The following questions are taken from interviews and from talks with readers.
Where do you get the ideas for your books?
I've never been able to come up with an idea by brainstorming a plot. Instead, ideas tend to arrive as a muddle of images that take weeks, months, or even years to form a coherent whole. It sometimes feels a little like magic, but it is probably the result of a lifetime of reading.
Are your books autobiographical?
Not in the conventional sense. Coffee & Kung Fu had elements of autobiography in that the main character experienced many of the same emotions and frustrations that I experienced when I first came back to the United States for college, but the book is in no other way autobiographical. In the unconventional sense, all my books are autobiographical in that they reflect my vision of the world, of society, and of humanity. I would find it difficult, if not impossible, to divorce my vision from my work, so every book has part of me in it.
What do you like to read? Are there authors who have influenced you creatively?
I read a wide variety of books. Plot-driven books rarely hold my attention, so I tend to avoid books described as “page turners.” My favorite books are those which I can’t stop thinking about after I’ve read the last page.
Just when I start to think I’ve exhausted the well and won’t find a single new author I love, I’ll find one or two new ones who overwhelm me. The list of authors who have inspired me by their writing or their courage to write in uncharted waters is long and varied, but a few are: Barry Unsworth, Graham Swift, Pat Barker, Kenneth Grahame, Mark Twain, Neil Gaiman, Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, Kate Chopin, Terry Tempest Williams, Silas House, Monica Wood, Margot Livesey, Gretchen Laskas, Neal Stephenson, John le Carré, Patrick O’Brian, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and C.S. Lewis. Some of these are old, old friends; some are new discoveries; some aren’t listed here because they’re still waiting to be discovered. All inspire me to never be content with my own writing, but to continue to make it the best that I can.
The remaining questions are ones which may be more interesting to writers who are trying to become published.
How do you publish a book?
This is one of those questions where, as far as I can tell, there is no right answer. In order to publish a book, you first need to write a book, but after that, things become a murky mish-mash of determination in the face of massive rejection, research, and treating your writing talent and instincts with respect. Books on the subject are legion, but I found Your Novel Proposal from Creation to Contract by Camenson and Cook and The Sell-Your-Novel-Toolkit by Elizabeth Lyon helpful.
How do you find a good agent?
There are as many methods for finding an agent as there are authors with agents. I have a five-part newsletter series which goes into nauseating detail about my personal agent-hunt experience. You can read all about it in the archives on my newsletter page. In the past few years, looking for an agent has become easier thanks to numerous internet sources. The best source I've seen is Agent Query.
How do you find a good editor?
You find a good agent. But this is not a hard and fast rule. There are authors who have found great editors and negotiated good book contracts without an agent. If you would like to go this route, you might want to read Richard Curtis’ How to be Your Own Literary Agent and the current Writer's Market.
What writing guides do you recommend?
None. Oh, sure, I recommend Strunk & White, Stilman, or Turabian for grammar and punctuation, but when it comes to the "how to" book, I can't in good conscience recommend one. Writing is something that comes from inside of a person, and you become a better writer by doing writing, not reading a book about doing writing.
But, that said, sometimes every writer needs a little help getting started. In my case, I have found a few books helpful: Story by Robert McKee--a wonderful book for story analysis and discovering/enhancing your native writing talent. I wouldn't follow his analysis methods slavishly, but this is a good place to start. Wishcraft by Barbara Sher--which is a nuts-and-bolts book on how to make a hazy idea into a reality without waiting for universal guidance. And Freeing Your Creativity by Marshall Cook and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott have provided shoulders to lean on.
If you could give beginning writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
Throw away your television, your cell phone, and any device that keeps you from experiencing the real world and the people who are physically around you. Oh, and if I'm allowed two pieces of advice, read books. Lots of books. And read them in a way where you aren't multi-tasking or being distracted by ads from a corporation telling you what you should think, like, or do because of what you just read....
"Writing is both mask and unveiling." --EB White