Do you prefer ebooks, printed books, or audiobooks most of the time?
I love printed books. Reading a printed book is a complete sensory experience—the smell of the pages, the texture of the paper—it is part of what transports me into a different world. The object creates a portal we can step through. It is a piece of art in a way that an ebook cannot be. That said, I do have a Kindle and I turn to that when I’m traveling simply to keep my luggage light. Though I’m still likely to have hard copy of something tucked in my bag.
What books did you grow up reading?
My mother was an elementary school teacher, my father was a journalist, and I had two older sisters, so there were always books in the house and trips to the public library. I remember loving Dr. Seuss books and Curious George when I was first reading on my own. The first novel I remember being captivated by was Lois Lenski’s Cotton in My Sack, which is historical fiction about a young girl whose family were sharecroppers in Arkansas. There was also Sid Fleischman’s delightful Mr. Mysterious & Company and, of course, Nancy Drew. In seventh grade, I discovered A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and read and re-read it several times. I found poetry early as well. By high school, I was reading things like The Picture of Dorian Gray, Roots, Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy, On the Road, and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, plus all the great classics that were required reading.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
My sisters and I were always writing little stories and scripts. It was great fun. Then in 4th grade English class, we had an assignment to work in groups of two or three to write a play, which we later had to perform. I loved writing the dialogue and scene descriptions. It wasn’t long before I started writing poetry and short stories, just for myself. By age 15, I realized that I saw the world through a writer’s eyes. That was it. I knew.
Do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer? If so, what are they?
Everyone says it, but there really is no substitution for sitting down and writing. It is a craft, so like any craft it must be practiced and honed. No writing time is ever wasted. Be a curious reader. Read outside of your comfort zone. Read things that challenge you. Be open to being changed.
How do you celebrate when you finish your book?
When I finished the first draft of Intercessions, I was alone in my apartment. I remember throwing my arms up in victory and then having a little dance party before I went to pour myself a glass of wine and make dinner. I took time to be proud of the accomplishment.
What would you say to an author who wanted to design their own cover?
In general, my advice would be a firm don’t. That comes from my experience working as a publicist for small press authors and talking to booksellers about what they look for when vetting books for their store. Most authors don’t have the depth of knowledge regarding the competitive marketplace for their genre or the design skills required. Publishers will ask what ideas you have for your cover. Take the time to answer their questions. Know that designers aren’t reading your book cover to cover. They don’t have time. It’s up to you (and a good synopsis) to give them the flavor and mood. Let the designer come up with an initial design and then react to that with solid feedback. Not having a professional-looking cover is suicide. Your book just won’t get picked up (or clicked on) by readers and it is more likely to be dismissed by busy booksellers.
Name an underappreciated novel that you love.
Right off the top of my head, I’d have to say We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. It is an outstanding gothic mystery with a deliciously dark sense of humor. The novel is a classic, arguably her best, but I’m always surprised how few people know it. I believe someone tried to make a film version of it in the last few years, so there might be more people going back to read it. It is one of those books that stays with you.
What authors did you dislike at first but then develop and appreciation for?
Barbara Kingsolver was an acquired taste for me. I read the The Poisonwood Bible first and I knew it was good writing, but something just didn’t click for me. It reminded me of Faulkner, who I didn’t enjoy reading in school, though he was brilliant at capturing the way people speak. Then someone gave me The Bean Trees. I was still on the fence. Finally, my mother handed me Prodigal Summer after she finished it and really encouraged me to try Kingsolver again. I’m glad she did.
What comes first for you — the plot or the characters — and why?
I suppose the protagonist comes first for me because even if I have a general sense of what the story will be about, it doesn’t really take form until that first character begins to whisper to me. That’s the genesis.
What are your favorite series or series authors?
I really enjoy the Inspector İkmen series from Barbara Nadal. It satisfies both my love of good twisty crime fiction and my interest in Turkish culture and history. Sara Gran’s Clare DeWitt series is can’t-put-it-down, gritty reading that takes you on a wild ride. Reed Farrel Coleman’s Moe Praeger series is another favorite of mine. He has a new book out, Sleepless City, that’s next up in my TBR stack. This is the first book in his new Nick Ryan series. I’m really looking forward to this one.
X (Twitter): @pyxiscs Facebook: Author Kathleen Eull