Sunday, November 08, 2009

12 or 20 questions: with Rhonda Waterfall

Rhonda Waterfall studied creative writing with the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. Her work has appeared in Geist, Descant, and several other literary journals. She is the author of The Only Thing I Have a collection of short stories published by Arsenal Pulp Press. She currently lives and works in Vancouver.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

Being that The Only Thing I Have is my first published collection of short stories and that it only came out into the market a month ago, it’s a little too soon to tell how or if my life will change. I’m not expecting any prolific change except now I have more backup when I tell people I’m a writer. Also, my family has some evidence of what I spend my time doing. I think the changes are smaller and more internal. I feel compelled to write on a larger scale with more depth. I think there is a switch in territory happening with my recent work. In The Only Thing I Have I touched on wayward souls making poor choices. There was little growth in the characters personal and emotional development. Now I want to explore someone who goes through a monumental change.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?

There was just a natural bend toward fiction that goes back before memory. Interspersed with times of poetry. Non-fiction, I have attempted but it always felt flat to me. It’s just more fun to make stuff up.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

When I look over the stories in The Only Thing I Have, there are some that took years and some that took months. Most of the stories when complete look fairly similar to the initial drafts. I can spend a lot of time tweaking sentences and structure. There are some stories that I wrote a paragraph of then put it away and months later revisit and add another paragraph. Those are the painfully slow ones. The title story The Only Thing I Have was one of those painfully slow stories. I wrote it over two years a paragraph at a time with significant gaps of time between each paragraph. I even dislike it just a bit because of the process. I am a constant editor the only thing that stops me from more editing is publication.

4 - Where does fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

Fiction begins with a tiny thought. Such as in When You Are Gone I wondered what would happen to a woman who wanted a divorce but her husband wouldn’t give it. Often by the time the story is complete there is no sign of what that original thought may have been, the thought gets written out of the story. With Fatty I was mulling over what happens when obesity and obese people become the latest socially acceptable target for ridicule.

I would like to think that I am working on a book at the beginning but somehow I get sidetracked and write a short story, although my short stories have been getting longer. At first many of my published pieces were 500 to 800 word stories. A novel is still the goal, though.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I don’t mind readings and I find they help with motivation. Writing is a lot of time by yourself wrapped up in your own thoughts so it’s great to get the chance to get outside.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

I’ve always been mystified by the decisions people make. Often I ask myself, why did that person do that? Much of my writing is about exploring that idea even though I may not get around to answering the question. It turns into more of a character study. The current question still is, why did that person do that? I think this will always be an aspect to my writing.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

Sure, fiction writers can capture the thoughts and emotions of a time or event in a way that non-fiction can’t. All our lore and fables are fiction but they explain or provide a guide for life.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Essential. Working with an editor is fantastic and can only add to what I’m trying to achieve. I’m curious about their perspective on the writing and where they might find concerns.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Just tell the story.

Keep writing.

Keep with the action.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I write when I can. At one time I was able to do an hour of editing and an hour of new work a day… but life has conspired against me so my output has been greatly reduced. I have dreams of getting back to the two hour a day plan.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I find movies and other books inspirational.

12 - What do you really want?

To be able to look back and be proud of my accomplishments in writing. Perhaps a few novels.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Visual art is very much an influence. In many of my stories there are references to painting, such as in Little Breaks.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

If I’m stuck or want to read something quick to give me a bit of a kick-start, I reach for Barbara Gowdy, J.M. Coetzee or Richard Yates.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Perhaps a stint as writer in residence or a writing workshop cruise… maybe in the future.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

I still have a day job as a producer in an Ad Agency. If I were a braver individual and didn’t fear a certain level of poverty I would be a potter or painter living off in the bush somewhere. It’s always in the back of my mind. I don’t think people would be surprised if I just disappeared one day into the woods.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

Writing seemed feasible and within my control. Writing is solely based on the individual and in very few situations involves anyone else.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Last great book: The Golden Spruce. There is not a lot of non-fiction that I read but this really is an amazing book.

Last great movie: The Assassination of Jesse James.

19 - What are you currently working on?

What will hopefully become a novel about a girl’s search for her father. Who knows though, at this stage these things are just wishful thoughts.

12 or 20 questions (second series);

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