Saturday, December 10, 2011

NaNoWriMo Wrap-Up: Interview with Fiona Webster

This is the first of four interviews we conducted with 2011 NaNoWriMo winners.

Hi Fiona, tell us a just little bit about yourself:

I'm a 56-year-old retired physician—originally from Houston but now living In Greenbelt, Maryland, just outside of DC. I've been married to the same guy, a ponytailed botanist, for 33 years. We have no kids, by choice; our current feline companion is a black oriental shorthair named Annabel Lee. I've been on the Internet for 22 years, always with the same two letters (fi) before my @ sign. My longtime ruling passions are the music/art/writing of Patti Smith, horror literature, splatter cinema, fish (especially sharks), sailing, and science. I spend my time, when not writing, doing mail art: mostly collage postcards, but also decorated envelopes containing long letters written with a fountain pen or typed on a World War II correspondent's portable, all mailed with vintage postage.

What’s your idea of great literary fiction?

My favorite fiction writers are Poe, Melville, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Fitzgerald, Beckett, Calvino, Flannery O'Connor, Bruno Schulz, Malcolm Lowry, Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, James Salter, David Foster Wallace, et al. I also think of great literature as including the creative nonfiction, poetry, etc., of Oscar Wilde, T. S. Eliot, Rainer Maria Rilke, Philip Larkin, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Jorge Luis Borges, Roland Barthes, Truman Capote, Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe, John Berger, et al. And I'll always have a special place in my pantheon for Clark Ashton Smith, an extraordinary short story writer of the 1930s "pulp" era.

Why did you choose that “genre?”

Since my NaNoWriMo novel is my first ever foray into fiction, I chose something close to what I know, which is nonfiction: I'm writing an autobiographical novel, and I'm writing it with serious literary intent. If on some far distant day, my novel gets put into the genre category of "literary fiction," that will be a choice made by marketing people—and perhaps, by my future reviewers.

What, if anything, have you written prior to this?

All nonfiction—my publications are personal essays and numerous pieces about horror literature (essays, book reviews, and a column). It's worth noting that when it comes to genre labels, I'm a lumper, not a splitter, so my definition of horror literature includes such literary works as Cormac McCarthy's _Blood Meridian_.

Do you see yourself influenced by any particular author or authors?

I'm influenced by every word I read—as we all are, of course. My decision to write a novel based on my own experiences stems from my admiration for a wide range of autobiographical literature—some fiction, some nonfiction—such as Nabokov's _Speak, Memory_, Fitzgerald's _This Side of Paradise_, Kerouac's _On the Road_, Thompson's _Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas_, O'Brien's _The Things They Carried_, Spalding Gray's _Swimming to Cambodia_, Patti Smith's _Just Kids_, to name just a few.

Why did you decide to take part in NaNoWriMo this year?

For the challenge of it! I'd never written anything longer than a few thousand words, so I wanted to test my limits, see if I could write fifty thou.

How did it go?

The first couple of weeks were tough: I was below "quota" for about twelve days. After that, I seemed to get the wind in my sails, and I crossed the finish line five days early. It was a blast! Euphoria like that doesn't come along just any old day.

Any advice or warnings for people who may want to jump in next year?

Throw yourself into it with abandon. Don't hold anything back. Remember that you're generating a rough draft, not a finished piece of prose. And post to the forums a lot: the social support is your ticket to success. Nowhere else on the Net will you find such articulate conversations.

So, you “won” NaNoWriMo, because you met the specified threshold and hammered out over 50,000 words during the month. But most novels run in the range of 90,000 words or so. Do you feel you truly finished your novel and brought the story to a close?

Nope. I'm guessing my rough draft will come at around 120,000.

Tell us a little bit about the book, “jacket-copy style”:

Among her varied adventures, Elsa Weaver is physically and emotionally abused by both her parents; she goes to India at age 17, lives with an Indian family for several months, and meets Indira Gandhi; she goes to an Ivy League university, then medical school, and becomes a psychiatrist; she retires early from the medical profession, writes nonfiction for a while, then gets involved in cut-paper collage art. She claims, in her mid-fifties, a strong identification with the Bride archetype as envisioned by James Whale in "Bride of Frankenstein." Elsa is the Bride; her Life is the Monster—assembled out of mismatched parts, staggering along as best it can, clumsily violent but capable of surprising tenderness.

What are your plans for the novel now (stick it in a drawer? on-going editing? submitting to agents? self-publishing?

I have no idea. I'm too much in the middle of writing it. After I have a cleaned-up second draft in hand, I plan to send it out to a few people who will give me feedback about what to do with it.

Would you do it again? Why or why not?

Yes indeed—it's so much fun!

Where, if anywhere, can people go to learn more about you and your writing?

I don't have a current website for my writing. Instead, if they're curious, they can find my cut-paper collages and a few other artworks here:

Thanks so much for your time, Fiona. We really appreciate you stopping by!

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