This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Rufi Thorpe, author of The Girls From Corona Del Mar, has popped over to tell us a little about her average writing day and her route to publication.
I usually write in the mornings after dropping my two-year-old off at daycare. I don't think the women at his day-care know what to make of me because I show up in yoga pants and a stained t-shirt, and I pick him up in the early afternoon, still wearing yoga pants and a stained t-shirt, yet I always mention working. What on earth could I be doing? I head home, I make a cup of coffee, I write at the table until my entire lower body goes numb. The turtle's tank is right next to my table and it makes a pleasant gurgling sound as I work.
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
I am a relentless thief of details, and I will steal anecdotes, mannerisms, facial features, but at the same time, I never really base a character on a person. I never try to make a portrait, if that makes sense. And I don't think of celebrities when I write because I don't know enough about them. I don't know what their necks smell like or if their eye teeth are slightly turned in or if they sing gibberish songs when they are cleaning house. Even their images are so perfect and so purposeful that I find them a little bit sterile.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
Books are my whole world, really, and so the idea of a single favourite is not native to me. But then, I don't have a favourite colour either. I could point to anything by Elizabeth Strout, or Barbara Kingsolver, or Louise Erdrich, or Iris Murdoch, or Karen Joy Fowler, or Willa Cather, and I could claim that it was my favourite without being in any kind of bad faith.But if I were really forced, in say a desert island scenario, to pick just one, I would probably pick a compendium of fairy tales. These are the earliest women's literature, the stories we told our children at night to scare them or instruct them or delight them, and even if they were written down by the Grimm brothers or compiled elsewhere and edited, pruned, even down right altered, I can still hear the voices of a thousand women in those stories, women I will never have the chance of knowing, whose names have been erased.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I think about things for a long time, sometimes years, before I write them. Then, in the beginning stages of a book, I do a lot of exploratory writing, writing that is more like dreaming on the page and most of which will never wind up in the book. When I have found the characters and the world, then I will start and write a first draft relatively quickly, maybe over the course of six months. Before I begin each new chapter, I go back and read and edit the book from the beginning, working my way toward the new material, smoothing things as a go, to make sure that the momentum is right and that the readerly tension is there. But this first draft, once finished, seems always to suffer from a major and fatal flaw, some basic aspect that I simply couldn't see. So usually after the first draft there is a kind of crisis, and from there I spend another few months fixing it, and then there is finally a GOOD first draft. After that, I may go through anywhere from five to ten major drafts.
What was your journey to being a published author?
My journey was to write many, many failed novels and failed short stories. I've wanted to be a writer since I was about 15 years old, so there was a lot of time to write bad work, which is absolutely the only way it is possible to learn how to write better work. I attended an MFA program and was really awed by the other writers there and felt myself to be very much the runt of the litter, but I continued to produce more work and more work, waiting tables, tending bar, and eventually teaching composition to undergraduates – a job that must be one of my all time favourite gigs in the world. After I had my son, I finished The Girls from Corona del Mar, and, perhaps influenced by wild post-partum hormone swamp, decided to write to an agent way, way out of my league. So I wrote to Molly Friedrich.
She represents three of my all-time favourite writers; to work with her would have been something out of a fantasy, like, really, the most unrealistic thing a young writer could even conceive of. I wrote her a (too long) very honest letter, and for some reason she wrote me back and agreed to read the book. She liked it, but had some pretty major revisions. I wrote them in a few months. Every day during that period, my whole being was formed into a prayer shape. I mean, I'm not sure I've ever wished on anything so hard in my life. I couldn't breathe almost the entire time. In a way, it was one of the best periods in my life, the three months I spent rewriting that book. Every day was lit up with this kind of ecstatic energy because my whole life was narrowed down to just one single purpose. I sent her the book and she loved it. Within ten days, she sold it at auction.
Everything in my publishing journey so far has really been almost too good to be true: I've loved my editors in the US and in the UK, I love my cover, my publicist and marketing people have been amazing, and then to be longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Flaherty-Dunnan Prize? I mean, it's really almost too much. Certainly it is beyond my wildest dreams.
So, here's to toiling in obscurity. To all those writers out there, determinedly plowing through the rejection, continuing to produce more and more work, remaining hopeful when there seems to be no hope, to you I raise my glass.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
I think the greatest myth is that great artists must have great turmoil in their lives, must have a deep ribbon of self-destruction running through them. Nothing could be more untrue. In order to write and write well, your life must be stable enough to support working lucidly for four to six hours a day on top of whatever else you are doing: working a job, having a family, etc. You do not need to cheat on your spouse or do drugs or drink too much. Sometimes great writers do these things, but they do them for their own psychological reasons, not because it makes them better writers. In fact, your writing will be better if you can refrain from doing those things.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
You should do it. Writing novels is great fun. In fact, I don't know of another activity that I experience as more fun. But you should write novels because you want to write novels, not because you want to become rich and famous or something, since that hardly ever happens, and you can't write hoping others will think you are deep or important either. While you must always consider the reader and the reader's delight, the material itself must be your own, not something you hope will be popular or that you think is what you are “supposed” to write. Each of us are only given our small plot of eternity. We only have our selves. We can't trade. You will have your obsessions and they will become your material, and all you can really do is mine them.
What are you working on at the moment?
The next book! I started it the moment The Girls from Corona del Mar sold, out of a queasy, feverish need to distract myself from the publishing journey. You can't control how your book will be received, you can't control how you will come off in an interview, and so the whole endeavour, while exciting, is also terrifying, especially when you have never done it before. But the writing – the writing is always there. There is something deep and narcotic about the process of writing fiction, a kind of trance state that has become necessary to my psychological functioning. This book is a father and daughter story, and it is set in Vilnius, Lithuania, so the research has been really fun.