Sunday, February 25, 2018

Novelist Leslie Pietrzyk on the Siren Song of the Online World & on Writing SILVER GIRL

Get this book from:
The Seminary Co-op
Politics & Prose
and just about everywhere else

A bouquet of bienvenidos for new readers of this blog in 2018. And as you long-time readers know, I post here at "Madam Mayo" blog on Mondays. For 2018, Monday is still the magic day, and every fourth Monday of the month will feature either a post on cyberflanerie or a Q & A with another writer, poet, and/or literary translator.


This first Q & A for 2018 is with crackerjack literary novelist, short story writer, and essayist Leslie Pietrzyk who has a new novel out this month, which I cannot wait to read. Silver Girl is the title, and it has already been garnering outstanding reviews, including a starred review from Publisher's Weekly. (For the unititiated, a starred review in Publisher's Weekly is a B-Freaking-D for which, lest you own a wine shop, you do not have enough champagne.)

More fiction by Leslie Pietrzyk:
Pears on a Willow Tree
A Year and a Day

This Angel on My Chest
Pietrzyk is also the author of This Angel on My Chest, winner of the Drue Heinz Prize for Short Fiction; and the novels A Year and a Day and Pears on a Willow Tree.

C.M. MAYO: You have been a consistently productive literary writer for many years. How has the digital revolution affected your writing? Specifically, has it become more challenging to stay focused with the siren calls of email, texting, blogs, online newspapers and magazines, Facebook, Twitter, and such? If so, do you have some tips and tricks you might be able to share?

Leslie Pietrzyk,
author of SILVER GIRL
LELSIE PIETRZYK: Oh, yes, yes, yes…I’m a sucker for that siren song of the online world. I’m not sure I’ve come up with the answer for maintaining focus, but sometimes I’ll try setting timers (say, no Facebook until two hours have passed) or working late at night (fewer people online to chat with). I don’t answer email on the weekends.

But what works better for me (unless I’m kidding myself), is that I’ve become more open to working WITH social media and the wide world of Google available while I’m writing. Why knock myself out trying to imagine the color of nail polishes in 1982 when I can simply Google for an answer and see an array before me? Why berate myself for dipping into Facebook for five minutes? Why not just accept that distractions are part of our world now and try to retrain myself to write deeply amidst them?  

CM: Are you in a writing group? If so, can you talk about the members, the process, and the value for you?*
LP: For many years I was in an incredible, high-level writing group of 6 women who shared novels-in-progress…dear Madam Mayo belonged to this group! I think I learned how to write a novel from these monthly meetings.

When the group dissipated after 10 years, I was—honestly—tired of having critical voices in my head. Plus, I was in the beginning phases of putting together a story collection that was linked unconventionally, by incident (in each story, a young husband dies suddenly; the book became This Angel on My Chest). Because what I was doing was so difficult, and because I didn’t know how on earth I was going to make this premise work, and because I didn’t want to hear one word about my flailing, I decided that it was time for a different kind of group.

I started my neighborhood prompt writing group, and we meet once a month and write for 30 minutes to open-ended, one-word prompts. We can read out loud or not, and there are no critiques, only admiration. We’ve been meeting for more than 5 years now, and chunks of Silver Girl emerged from these meetings.

(Here’s an article about how to start your own prompt writing group: )

CM: Did you experience any blocks while writing this novel, and if so, how did you break through them?
LP: My biggest block actually came right at the beginning. I had been writing character sketches and scenes in my prompt group for at least eighteen months before I started the book in earnest, so I had all this material. My two college girl characters were dark and edgy and complicated, and I’d teased out a ton of fascinating history to their relationship. When I finally finished This Angel on My Chest I thought it would be a simple glide right into the new book…but I realized immediately that my complicated, interesting characters had no plot! It was a humbling moment.

I started doing more research into the Tylenol murders in the early 80s (which is the backdrop for the book) and focused on brainstorming potential connections between my girls and that event. I won’t say I ended up with an outline per se, but eventually I found a path for the book’s events. (Nor will I say that anything about writing this book was a “simple glide”!)

CM: Back to a digital question. At what point, if any, were you working on paper for this novel? Was working on paper necessary for you, or problematic?
LP: I never thought I’d say this, but paper was very important! I’m usually all-computer-all-the-time, but I’ve found that writing to prompts on paper feels freeing and takes my mind to riskier, more interesting places. So I wrote about Jess and the unnamed narrator many, many times across several little notebooks. The problematic parts came in trying to locate scenes I was sure I’d remembered writing, and when I had to type into the computer, a task I despise. Perhaps even more problematic is the constant fear that I’ll lose one of my notebooks to carelessness or fire before I transcribe its contents!

CM: Do you keep in active touch with your readers? If so, do you prefer hearing from them by email, sending a newsletter, a conversation via social media, or some combination?
LP: I’m far too disorganized to send a newsletter. Also, I retain enough Midwestern upbringing to wonder, who wants to hear from me? An email from a reader is always a fun surprise or a tweet…but I’m still loyal to Facebook. I generally post publically so anyone can follow me. I’ve actually come to know many readers and writers through my FB scroll. And for real old-school types, I’ve still got my literary blog!** I used to be very reliable about posting and am erratic now, but I hope the site still retains a scrap of personal flair:

Email access is on my website (along with some of my favorite recipes):

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*CM: I too left our writing group, and for similar reasons. (I was about half way into an epic and epically complex historical novel, and after I got rolling with that, receiving critiques from other writers who were, of necessity, reading 30 pages out of context, was turning into more trouble than it was worth to me-- and, to further complicate matters, I was transitioning to living in Mexico City again.) Nontheless I remain immensely grateful for members' critiques of the beginning drafts of this novel, as well as of several other short stories and literary essays. And I miss the comraderie of those meetings with such excellent friends and esteemed colleagues. Those years for me personally, and for my writing, were a rare blessing.
**CM: For anyone interested in writing and publishing literary fiction, Leslie Pietrzyk's Work-in-Progress blog is a read well worth your while.

> Your comments are ever and always welcome. Write to me here.

Blast from 2008!