.
Morgen: I’m the same. I have two great poets in my Monday night group but it goes over my head when they’re reading it because I don’t appreciate it, so (unless anything leaps out at me) mostly leave the feedback to the other writers who write poetry. I don’t read it and have never been taught it. I’ve written a few pieces over the years and might put them together in an eBook and see what feedback I get (if any). I’m a prose-writer through and through (like a stick of rock). :) Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Cyra: That’s what the hold of my houseboat is for.
Morgen: :) Have you had any rejections?
Cyra: Of course.
Morgen: How do you deal with them?
Cyra: Maturely.  I hold my breath until I turn blue.
Morgen: Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Cyra: No, too cowardly, but I believe P.E.N., in particular, does a great job with competitions and with promoting writers generally.
Morgen: They are very supportive. Do you have an agent?
Cyra: Yes.
Morgen: Oh great. Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Cyra: Dunno, but it’s great to have someone who believes in your work and fights to get it out there.
Morgen: It certainly is. I’m very lucky in that I have a core of fellow writers who are incredibly supportive of me and my efforts. :) How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Cyra: As much as the publisher asks me to do or that I can think up on my own, but I don’t aspire to be a “brand.” Grow up in cattle country, and the thought of “branding” is painful.
Morgen: That is true. We are a ‘name’ for sure, unless you write something like Harry Potter (you did mention JK earlier) or Fifty Shades. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Cyra: My favourite part of what I do is pushing words around until I like the way they sound.  The part I like least is that I’m a slow, laborious writer, a rock-breaker, and that never changes.  As for what’s surprised me, it’s that I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in my career. In large part, that’s because friends, talented, more established writers, have been endlessly generous with help.
Morgen: That’s what has (pleasantly) surprised me about the writing industry / fraternity; that we all so supportive of each other. I compare us to learner drivers – we all know how hard it is to ‘pass’. :) What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Cyra: “Do it because if you’re not writing, you feel as if you’re missing part of yourself.  Otherwise, find work that comes with a regular pay check.”
Morgen: I gave up my regular pay check in March (2012) and don’t regret it for an instant. I have two lodgers and am on a retainer for an author’s blog work which goes most of the way to equating to when I was working part-time. I adore being at home and can’t imagine ever having a ‘proper’ job again. Isaac Asimov is quoted as saying “I write for the same reason I breathe … because if I didn’t, I would die”, a little dramatic but it’s how I feel, having taken 30-something years to know what I wanted to do for a living. :) If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Cyra: I’d have to ponder the three guests for months, but I know what I’d cook:  roast chicken, because it makes the house smell wonderful while it’s cooking, and something vegetarian.  This is California.  Eggplant Rules.
Morgen: Eggplant is not something we have much of over the pond, here in the UK, but we should, I’m sure. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgen: Thank you very much, Cyra. Great to have you joining me today.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the questions. You complete them, I tweak them where appropriate (if necessary to reflect the blog ‘clean and light’ rating) and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
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