Saturday, March 20, 2010

Molly Cochran on the art of writing and the science of finishing, part 2

Taking a cue from Molly Cochran, whose Write Stuff session is “Finishing Your Novel,” I thought, what the heck? We should finish our interview. To that end…

Kathryn Craft: During the brainstorming process for your presentation topic, you put forth that selfishness can be an important attribute for attaining success in today’s publishing world. Why is that?

Molly Cochran: Correction. Not today’s world, and not the publishing world. Just the WORLD. Artists are SELFISH Yes, yes, yes! Oh, how women hate that word!

Actually, my original topic was “The Selfish Writer,” but you asked me to modify the title, since you feared the session's marketability; no one wants to think of him/and especially herself as selfish. But here’s the truth: Artists have to be selfish. We must be, because otherwise we would not be permitted to create art (and yes, your unimportant little novel which is constantly pre-empted by Junior’s Little League practice IS ART). Every one of us is told sooner or later to go get a real job. The fact is, writers have to respect their work enough to give it the attention it deserves. If you only write when there’s nothing better to do, then your work doesn’t mean enough to you. I hate to say it, but you really don’t deserve success.

What is success, anyway? Only an idiot would think it has to do with how much money you make, and if that’s all you care about, then I’m not even talking to you. This isn’t a job; it’s a lot more than that. I don’t even think of my work as coming from me, particularly. It’s bigger than me. It’s demanding. It’s hungry. It’s harsh. My choice to live as an artist constantly breaks my heart, wanting so much from me and sometimes giving me so little in return. But I’ve learned that I can’t be happy without writing. I don’t even think I can live without it.

So I don’t think that serving one’s talent — one’s art, or whatever you want to call it — is selfish. And if it is, I don’t care.

K: Your published works represent a range of genres, from nonfiction (DRESSING THIN) to fantasy (THE FOREVER KING trilogy, WORLD WITHOUT END) to spy novels such as the Amelia Pierce books written under the pseudonym Dev Stryker. What are you working on these days?

M: I have a book with my editor at Tor titled THE PAGAN TRAILER PARK, about a 50-year-old writer who, in an attempt to survive a divorce and the death of her only child, allows the main character in the book she’s writing to take over her life, with some surprising results.

I’ve also written something entirely new, a paranormal YA novel I call WONDERLAND, about a bright, articulate 16-year-old girl who finds herself in a town filled with witches who have all sorts of special abilities that both help and hinder her as she seeks to unravel the mystery of her mother’s suicide.

I use the term “YA” like I know what I’m talking about, but actually, I didn’t write WONDERLAND as anything except a story with a young narrator. The whole YA genre is weird and new to me. Different editors, different agents. I’ve written outlines for two sequels. I figure that after they’re completed, I’ll know whether or not I want to stay on this track.

As for the future, I’ve been working for some time — years, really, there’s so much research involved — on a novel based on the life of my Japanese grandfather. Every event in his life was shaped by women: his Samurai mother and grandmother, his affair with an Australian free-thinker, his first marriage, arranged by his parents and doomed to misery, the daughter that his mother gave away to a geisha house, his beautiful, aristocratic second wife who dies tragically, his housekeeper, who keeps his large family alive through WWII by using her wit and peasant resources, and his daughters, who have all sorts of adventures of their own. Lots of material there.

And as for the past: Some of you may know that I took rather a long hiatus from writing. I don’t know why. Instead of writing, I traveled, ruminated, wrote a lot of notes for projects I didn’t begin, felt bad about getting divorced, cooked, moved around a lot… wasted time.

I regret it. I can’t get that time back. But then, maybe I needed to take the time, too. I don’t know anything anymore, except that I missed writing. It kept me — I don’t want to say sane — connected. Connected to something beyond myself. I’m not religious. It wasn’t God. But it was something that I needed, and need every day.

So I’m writing again. Starting over, sort of. But don’t we all, always, with every book, start over from the beginning? That’s the nature of art, I think, and artists: Constantly reinventing the world and ourselves through this lonely, terrifying, fascinating journey of the mind. Our books are the notes we take. Sometimes people want to read them, to share our journey.

That is the whole point.

Thank you to Molly, all of our presenters, this year's blog contributors, and to the more than 2500 of you who made the inaugural year of ALL THE WRITE STUFF a success! This is the last planned pre-conference post. Not a bad idea to check in here before you leave for the conference for any last-minute announcements, but barring those, please return after the conference—I'll write one last wrap-up post. And, since our experiences will differ, please leave comments, lessons learned, and interesting vignettes about the conference to share with others!

James Frey "How to Plot Like the Pros" workshop starts in 5 days!
Write Stuff 2010 starts in 6 days—see you there!

1 comment :

  1. Kathryn, you have been a tireless and wonderful guide in leading us to what is sure to be the best and most exciting writing conference ever. Thank you!