It’s back to the grindstone for me after a great weekend where I got to speak with lots of interesting writers at WD’s Editor Intensive event. I read some really great stories with a lot of potential. I also sat in on an editor’s panel where we discussed areas of improvement that many of us see when we read manuscripts.
One of the areas of improvement that came up a lot during the discussion is knowing when to use in depth scenes and when to summarize and condense things down. It’s a great question and one that author Laurie Alberts addresses in her forthcoming book Showing and Telling, a great book that deals with finding balance between scene and summary. I recently had the chance to ask Laurie about her writing career and here’s what she had to say
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Although I’d written stories since I was little, I never realized I wanted to be a writer until I spent a semester off from college living in an Alaskan fishing village, working on fishing boats, absorbed by the life there and scribbling in a journal out of loneliness and fascination. I actually thought I wanted to become a commercial fisherman for a brief period. Instead I became a writer and that Alaskan experience led to my first novel, Tempting Fate.
What was the first thing you ever wrote?
“Lucky Wins His Horseshoe” – a story I wrote at age five about a racehorse too young to race. I safety-pinned it together and wrote beneath the title, “Illustrated by the Author.” I must have asked my mother how to spell illustrated and author.
What are your 5 favorite books?
Well, that list shifts, of course, but some of my perpetual favorites are Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich, the short stories of Anton Chekhov, the novel A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, Alice Munro stories, and the memoir When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago. There’s a sixth that I read not long ago and was just amazed by – Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. It is about the German occupation of France, written by a woman who was in hiding from the Nazis while she was writing, yet her humanity is so large that she is able to believably enter the minds of both the occupied and the occupiers.
With your book Showing & Telling you cover the importance of both scene and summary. I wonder if as a professor you feel that you have to de-program some of your students who have heard the old “show don’t tell” writing adage for the duration of their writing lives?
That’s true of some students I’ve encountered who were enamored by the minimalism of writers such as Hemingway, Raymond Carver, Bobbie Ann Mason. It’s the rare writer who can pull off the kind of work that carries meaning primarily through surface events and dialogue.
You’ve written everything from memoirs to novels to short fiction (and now a
book of writing instruction). What is your favorite thing to write?
Fiction, because it allows the most freedom. On the other hand, I’ve been writing short personal essays lately, so who knows?
What would you be if you weren’t a writer/writing instructor?
A horse trainer/breeder if I could afford it. I’ve raised two foals from birth– one I now ride and the other still too young- and I love it.