Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Barbara Rogan Interview (repost)

Reposting an oldie today, an interview with Barbara Rogan:

I first met Barbara Rogan through the Compuserve Books and Writers Community (thank you, Diana Gabaldon), and then participated in her Revising Fiction Workshop, which helped me no end when I was trying to finalise the edits for Out of the Water. I'm hoping to submit a new piece to her soon for a 50-page critique!

Here's Barbara, first as an author, and then as an editor:

As an author...
Which is the most embarrassing song, book, movie or TV show that you love?

I watch those high-end real-estate reality shows, "Selling New York" and the like, which is pure voyeurism: seeing how the 1% live and imagining myself in those houses.

Which of your characters is most like you?

There's some of me in all of them, including (or especially) the villains. I do feel a great affinity with one character from my second book, Café Nevo: Emmanuel Yehoshua Sternholz a 72-year-old waiter in a Tel Aviv café. Sternholz is always there, sweeping up, eavesdropping, and interfering in his customers' lives... sort of like me with my characters.
[Love this book!]

Favourite literary character not your own?

Huck Finn, of course. And Elizabeth Bennet, for her attitude.

Would you like to be one of your characters, or do you the writer torture them too much?

No. I prefer at least the illusion of free choice.

What's the weirdest thing you've researched?

How to make Shaker-style furniture, which isn't so weird, except that I have zero affinity for any activity requiring tools. And of course the various methods of killing people, their advantages and disadvantages.

[Oh! I know what book that was for - Rowing in Eden. I loved it!]

As an agent and editor...
Do you go out looking for new writers, or wait for writers to come to you?

Just a note: I'm no longer an agent. They come to me, as a teacher and editor.

If you don't like a book, how destructive can you be with your criticism? Do you change your approach depending on the author?

I like to think that I am never destructive. I don't only address flaws; I also recognize good writing or story-telling when I see it. But I do ask tough questions, and occasionally they reveal fault lines in a project. If I know a writer is super-sensitive, I'll wrap an extra layer of tact around my notes, or try to, anyway, but the substance doesn't change.

Day-to-day, what is the most challenging aspect of your work?

I started out on the publishing end of things. Being a writer is a lot harder and lonelier. It's a long wait between paydays, too. But I really have no complaints. I love what I do, and I get to make my living doing what I love. I'm very fortunate.

Which author would you most have loved to represent? Which authors did you love and represent?

I was an agent in Israel, where I represented many great writers for Hebrew rights on behalf of their primary agents. I was lucky enough to meet quite a few. Among my favorites were Isaac Bashevis Singer (who took me to lunch in a Jewish deli on the lower East Side), Madeleine L'Engle, and Nadine Gordimer.

[Madeleine L'Engle! I'm jealous!]

Is rejection a personal issue for agents? Is it harder to submit queries as an author or as an agent?

For agents, rejection goes with the territory. For writers, too, but writers take it more personally.

And now a longish question: I recently read an article about the editor Robert Gottlieb. At one point, author Michael Crichton describes working with Gottlieb:

"When I sent Bob a draft of The Andromeda Strain - the first book I did for him - in 1968 he said he would publish it if I would agree to completely rewrite it. I gulped and said OK. He gave me his feelings about what had to happen on the phone, in about twenty minutes. He was very quick. Anyway, I rewrote it completely. He called me up and said, Well, this is good, now you only have to rewrite half of it. Again, he told me what needed to happen - for the book to begin in what was then the middle, and fill in the material from the beginning sometime later on.

Finally we had the manuscript in some kind of shape. I was just completely exhausted. He said to me, Dear boy, you've got this ending backwards. (He's married to an actress, and he has a very theatrical manner. He calls me "dear boy," like an English actor might do.) I don't remember exactly the way it was, but I had it so that one of the characters was supposed to turn on a nuclear device, and there was suspense about whether or not that would happen. Bob said, No, no, the switch has to turn itself on automatically, and the character has to turn it off. He was absolutely right. That was the first time I understood that when there is something wrong in writing, the chances are that there is either too much of it, too little of it, or that it is in some way backwards."

I've always wondered about editors who take on authors and then expect them to rewrite everything – do they see something in that author that makes the process worthwhile? Would that not work with everyone? How do you feel about that level of editing? Do the lines between author and editor become blurred after a while?

Interesting story, but it reflects more on the past than the present. Very few editors now would take on a book that needed that amount of work. Even then it was unusual. Gottlieb must have thought it a great story, as indeed it was. (I doubt he thought C. was a great writer, or the book wouldn't have needed so much editing.) Notice that Crichton agreed with the changes and learned from them; they weren't shoved down his throat. I don't see an overlapping of functions here, just a zealous editor and a receptive writer.

Thank you very much, Barbara, for visiting my blog and answering all my disconnected questions!

If you liked this one, what other author interviews have you enjoyed lately?

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Summer Reads and Octopus Photos

Need an octopus?

Who doesn't love gazing at undersea images?

The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been exploring the Marianas Trench, including "bottomfish habitats, new hydrothermal vent sites, mud volcanoes, deep-sea coral and sponge communities, and seamounts, as well as subduction zone and trench areas. The geology of the Mariana region is incredibly complex and dynamic. Despite decades of previous work in the region, much of the Monument and surrounding areas remain unexplored.

"The three-leg 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas expedition will help us identify and better understand new geological phenomena and habitats – such as extreme life living in the deepest oceanic trench on the planet, enormous mud volcanoes, active hydrothermal vents, chemosynthetic communities, and possibly deep-sea coral and sponge habitats..."

Lots of exciting things to see -- and some are available as desktop wallpapers! And Octopus Friday images!

Speaking of the sea, and the beach, and reading, here are two neat maps to help you pick your next read:

The Canadian 100 mile book diet:
"The literature-loving minds behind have just launched an interactive feature to connect readers across the country and support talented Canadian authors. Called the 100-Mile Book Diet, it features a Read Local interactive map of Canada highlighting fiction and non-fiction reads (even cookbooks!) according to where in Canada they’re based or where the author comes from."

There's also a map of Penguin Classics around the world:

I'm still trying to read a lot of Swiss authors and books set in Switzerland. I need to read some Sophie Alp, for instance:

They've just updated the 50 Franc note, and are no longer featuring images of people on currency, so I snapped a photo of an old note

And I just got this new release, also set in Switzerland!:
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

What are you reading this summer?

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Insecure Writer's Support Group Day and Who Is Frances Rain?

Happy Insecure Writer's Support Group Day!

I was thinking for IWSG Day, that it's a good idea to allow ourselves to take a break once in a while -- and to not feel guilty when we do so!

In that spirit, and in honour of the 30th anniversary next year of the publication of Who Is Frances Rain? by Margaret Buffie, I'm reposting my interview with the author!

Visit Buffie's blog for more information about her books, as well as some gorgeous photography!

I'm very pleased to be hosting Margaret Buffie herself here today! I asked her all sorts of random questions and she obliged me...

On Writing

Where do you do most of your writing?

I do most of my writing in my second floor office in my home. The house was built in 1910, and I love to look out at the old elms along the street as I work and think about the history of my city. I also write at my lake cottage.

What do you need to help you write?

I start with a pencil and lined notebook for the first few chapters. Then I go to my computer. I also set up music to create the mood for each different storyline. Hard to explain. But it works for me. Add many cups of tea and I'm good.

Do you have stories that might never see light of day?

I have many ideas that I doubt will get published. I have two "adult" manuscripts from years ago that I still "intend to work on" but I find I'm always working on a YA novel first. One of them is on the second burner as I write this newest YA. Actually I am kind of writing both at once... new idea for me, but fun...

What's your earliest memory related to writing?

I was in grade four and I had written a story for my much adored teacher, Miss Day. I was walking beside her during recess and she said to me, "You know, Margaret, I think you may be a writer one day." I'm sure she was just being sweet, but I believed her.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I spend a lot of time with my family. I am also an artist and a photographer – and I love to cook. (And of course I read a lot!)

Which of your characters is most like you?

Mmm. Tough one. I know I put a part of me into every character. I "feel" as if I am that character while I am writing their story. In Who is Frances Rain?, for instance, I am part of all three modern characters – Lizzie, her mom and her gran. But I am not Frances Rain. I would never be as independent and brave as she was. But I admire her tremendously, because she paid a big price for her independence.

Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?

I think what makes them believable is my deep connection with them. To me they are very real as I explore their stories.

Names are very important to me. The name Frances, for instance, means "free" which suits my character to a "T". I chose Lizzie McGill for the main character, because that was my grandmother's name. Every name I choose is carefully picked. I also avoid trendy "modern" names and stick to names that are more traditional, yet powerful. (To me.)

On Reading

Who is your favourite literary character not your own?

My favourite literary character is Barbara Pym's character Mildred Lathsbury in Excellent Women. Mildred has always observed life from a distance, but the new people who arrive to live in her house somehow change how she looks at everything. I also love another of her characters, Jane, in Jane and Prudence. Jane is so honest, messy, intuitive and funny. I adore her. I also love Inspector Maigret who is the creation of French writer Georges Simenon. His second best character in that amazing series is Paris!

Who is your favourite author?

I have many. But when the chips are down, I bet you can guess who it is. Yep. Barbara Pym! She's brilliant.

Who inspired you to write?

Me! (And Miss Day...) But I didn't start writing until my late thirties. Up to then I was a visual artist. No one even knew I was writing except my husband and daughter. I was reading YA books along with my daughter and loving so many of them, that soon, I was reading many on my own. An idea for my own novel kind of dropped into my lap – and I decided to try writing it. Fell in love with the whole process. Kept going. Haven't stopped yet!

Do you have a favourite writing-related quote?

I saw this quote by Barbara Kingsolver once, in a book of quotes, and I copied it and put it up on my bulletin board, because it is exactly how I feel about my own writing.

"Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer."

On Research

Do you do all your own research or have others help you?

I do all my own research.

What's the weirdest thing you've researched?

"Box privies" – or outdoor toilets that did not have a hole in the ground at all! Ack! They were supposed to be cleared out by city workers which was not regularly done. These were still in use in the early 1900's on city streets in Canada, and the fetid waste and hoards of flies were the cause of much illness and death in the poorest areas of those cities.

On Who Is Frances Rain?

Have you ever considered writing a sequel to the story, perhaps something that happens to a child of Lizzie's?

I have been asked this question often by readers. I did consider it, but I simply don't have a story to tell...yet.

Do you still feel close to the story and characters?

Yes, very much. Maybe that's why I felt that this story was "complete" because when it was finished I felt I could move on to something different.

Was the story written in linear fashion?

In way yes .. and in a way no. I wrote the first few chapters pretty quickly. Then the story ground to a halt. It became clear to me that I had no idea how to take this story where I wanted it to go. So I decided to do a plan or general outline of it and test some ideas. This fluid outline changed many times as the story evolved. But I kept reworking it. A few times I changed the plan here and there to the point where I had to go back and rework sections of the manuscript. I still work this way. I think it keeps the story fresh - and open to change.

What was the first image or scene that inspired this story?

I was cleaning up a small island near our lake cabin, so my daughter and her cousin's kids could play on it safely. There was a very old refuse dump on it and I became an archeologist in a way as I sifted through it. I found some gorgeous bottles, medical and old fruit syrup types etc. and a lot of broken china. But I did find an old heavy mug still intact with debris in it. When I dropped the little pile onto my lap, I found an object wrapped in shattered pieces of oil cloth. Out dropped a pair of wire glasses. I held them to my eyes and looked across the water, and wondered what it would be like to see a canoe paddling toward me from out of the past. I still have the glasses and the mug. (And the bottles and other things I found.) I knew there was the remains of a trapper's cabin across the lake under a small circle of trees and I wondered if the glasses belonged to him. But what if the trapper was a woman in my story? That was the kernel of the idea for Who is Frances Rain?

What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?

For me organizing the story is always the biggest challenge. But once I wrestled Who is Frances Rain? back on track - so that I was able to have my characters say what they really wanted to say; to develop the story; and present the setting almost as another character - it became a complete joy to write.

Is there anything you would change in Lizzie's story if you could?

No. Nothing. I could probably write it a bit better today, I suppose, but it is what it is and I am very proud of it.

What are some of the most memorable events that have happened to you as a result of this story?

The first memorable thing that happened was that Who is Frances Rain? was nominated for the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year award – and was the runner up in that – and it also got great reviews. But best of all, shortly after, it was also nominated for the Young Adult Canadian Book Award by the same group and it won!

[How wonderful!]

Another memorable event and a very nasty one for me, happened just after I had finished a reading to a class in Montreal during Children's Book week (put on by The Canadian Book Centre) a year or so after "Frances Rain" was published. A reporter called there, asking how I felt about bring banned from an Ottawa school, where my next reading was to take place a few days later.

This kicked off a news event of sorts across Canada's newspapers. The Ottawa principal began to slur my name calling me a "difficult" author and that I had "demanded" unreasonable things etc. He had not read the book, of course, (these people rarely do) because his librarian highlighted words and scenes and dialogue for him that she decided might make it a problem. As I had never spoken to anyone from the school at all, his comments were completely false. I did have one supporter besides my family – a public librarian from Montreal who stood by me all the way - and I will always be grateful for her support.

When I came back to Winnipeg, another librarian from a local school, who had asked me to do a reading there, read the "banning" news in the papers, and showed them to her principal. He, of course, also did not read the book. I was consequently "uninvited" from his school. When challenged by local media, this second principal also blamed me, saying I was "difficult." Of course, I had had no personal contact with either him or the librarian. Ironically, the article about the censoring of my novel was written up in a Canadian children's lit periodical a few months later and they talked about the events - adding comments from the principal in Ottawa. However, no one from that periodical thought to talk to me! I protested in writing, and they then asked me to write about my experience. Which I did!

[I hadn't heard any of this before! Lucky for me that I had no trouble getting my hands on a copy in our school library!]

If this story was made into a film (and I wish it would be!), who would you have as the leading actors?

It was actually discussed – once with Anna Paquin as a possible Lizzie. She is now a grown adult of course! Sadly the people involved in the US negotiations could not come to an agreement with my publisher regarding the contract. However My Mother's Ghost was ultimately the book that was made into a film. Maybe someday Frances Rain will live on the screen. I would have to see who would suit the roll in the future, as young actors grow up so quickly!

Which of your favourite books are celebrating a long-term anniversary this year?

Books I'm Reading and Finished Books

  • The Making of Outlander by Tara Bennett
  • Testament of Experience by Vera Brittain
  • Zoom sur Plainpalais by Corinne Jaquet
  • beta read! (JB)
  • ***Reading At Intervals***
  • Sophie's Choice by William Styron
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw
  • Burning Sky by Lori Benton
  • 12 Anne and Avonlea books by L. M. Montgomery (skimming/reread (this was free on Kindle!))
  • Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford
  • Istanbul Noir (Akashic Books anthology)
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien manuscripts edited by J. D. Rateliff
  • The Jerusalem Bible
  • ***Finished Books***
  • The Children of Men by P. D. James
  • A Daughter's A Daughter by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie)
  • A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
  • Sunlight by Margaret Rucker (poem; floating in a cocktail glass)
  • Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
  • Preface to The Hobbit, by Christopher Tolkien
  • Ilk Defa... by Beste Barki (essays)
  • Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers (essay)
  • The Moon and I by Betsy Byars
  • The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
  • Rogue Warrior by Regan Walker
  • Beauty and the Beast by Villeneuve
  • Black (what was this? I don't remember!)
  • Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
  • Thomas the Tank Engine by Rev. Awry (26 book collection)
  • beta read (Born to Run by RB)
  • The Little Turtle by Vachel Lindsay (poem; reread)
  • The Kraken by Alfred Lord Tennyson (poem)
  • Android's Dream by John Scalzi
  • The Mysterious Tadpole by Stephen Kellogg (reread)
  • Yashim Cooks Istanbul by Jason Goodwin
  • Miniatures by John Scalzi
  • Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
  • Kitty-in-Boots by Beatrix Potter (illustrated by Quentin Blake)
  • All or Nothing by Rose Lerner (short story)
  • Merry Christmas, Emily (board book)
  • Extra Yarn by __ and Jan Klassen
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Outlandish Companion II by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Outlandish Companion I, Revised by Diana Gabaldon
  • MacHinery and the Cauliflowers by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • The Dileas by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • The Gold Watch by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • betty, butter, sun by Monica Byrne (short story)
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay by J.K. Rowling
  • The Very Cranky Bear (Scholastic)
  • various haiku by R. Wodaski
  • ongoing rereads of most board books listed last year!
  • see the 2016 list and statistics at
  • see the 2015 list and statistics at
  • see the 2014 list and statistics at
  • see the 2013 list and statistics at
  • see the 2012 list and statistics here
  • see the 2011 statistics on
  • see the 2011 list at
  • see the 2010 list at
  • see the 2009 list at
  • also in 2009 at
  • see the 2008 list at
  • also in 2008 at
  • also in 2008 at