Q+A with Lindsay Starck, author of ‘Noah’s Wife’

Originally published at Mountainx.com

author photo_Starck_credit Victoria McHugh Photography (2)

Lindsay Starck, photo by Victoria McHugh Photography

Chapel Hill-based author Lindsay Starck took on epic subject matter for her debut novel: The biblical story of Noah. But rather than the ark, it’s his spouse who captured Starck’s imagination. In Noah’s Wife, the author reframes the characters of the Hebrew narrative in the modern day, as a couple relocated to a new town. Stack’s Noah is a minister sent to lead a congregation in a place where weird weather patterns have brought nonstop rain for years. Noah’s wife, initially just a supporter of her husband’s work, finds her own purpose in creating community where faith and hope have been abandoned.

Alli Marshall: Noah’s wife doesn’t have a name in the novel — she’s just referred to by her relationship to others. I’m guessing you did this because she isn’t named in the Bible, but was it hard to develop a character without knowing her name?

Lindsay Starck: Oddly enough, thinking of her as “Noah’s wife” helped me to write about her because it gave me a clear idea of how she understood her position in the world and her relationship to other people. She’s a minor character in the biblical story, which puts her in a supporting role. I imagined that she was comfortable in this role, that she understood it, and that her struggle over the course of the novel would be to redefine herself as an individual — and as a protagonist.

The premise of the novel is the idea that a person’s status as a “major” or “minor” character is merely a matter of perspective; everyone has his or her own storyline, even if there isn’t any record of it. My job, as I saw it, was to provide a record for Noah’s wife. As I wrote, I wondered: What does it mean to play a supporting role to someone else? How much of our identities are defined by other people? How do we understand ourselves outside of those relationships?

What were some of the challenges with adapting (at least in part) a biblical tale to a modern setting?

Because the original story is so minimalist, I felt I had a great deal of creative freedom. There are no descriptions of anyone, not a lot of backstory, very little setting, and so I could imagine my characters and their town in any way I pleased. I never intended for the book to be a direct allegory or a straight retelling of the biblical tale… Instead, in Noah’s Wife I engage with many of the themes (faith, doubt, destruction, renewal) and imagery (animals, rain, boats, doves) of the original story in order to create something new. It’s a story about human relationships, not divine ones; it’s about faith, yes, but it’s about faith in other people, faith in community.

Have you adapted or drawn inspiration from any other bible stories or fables?

Although I haven’t written anything else directly adapted from another story, I like to think that books are always inspired by other books. One of the most interesting short story collections I’ve read over the past year is Kate Bernheimer’s XO Orpheus, an anthology of fiction written by authors who are reworking ancient myths. I love this concept because I’m very interested in how works of literature speak with and through one another. The best adaptations reveal something new, something we hadn’t seen before in the original.

NOAH'S WIFE coverfinalWhat was the original idea or event that sparked this book?

When I began writing this novel, I was in my mid-20s, and my friends and colleagues were beginning to pair off. As I watched people navigate the tumultuous waters of romance and friendship, I wondered over the nature of “pairings” more generally. What makes a marriage work? Why do some friendships fall apart, while others last for decades? What qualities make a good mother, a good daughter, a good neighbor?

The idea of “pairs,” along with my conviction that the flood story was darker and more complex than it often appears to be in popular culture, led me to Noah — and from there, to his wife. What sort of woman, I wondered, would be willing to abandon her community and follow her husband into a giant floating zoo? What if she were afraid of reptiles or allergic to feathers? How could she continue to believe in Noah, if she could not see the signs that he saw? If she were given a voice, what would she say?

The rain that continues through the story feels oppressive. What was it like, as a writer, to immerse yourself in the idea of that gray and soggy place for so long?

As Noah’s wife would say (in her optimistic way), there’s “a certain beauty” to the rain—and of course water imagery comes with a long tradition of symbolism, which I enjoyed thinking over and reworking. So it wasn’t as depressing as one might think! Still, one reason I included the “Dr. Yu” sections was because I did need to get out of the rain every couple of chapters (and I thought my readers might also appreciate the reprieve). It was refreshing to take a break to write about sun and shadows and wind without worrying about water rushing through gutters or pounding against windowpanes.

I’ll probably avoid writing about rain in my next novel. I’ve exhausted every possible way I can think of to describe it!

Did you do anything (watch rainy movies, run water while you were writing, visit Seattle) to cultivate the mood?

Ha! Great question. I thought a lot about the novel while swimming laps, actually — so perhaps that helped. Above my desk, I tacked newspaper clippings about the zoo floodings in Calgary (2013) and Minot, North Dakota (2011). Articles like this one from The New York Times (I love that its title references the ark) illustrated the terrible destruction of modern-day floods while also managing to include some lighthearted descriptions of the animals. That’s what I wanted my animals, to do, too: provide some moments of levity in an otherwise dark story.

What brought you to North Carolina, and are you inspired by the literary history and/or community of N.C.?

Graduate school! I’m finishing up a degree in comparative literature at UNC-Chapel Hill. And yes, the renowned literary community in the state was a huge draw for me. I admire the strong tradition of storytelling in the region, and I’ve found fellow writers in North Carolina to be generous, warm, and genuinely invested in each other’s work. Daniel Wallace in particular has provided a great deal of encouragement and support. As Georgann Eubanks (author of Literary Trails in the North Carolina Mountains) points out in this interview with UNC Press, the state offers a wonderful fusion of natural beauty, local community, and a commitment to education and the arts.

My favorite anthology of North Carolina writers is Long Story Short, a collection of flash fiction edited by Marianne Gingher. I’ve also had the fantastic opportunity to work as an editor of The Carolina Quarterly, where I’ve been inspired by the talented new voices we publish as well as my fellow editors’ commitment to contemporary literature—for all of us, it’s a labor of love.

Are you teaching writing in Chapel Hill?

Yes. I teach writing (both composition and creative writing) as well as literature and film—and sometimes Italian, which is a lot of fun. What I like about teaching writing is how much I learn about my students’ experiences and perspectives on the world through their fiction. By reading and by writing, I believe, we become more empathetic. We practice getting into others’ minds and we try to see situations through others’ eyes. For me, that’s the whole point of literature.

What are you currently working on?

I’m finishing up a dissertation on modernist literature, social networks, and gossip. After that, it will be on to the next novel!

NaNoWriMo Q+A with author Deanna Dee

Deanna Dee, photo courtesy of the author

Deanna Dee, photo courtesy of the author

Romance author Deanna Dee celebrates the launch of her latest book, Finish Him, on Tuesday, Nov. 17. But while that project is keeping her busy this year, Deanna is no stranger to National Novel Writing Month. Here, she shares her experiences and some very helpful tips.

When did you last participate in NaNoWriMo and what did you set out to write?

Deanna Dee: I last participated in 2013, and I set out to write the rough draft of my first novel, Critical Hit-On, a college gamer romance.

What sort of word count did you set for yourself, and how much time each day did you dedicate to the project?

I aimed for the full 50,000. In terms of time per day, I didn’t really keep track by hours. More important was word count. I packed heavy writing into the beginning of the month so I’d be ahead of the curve. I’d say it’s best to aim for 2,000 words a day the first week, however long it takes each day.

At the end of the month did you have a completed novel? How did you feel about the work you’d done?

I had a nearly completed novel. It turned out the book needed another 5,000 or so words, but that was easy to finish up. How did I feel? Empowered, awesome, like I’d done something.

Finish+Him+ebookWould you do Nano again?

Probably, if the timing worked out. I’m not doing it this year because I’m releasing my third book this month, and something had to give. For me, Nano is a great way to get motivated. I’m very competitive, and if I’m not where the site says I should be, I have to catch up.

What advice would you offer to someone participating in Nano this year?

Keep writing! Any amount of words is more than zero. Also, if you’ve been staying on target up until now and then suddenly have a day where you can’t write, don’t panic. And don’t try to put in double the words the next day. You’ll intimidate yourself out of writing anything. Recalculate. Figure out how many words you need to write to get back on task and shoot for that. It’s a lot less daunting.

What are you currently working on, and where can we learn more about your writing?

I’m currently working on a Christmas short story to go along with my published series. To find out more about me and what I write, you can check out my website/blog.

Follow Deanna on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads, and find her books online here.

Lisa Wingate on writing

Wingatepubshot2015julybLMRAuthor Lisa Wingate, currently based in Arkansas, has published 25 books in 14 years — a staggering number. Her series include the Texas Hill Country books, the Moses Lake books, the Daily Texas books, the Blue Sky Hill books, the Tending Roses books and the Carolina Heirloom novels and novellas. It’s from the last group that Wingate’s most recent novel comes: The Sea Keeper’s Daughters is part history and part mystery. It follows the stories of three characters: present day restaurant owner Whitney; her grandmother Ruby, who lived in the Excelsior hotel on the Outer Banks; and Ruby’s twin sister Alice, a member of the Depression-era Federal Writer’s Project, stationed in Western North Carolina.

For readers living in or near Asheville, Wingate presents The Sea Keeper’s Daughters at Malaprop’s on Tuesday, Sept. 22. For everyone else, here is some writing wisdom that Wingate shared during a recent interview (read the full story at mountainx.com):

SeaKeepersDaughters_021815I pretty much write linear, from first to last. There are parts that are harder to write, parts where I really have to stop and think, “If this does happen here, what will it create in the future of the book?”

There are days when I quit for the day thinking I know what will happen the next day, in the story. [Then] I may see something, hear something, overhear some conversation in a restaurant and I’ll think, “Oh, that’s the perfect thing. That’s what needs to happen next.” [The writing] may end up the next day being completely different than I thought it would be. Ideas come from everywhere.

So much of it comes from just living life with those characters in the story. That’s what makes it an adventure — really not knowing. What makes it magical, too, is when life intercepts with it. You think, “This real life experience or this person’s story will be perfect for this character.”

I’m very regimented. I set a word count every day and I write seven double-spaced, Times Roman 12 pages per day, and I pretty much don’t shirk on that unless I’m traveling or whatever. There are days when I think, “This is junk. This is going to have to be completely rewritten.” And there are days when it just flows right out. Sometimes I go back to the stuff I thought was junk and it’s not so bad. Sometimes it’s even good. Sometimes those things end up on the cutting room floor. But I know that when I stick to that schedule, I’ll have the rough draft of a novel done in three months, and then the real writing begins.

The rough draft is the hard part because you’re discovering the story — you’re telling the story to yourself. You’ve never heard that story before that point. The first edit is when you begin telling the story to other people, so you look for the threads that didn’t get wrapped up or didn’t go anywhere. Then you do a little more fine-tuning to make it a story that makes sense to the rest of the world.

Author Talk: Fantasy writer Elizabeth Tyree

61hG8DWBQlL._UX250_Oklahoma-based author Elizabeth Tyree is a fantasy writer who pens short stories, picture books and chapter books for children of a wide range of ages. Her characters range from fantastical dragons to real-life lemurs and from Spanish pirates to human kids seeking adventure. Here she talks about developing ideas, getting inspiration from her real-life students, and publishing as a family affair.

What inspired your interest in writing fantasy novels?

I think it was probably a combination of many things from my childhood. I loved to watch those wonderful ’80s cartoons (OK, I still do!) and read fantasy and fairy tales. According to my mother, I first mentioned my “dragon friends” around the age of 2 or 3. I was playing with my toys and when she told me to clean up, I tried to tell her that it was Al and his brothers and sister that had messed up my room so she needed to get on to the dragons. (Didn’t work, she told me they were my guests and a good hostess cleans up after her guests.)

In third grade I read Anne of Avonlea and The Hobbit, both for the first time, and they had a huge impact as well. Happily, my family encouraged my creativity and allowed me to be the nerdy weird kid in the corner!

The-Hobbit-Dust-Jacket-03062015How much time do you spend on research for each of your books, and what are some of your favorite resources for research?

Does the time I spend in the classroom count as research? Haha, but no, seriously? You see, as an author of mainly picture books to upper YA books, the time I spent in my own classroom teaching writing and science, the time I spent tutoring, and the time I spend substituting adds up to about eight years of research for me now! Research that I absolutely love! Students enjoy talking about themselves, their hobbies, their classes — it all adds up to great backstory and understanding for the audience, as well as for some of my new characters. Some of [the students] even enjoy bantering back and forth about histories or alternate sciences, searching for answers on the internet or in books, and helping me by listening to things I’ve written and telling me if it sounds authentic to the generation.

Outside of that, I’ve really been researching mythologies and fantasy my entire life. However, one of my current works in progress relies heavily on the use of a salvage ship and equipment, a mini-yacht, and an ancient Spanish galleon. I did read a few articles on those items, but the most helpful research was done on the internet and the telephone. I was able to contact colleges who have marine archaeology sections, read their articles and descriptions of the ships, equipment, and personnel online, and get a few first-hand details from their wonderful pictures and emails. That was almost two years ago, and I still return to their sites or send minor questions to their emails as I try to finish the novel.

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 11.45.11 AMYou’ve written a number of books — are there characters and/or themes that return from one project to the next?

Of the six books currently available, three are part of a continuing series that follows a band of dragons and fairies who have managed to get stuck in our world. The dragon family consists of the only known dragon fairy in either of our worlds, his normal-sized dragon sibling, and Grandmother (still searching for his parents), the kind of the fairies, some fairy guard members, and a few lucky humans who discovered them. Their fight is against the formerly beloved (and now straight mad) Fairy Queen, King Ferdinand’s wife, and Franme the Sorcerer.

As for themes, my children’s books all have a theme (however subverted it may be) of getting out and away from the television/computer (ironic, isn’t it?), helping, learning, and being a good friend. Which also tracks for my older books.

You write both short story collections and full-length novels. Do you know from the beginning if an idea will be one or the other? What’s that process like?

My first novel began as a short story contest entry. I just didn’t want to stop, I had to know more about what happened because it was like rediscovering an old friend! Some of the ideas, like another of my works in progress (Paulonious Punk) are definitely going to be chapter books or novels. On the other hand, some are definitely short stories and some could go either way. So the short answer here is, no I haven’t got a clue!

The process is always the same for me, whether it be short story or full-length I always get a notebook or pad of paper and start jotting down notes and ideas. Typically I get a few lines out about the back story or overall idea, and then it morphs itself into the actual beginning of the story and I write from there. I tend to outline in reverse, writing character and setting outlines after they’ve arrived in my story. This helps me to discover things about my novels and sometimes even helps push me along if I’ve gotten stuck.

gypsy-rose-lee-1941-women-at-typewriterHow do you know an idea is a good one and that it can be sustained for the length of a book?

You write it out. Sometimes you may have an idea you love but no one else thinks will work. You still need to write it out or it will haunt you. You may have an idea everyone loves and you aren’t that sure about — write it anyway! It can be changed, morphed, and tweaked until it works. If you abandon the idea then it will poke at you. Sometimes you have ideas you don’t even tell anyone about — write those out, too. WRITE WRITE WRITE WRITE WRITE … am I obnoxious yet? The truth is, there are some amazing novels out there that I would never have believed could be written into a full-length book out of the idea they center around.

How do you publish your work (mainstream press, small press, independently), and what has your experience been with that format?

My father and I both publish with CreateSpace. I enjoy being able to maintain control over my “babies,” but am still struggling to learn the ins and outs of everything else that goes into publishing a book. The advertising, however, kicks my rear! I am still new enough that I’m not making the money to spend the money to make the money — But I’m going to get there someday! We created TyreeTomes as a family-run editing and publishing company for our own works (so still very much an Indie!) and have helped a few others, including my fifth graders last year, edit, format, and publish through CreateSpace and Amazon. That part, I’m pretty good at.

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 12.07.20 PMDo you grow attached to your characters? Tell us about one that really sticks with you.

I am very attached to most of my novel characters. Of course, I have “friends” with my dragons for my entire life so I won’t expound on them anymore. One non-dragon character that really sticks with me is Sylvester, a main character from a novel I have set aside at the moment. I dreamed of him before beginning to write the story, and I still do every once in a while. The story itself, a fantasy of magical mirror world proportions, is a new adult adventure: danger-romance-type. Sly is the dark, handsome, and deeply sarcastic hero you would hope appeared. Don’t worry, I haven’t abandoned his story completely! I hope to use what I have as an outline for betterment in the NaNoWriMo events for this year — though it will probably have to wait until NaNo 2016 the way my other works in progress are progressing.

Are you working on anything right now that you can tell us a little bit about?

I am actually working on five things right now, but I’ll just give you the bare bones of a couple:

First, I’m working on book No. 4 in The Stone Dragon Saga. As I mentioned earlier, this one involves a lot of hijinks on the the high seas, including a Spanish pirate ship and a kraken (named Sergio — he has a short story in one of my compilations as well, incidentally).

the-kraken-existence2Then there’s Paulonious Punk and the Search for An Adventure — a children’s chapter book following two 9-year-old boys who, with a lot of help from their families (especially Pauly’s grandpa), attempt to search out an adventure before it’s too late.

The other book I’m really excited about right now is a picture book that my talented mother is illustrating for me (she will illustrate all of my books as well as do the new covers for The Stone Dragon Saga). This will be the first in a series focusing on animals. A picture book meant for K-2: The pictures and stories will appeal to all ages as we follow Leonard the Lemur’s adventures and learn about the animals he meets along the way. Leonard is living at Tanganyika Wildlife Park (in Goddard, KS) a real park, with a real lemur named Leonard, and we are excited that the park has allowed us the honor of including them in our work. Since they are a privately owned and funded institute whose goal is to educate people about animals, this book will not only help children learn interesting facts about animals and habitats, but will help spread the word about an amazing place that needs our help to survive.

Follow Elizabeth on Twitter, YouTube, WordPress, and Amazon.

HAPPY FRIDAY … SECOND GIVEAWAY!

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 11.21.22 AM

Just what every book-lover needs:
A lucky brass locket, shaped like a book. Wear it close to your heart and keep a tiny photo of your favorite novel inside.

The contest runs through Friday, Sept 18, with a winner selected at random and announced at noon, EST.

To enter, comment on any post on my website or Facebook author page between 11 a.m. EST Friday, Sept. 11, and 11 a.m. EST Friday, Sept. 18.

‘If the work is good enough, eventually somebody will notice’

Ron Rash, photo by Ulf Andersen

Ron Rash, photo by Ulf Andersen

This is my second post this year of quotes from Ron Rash. He’s one of my all-time favorite writers, and that he lives in the Southeast (and claims Western North Carolina as his region) makes me love his work that much more.

Find my story for Mountain Xpress about Rash’s sublime new novel, Above the Waterfall, here. And below, his words of wisdom to writers:

On his schedule:
I write everyday. Sometimes I’ll take Sundays off, but usually at least six days a week I’m at it.

On going to school for writing:
I have a straight master’s in literature. That’s what was best for me. I needed to be reading really good writers.

Ultimately, whether you go through an MFA program or straight MA, it’s what you do afterwords [that matters]. The only way you’re really going to get good is just not giving up, putting the hours in to learn your craft and going though the process where slowly but surely you improve. The other thing is that you continue to read. I don’t know a single good writer who’s not a voracious reader. That’s how you learn and that’s how you challenge yourself. You read the best.

I just read a book by a Norwegian writer, Per Petterson, called I Refuse. It’s one of those very quiet, beautiful books. He’s one of my favorite living writers.

AboveWaterfall hc cRash didn’t publish his first collection of short stories until 1994, when he was in his 40s; his first book of poetry followed two years later, and his first novel came out in 2002.
I’d written two novels and destroyed them because they weren’t good. Story after story, I’d write them and they’d be dead on the page. But I didn’t give up. Sometimes I wondered why I didn’t. But as I got into my 30s I started getting published in some small journals and then some slightly bigger journals.

But I really believe it’s the best thing that could have happened to me as far as my writing, because I was able to concentrate solely on the writing. There were no distraction because no one was interested. I just went slowly and surely about my craft. What interest in my craft has come has been very slowly building. Someone recently said, ‘You’ve really broken through.’ I said, ‘It only took 17 books.’ I’m not an overnight sensation.

Some writers hit their stride quicker than others. Some writers can write their great books in their 20s or 30s. I just wasn’t one of those. You’re not making McDonald’s hamburgers. You’re doing something, if you’re any good, that’s unique. I certainly don’t believe you’ve got to have it done in your 30s — that’s absurd. I do feel like what happens is a lot of people, when they hit their 30s, just give up. And maybe they shouldn’t.

The work itself is what matters. That’s where the focus needs to be, not on self-promotion. You hope — an I do believe this — that if the work is good enough, eventually somebody will notice.

It might take 15 or 20 years to really get it. I know that sounds daunting, but if it’s really important to you, you’re willing to do that. I kind of made a choice in my late 20s. It was a serious choice. I’d been dabbling in it, and I said, “Do I want to live my life wondering if I could have really committed to it, or do I want to risk spending hours and years” — which I did — “and maybe finding out at the end I didn’t have the talent.” I would rather have failed and at least known. There were years when I was in my 30s when I couldn’t get a book published. I had manuscripts and story collections and nobody was interested. But I kept writing.

HAPPY FRIDAY … FIRST GIVEAWAY!

gift-big
Here it is:
— a package including The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, two gold star sew-on patches, a fancy-schmancy book mark, and a selection of tea to sip while you read.

The contest runs through Friday, Sept 4, with a winner selected at random and announced at noon, EST.

To enter, comment on any post on my website or Facebook author page between 11 a.m. EST Friday, Aug. 28 and 11 a.m. EST Friday, Sept. 4.