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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Author Interview ~Pam Lewis

Pam Lewis lives in rural Connecticut with her husband, Rob Funk. Her lifelong fascination with water and with family secrets is at the root of Perfect Family. Since 1991, she has worked as a freelance writer of business and marketing communications. She is the author of the novel, Speak Softly, She Can Hear. Her short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and various literary magazines.


Tell us a little about your latest release:

When 24-year old Pony Carteret — ace swimmer — is found drowned at the family summer home, her bizarre death rips apart her staid New England family and unearths secrets thought long buried by their keepers. William, Pony’s older brother cannot accept that her death was an accident. Confronted by the family’s well kept tapestry of perfection, William uncovers the circumstances of his sister’s death, the truth of his own birth and a dangerous secret his mother has kept hidden for a generation.

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?

I grew up moving to cities and suburbs all over the country. In each new place , I was intrigued by the great houses in the wealthier sections — fortresslike houses with big sweeps of lawn, impeccable landscaping and never anyone to be seen. I found these houses so intimidating. They seemed to me, even at a young age a façade, and to fill a need people had to put a great structure between themselves and everyone else. So yes, there was a sort of “what if” moment. What if the people in those house were protecting a secret not just from the world but also from each other. What would it take to shake that secret loose, and what would happen to all of them as a result?

Tell us a little about your main character and how you developed him/her:

William sees himself as an average guy, the son of above-average parents and outside the loop of his three younger sisters. So he’s a loner with a longing to fit in alienated and , now in his 30s, cynical about his family. His strongest familial attachments are to his eccentric aunt Minerva and to his sister, Pony, whose death affects him very deeply. I’m very attached to William, having myself been the daughter of a tough and fairly cold father. Writing is always an exploration and in many ways, a self exploration, so perhaps I was finding out what it might have taken to force my own father into a confrontation.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book? Least?

I love starting a book, and this one was no exception. It’s very exciting to have the characters flesh out in my imagination, to wake up in the wee hours and start thinking about them right away. And then to set them all into motion, with a sense of where they’re headed and what will happen. The middle is always much more difficult. It’s daunting to be in the middle of a novel when all those parts I’ve let loose needs to be drawn in and managed and begin to be directed toward an ending. I felt much better about this when I was talking to my agent about it. She laughed and said, “Oh yes, like you’re Mark Twain and in the middle of writing Huckleberry Finn you forget which way the river runs.”

What made you start writing?

I don’t know what made me start writing. I’ve always done it. It was fun for me. A release, a place to be clever. I used to write nonfiction. I loved seeing my name on articles. Then I began writing fiction and it took much longer to be published.

What does your writing space look like? (Insert picture if possible)

My workspace (seen here in all its cluttered glory) is in the room on the ground floor of our house in the woods. I look out over a small span of lawn, down into a swale and as I write this, there is a herd of deer in the swale, several of them lying down looking exhausted. I’m guessing these are pregnant females who will give birth in a week or two. There are also wild turkeys who cross in front of the window, raccoons, the occasional coyote and some resident barred owls I like to talk to, now that I’ve learned the rhythm, which is “Who COOKS for you.”

What kind of activities to you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?

I work out. I go up to the gym and get on the elliptical trainer and the treadmill with my iPod and listen to books on tape. If the weather is nice I hike or take long walks around where I live. And I read, of course. But I think it’s time to get involved in a volunteer activity like Habitat for Humanity. Writing is such a solitary existence, and too often when I work or volunteer, the jobs turn out to be more writing, so I’m looking forward to doing something with no relation to writing whatever. Hammering houses together sound like a good plan.

What's the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?

I work out. I go up to the gym and get on the elliptical trainer and the treadmill with my iPod and listen to books on tape. If the weather is nice I hike or take long walks around where I live. And I read, of course. But I think it’s time to get involved in a volunteer activity like Habitat for Humanity. Writing is such a solitary existence, and too often when I work or volunteer, the jobs turn out to be more writing, so I’m looking forward to doing something with no relation to writing whatever. Hammering houses together sound like a good plan.

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

I’m in all my characters. Parts of me, experiences I’ve had. Many outdoor experiences find their way into my books. Hiking, trekking and particularly the wilderness training I’ve had that teaches you what to do in a wilderness emergency and also happens to scare the bejesus out of me.

What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?

I’m in all my characters. Parts of me, experiences I’ve had. Many outdoor experiences find their way into my books. Hiking, trekking and particularly the wilderness training I’ve had that teaches you what to do in a wilderness emergency and also happens to scare the bejesus out of me.

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.

My novels begin with images. In the case of Perfect Family, that image was of a woman drowning because her long hair had become caught in something deep under water, a terrifying idea for me that I couldn’t shake. And then I had another image, of a grand house in a tony suburb as well as the image of a particularly grueling whitewater trip I’d taken once in Idaho. After that, I fleshed out the woman and then her family and that’s when I came upon William as the main character for telling the story. But it’s a little like a dream for me, with very vivid pictures and not very clear connections. The connections, then, are my job to make. And pin down and tame into a cohesive story.

I revise constantly as I write. The computer makes this so easy. I write one day, reread the next and can tell if something sticks or not. If it doesn’t out it goes. The best is when I’ve forgotten a scene and reread it fresh. It’s so much easier to know what works and what doesn’t I can spend days working on just a few pages. Once the novel I draft is done, I revise two or three more times myself and then may revise the whole again depending on what my editor has to say.

What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

Ah, my favorite books include Drop City by T.C. Boyle which I found laugh–out-loud funny and completely absorbing. I have a deep affection for a short story collection by Tobias Wolf called In the Garden of the North American Martyrs. I admire his honesty in everything he writes. And right now I’m reading the Blake Bailey biography, Cheever, and I have every intention of going back to reread Falconer, a book that stuck me powerfully at the time he wrote it. And for structure, I’ve always loved Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. Oh, and Alice Munro Is another favorite. Her short stories are both quiet and pack a punch.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

Early in my career, I wish I’d believed the people who said the best way to learn to write was to write. After having written two books and now being on the third I understand the wisdom in this. The more you do of it, the more you learn. Keep pushing out those books. Show them to people, get feedback from people you trust and then act on that feedback.

How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?

I don’t do enough marketing because I’m not sure how to go about it. I have a website pamlewisonline.com and anyone to whom I send an email gets the link. I talk about my writing on Facebook. I read whenever I have the chance. This is an area I wish I knew more about.

Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?

I’m at work on a novel whose working title is Minke set in the early 1900s about a young girl in a small Dutch town who is swept away by a much older man and taken to the frontier town of Comodoro Rivadavia in Argentina where her baby is kidnapped. It’s taking a load of research, but I’m enjoying that part of it a lot.

3 comments:

Ane Mulligan said...

Good interview! Love the view from your office window. :)

Elizabeth Ludwig said...

I, too, had many people tell me the best way to learn to write was to write. Looking back on some of my old manuscripts, I can see how true that is. I hope I never stop getting better, never stop growing and changing.

Thank you so much for sharing your insight, Pam. We're so glad to have you on Novel Journey!

Shirley Wells said...

Great interview!

I'm always telling people that the best way to learn to write is to write. Write something - anything - every single day. If only I took note of my own advice. :o)