I am pleased to introduce Dawn Paul as today’s Q&A guest. Dawn is a writer and editor and is here to tell us a little bit about her latest book, The Country of Loneliness. Please join me in welcoming Dawn Paul.
Hi Dawn. You started writing The Country of Loneliness as a memoir. Can you tell us how and why you made the switch from non-fiction to fiction?
My original intent was to write about my life with my father, to remember it as accurately as possible. I wasn’t even thinking of writing a book. The book began when I tried to imagine my father’s life, when I realized how little I knew about him, how little we had talked when he was alive. That’s when the writing became fiction, became the story of a daughter imagining her father’s life. It was a wonderful freedom—I no longer had to slavishly render facts that did little to tell the real story, the metaphorical reality.
What were some of the particular challenges you came across when writing Loneliness?
The biggest emotional challenge was writing from anger and loss. It weighed me down. The book did not transform into anything good or hopeful until several drafts. Until then, I was anchored to old grudges and childhood fears. The other, more manageable challenge was trying to accurately portray small-town New England life during the Great Depression. I read several historical books, looked at a lot of photos and watched the movie Seabiscuit, to get a sense of what it felt like to be living in the midst of those times, when there was so little hope. I’ve heard from some readers that I did show the times well.
What did you learn about yourself through this process? What did you learn about yourself as a writer?
I learned, once again, that writing is transformative. Writing the book changed my perception of myself, my father, and our relationship. And the book is, in the end, about how imagination can transform a relationship, a life. That is, in part at least, what I want readers to find in the book—an appreciation for fiction, for imagination, for the real work they can do. As a writer, I learned to stay with the story. There were so many times I wanted to put the manuscript away and work on something more pleasant and easy. And sometimes I did that. In fact, I wrote a collection of short stories in the middle of writing Loneliness. But I always made myself go back to it.
You have a solid publication history with short fiction. How did writing The Country of Loneliness compare to your process for writing shorter works? Was it more freeing or more challenging to write on such personal subject matter?
I have never taken years to write a short fiction piece. I have never written so many drafts or imposed so many different structures on a shorter piece. I never got to the point in writing Loneliness where in working with it became a “technical” process of revision. It was always gut-work. It was very challenging for me to write something that is personal and that readers will definitely perceive as personal. It was so much harder for me to decide when the book became art and not just me, whereas with a short story, I know that from the start.
You've been a resident writer with the Ragdale Foundation, Vermont Studio Center and the Spring Creek Project. How have these experiences enhanced your career? Why were they valuable to you?
If writing is central to your life it is so necessary to have a time and place where all you have to do is eat, sleep and write. It is an amazing experience, to live within your work and not have to leave it to go to a job, pay the electric bill, mow the lawn… I wrote the first draft of Loneliness at VSC—drove home with a hand-written manuscript in the back seat. I brought a “final” draft to Ragdale and made it a book. The pages covered the floor in my studio for a solid week. Residency time is so rich and valuable. I am grateful to VSC, Ragdale and Spring Creek (which I went to after finishing Loneliness).
In addition to being published by a small press, you are also editor of Corvid Press. What makes small press publishers so appealing to writers?
The small presses will publish a book because they love it, because they think it needs to be out in the world. For writers who write what they must write, it is crucial that there are publishers willing to take on a book knowing it will not be a lucrative bestseller. Most of the interesting, challenging and quirky books out there right now are published by small presses. Small presses are keeping literature alive.
What events do you have coming up?
I’m reading at Montserrat College of Art, where I teach writing, on February 18.
How can readers learn more about you and your work?
Go to the Marick Press website http://www.marickpress.com/ and while you’re there, check out the other Marick writers.
And… thank you, dear reader. I hope you continue to enjoy the weekly author Q&As featured on this blog.
Come on back this Friday for some writing news and possibly some reviews…
By the way, if you are at all associated with a low-res MFA program, be sure to check out the blog post below.
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