A. Can you tell us a bit about your writing routine. Do you typically set aside a certain period to write, always write in same place, do you listen to music while you write, do you need solitude to write?
I am definitely a solitude writer and will often go away on writers retreat where I simply hole up in a room and do a lot of binge writing all at once. In fact, that’s my favorite way to work—in a hermit, total-immersion kind of approach. Between those getaways, I manage to get up earlier than I have to about 3 mornings per week to write before I have to depart for the day job. I also work on weekends.
B. if you could give your eighteen year old self one suggestion, what would it be?
Oh, my. This is a great question. I think it would be to start my career and stop trying to please people. I would also advise her to have more courage, to be more forthright and ready to strike out and fight for what she really wanted.
C. " in the name of a humanism hypocritically turned champion of the reader’s rights. Classic criticism has never paid any attention to the reader; for it, the writer is the only person in literature. We are now beginning to let ourselves be fooled no longer by the arrogant antiphrastical recriminations of good society in favour of the very thing it sets aside, ignores, smothers, or destroys; we know that to give writing its future, it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author."
What is your reaction to these very famous lines from "The Death of the Author" by Roland Barthes?
I think that good writing is always a kind of conversation in humanism, and conversations, by their nature, are a two-way process. It’s not an easy equation, and it’s probably a decision that every writer has to make very early on, or half-way through her career: to write for the market and popularity or to write what’s truly in her heart and what will improve our minds. But does it have to be an either, or setup? For me it’s quality, not quantity. Yes, of course I’d love to be a bestselling author, but not at the cost of the quality. If I have to choose, I’m going for the latter.
D. UNCHARTED LIVES is a fascinating study by gay psychotherapist Stanley Siegel and straight Newsday columnist Ed Lowe Jr. The text is a mass analysis of how gay men develop through the eight male life passages from 'pre-emergence' to 'mentorin'’. The book is the result of numerous interviews and research. This data is balanced with Siegel's own dramatic mid-life coming out story.
When asked why such a seemingly disproportionate number of creative men are gay this was Siegel's response-
"I think that because gay men live in a society that is hostile to them, because they are oppressed, have few role models, and in most cases have no legal rights or institutions that support and honor us we became extraordinarily inventive in the ways we live our lives. The process of become gay, of accepting one's sexuality, is a process of living an extremely original life. The apparatus of a creative life begins early, when we feel we are different in some way but have no language to explain the difference. Young gay boys feel that almost always and consequently they often isolate themselves or are isolated by the outside world. Isolation presents a creative world. Sometimes in fantasy we deal with separation by becoming highly productive - drawing, writing, creating. Usually this stays with the person the rest of their life and is only enhanced by the challenges they meet later on."
My question is do you think he is onto something? Is the creativity of Gay men derivative from growing up without role models, from having to create a sense of self?
Yes. I hadn’t thought about it in this way before. In my case, I wish I had had the voice or the resources or the chutzpa to have honored that difference.
E. "It is the habit of approaching works of art in order to interpret them that sustains the fancy that there really is such a thing as the content of a work of art" - from "Against Interpetation" by Susan Sontag
As a writer, how do you feel when people Interpet your work, attribute meaning to it?, see things in it you never thought about?
Who is your ideal reader?
My ultimate goal is to write in a way that creates or translates or instigates or stokes our shared and perpetual search for meaning. My ideal reader is someone thoughtful enough to either dispute or endorse what I have to say. But “thoughtful” is the key, here. Also, as I generally write across two cultures, it helps if my reader has enough comfort with the unknown to simply accept the work for what it is, within its own context, not try to “translate” it into American language or force it to fit within that reader’s own experiences or social contexts.
F. It seems more and more writers have MAs in creative writing, some PhDs. Education is a great thing but is there a negative side to this, will it produce in few years a literary culture where lacking this degree will make it hard to get published?. Is it homogenizing writing styles? Will the day of the amateur writer who comes from nowhere and changes everything be over because of this? Does it give you pause to know the University of Iowa M A in writing scholarships for students from outside the USA, were for years funded by the C. I. A?
I don’t think you need any advanced degree-or any degree at all—to become a writer. Some writers are born, not created, and it’s easy to tell the difference between the two.
G. How important is seeing different parts of the world to you in terms of stimulating your creativity?
Not very. It’s more important to have interpreted and known what parts I have actually seen. Some of the most “educated” and “well-traveled” people I know have never left their own home towns. Equally, I know world travelers who bring back little more than a set of souvenirs from the places they have visited. It’s more about the person than the number of destinations.
H. Where can we find you online?
I. Besides reading and writing, what are some of your hobbies or interests. ?
I am a great and lifelong walker and hiker. In fact, I don’t see much distinction between the writing and the walking, as that’s how I often tease out certain parts of the work or where titles and/or opening lines just come to me. I’m also a big beach bum, and nothing makes me happier than sitting on the beach with a book.
J. Please tell us something about your recent publications and/or works in progress.
I am currently completing a bunch of personal essays—all in various forms of non-completion—plus a book-length memoir, “What Brought You Here.” The memoir is about my immigration to the U.S. at age 24 and my first 10 years here, and the inherent struggle for identity as a young woman in a foreign country.
K. In "Snow", what motivated the central character, a married woman, to sleep with a man she barely knew?
I think Dolores’s motivations in doing this are one of the nuggets of this story that will change slightly for each reader.
Read on one level, her one-night stand is simply rebellion or sexual attraction. Read on another level, there are other motivations, including the link between carnality and the obliteration of memory and childhood history. But there is no single motivation.
L. What was your focus in obtaining an MA in English?
As a relatively new immigrant to the U.S at the time, I thought that it would help me to transition from service-style jobs into the world I wanted, which was the world of literature and writing. In Ireland, the universities are more or less governed via a central, national university system. When I enrolled in my M.A. program, I didn’t know that in America, each course or college is different and ranked differently. Of course, I was too young and clueless to research this or ask the right admission questions before I plunked down my Mastercard. I just knew that I was ready to get into a new type of life, and this seemed the obvious way to do it. I knew nothing about MFA degrees or that creative writing by and of itself warranted an entire degree course. So I chose an MA.
M. Tell us a bit about your novels please.
My novel “The Big House” was published by Simon & Schuster U.K. in 2003, which seems like a long time ago no. It’s about a historic home in small-town Ireland. As happens in small towns, some folks want to demolish it, while others want to preserve it for history and posterity. There’s a romantic interest in there, too. It’s a light-hearted book, which I would probably never write now, though I do retain an interest in architecture and historic homes.
My second novel, “Dance Lessons” was published in the U.S., and is about an American woman who discovers that her Irish-born husband had grossly misrepresented himself, his family and his life in Ireland. After his premature death, Ellen, the main character, travels to Ireland to unearth the secrets of his life and to understand the dark parts of their troubled marriage. It’s a much more serious novel, and I’m glad to say it garnered some very nice shortlists and awards.
N. As a creative writing workshop leader, what are the biggest challenges most students face?
Feeling that writing is something that they can do and can allow themselves to do. Some students, too, are over focused on the product of writing—on the prospect and promise of their names on the spine of a book or on the big screen. It’s important that students understand that writing is a long and often unpredictable process and, sadly, there are no short cuts.
1. how and when did you begin to write?
I’ve always kept a journal, but I didn’t write for publication until after I was well settled into the U.S.
2. Who are some of your favorite contemporary short story writers, poets or novelists? What classic writers do you find your self drawn to reread. If a neophyte writer in your primary focus were to ask you who to read, what might you suggest?
I read mostly British novelists and female memoirists. There’s also a list of my fave and inspirational writers here, at my website:
3. These are loaded question coming from me, but with the decline of print reviews, are book blogs becoming more important? Professional critics have denigrated book bloggers as reviewers without credentials,book bloggers have replied professional reviewers just don't like bloggers doing for free what they ask money for doing? Reviewers do it for money, bloggers for love. What is your reaction to this? Do you join book tours or send bulk mailings out asking for reviews?
First of all, I only discovered the world of book blogging when my 2nd novel, Dance Lessons, which was published by a university press, was released in 2011. As a non-name-brand author published by a literary indie press about a non-ripped-from-the-headlines topic, I knew that my novel would not be reviewed by the usual print reviewers. I loved the world of book blog reviews—not simply for the fact that many were kind enough to review the book, but also because, as a busy author who works a busy day job, it gave me a kind of virtual literary world to “hang out” in. It gave me a world of other readers from all sorts of places to get to know. In other words, it became my virtual writer-reader community. So I’m not sure if it’s about the payment, so much as the added value of democratic literary conversation that distinguishes book bloggers from print reviewers. I didn’t do a book tour, per sae, and I never did or do bulk mailings. Instead, I truly enjoyed and still email with the book bloggers I “met.” It’s been a really exciting development in my writing and reading life.
4. When you write, do you picture and audience or do you just write?
It depends on what I’m writing. I have “public” kind of opinion essays that I know or hope will be published and have an audience. The deeper, more creative pieces, I just write—often in a very scattered way.
5. Assuming this applies to you, how do you get past creative "dry spells", periods when you have a hard time coming up with ideas or when things seem futile?
Oh, I just read a lot, and journal a lot or write something in a genre that’s different from the one I’m stuck in.
6. If someone says to you, "I prefer to live life, not just read about it " what is your reaction inside? (Besides cringing!)
Yes, cringing. Why live one life, when, via reading, you can be part of many. Also, by just living your own life, how are you going to be exposed to the travel, cross-cultural and different experiences and human empathy we get from reading? You’re not.
7. William Butler Yeats said in "The Literary Movement"-- "“The popular poetry of England celebrates her victories, but the popular poetry of Ireland remembers only defeats and defeated persons.” I see a similarity of this to the heroes of the Philippines. American heroes were all victors, they won wars and achieved independence. The national heroes of the Philippines were almost all ultimately failures, most executed by Spanish or American Rulers.. How has the fact Yeats is alluding too, assuming you agree, shaped Irish literature? In America it seems somehow the best short stories writers like Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, and Carson McCullers, all writers admired by Irish authors, had their sensibilites shaped by the defeat of the south in the American Civil War. Feel free to apply this to your heritage.
Certainly, I think the feeling of “otherness,” – the non-victor status—helps in writing. If for no other reason than we have glimpsed a second life. Also, in Ireland’s case, Colonial occupation—as in many countries—included an attempt at annihilation of a native language. However, that language lies dormant or forefront in the imagination and seeps into the writing. I once had an American reader tell me that she could tell that I was writing from a bilingual tradition—which is true. Perhaps this is why I also gravitate toward and love Indian authors. There is that cross-pollination, that awareness of two linguistic traditions—the native and the Colonial.
8. If you could live any where in the past for six months, or forever, and be rich and safe, where would you pick and why?
I often fantasize that I would like to live on the coast of France. But as I never have, it’s hard to say if my stay would extend beyond six months or not.
9. Are you open to e mail, Facebook or Twitter, contact with your readers or do you fear stalkers or don't want to be bothered?
I am fine with being emailed or IMd.
10. Is a certain amount of suffering good for a writer?
I don’t know. I’m not sure that it’s the suffering itself—per sae—but how the writer or wordsmith or song writer has processed it, derived meaning and applied language to it. And of course, for that to happen, there has to be a certain fallow period and a period of creative distance between the suffering itself and the creative work.
11. Tell us a bit about your non-academic non literary work experience please
I am a communications director for a busy healthcare nonprofit.
12. Quick Pick Questions
A. tablets or laptops or smart phones?
B. E readers or traditional books?
C. American Fast Food- love it, hate it, or once and a while?
Hate it. Never eat it.
D. Cats or dogs?
E. best city to inspire a writer- Paris, London, Dublin, or?
Maybe it’s New York.
F. Walt Whitman or Willam Butler Yeats?
W.B. for sure.
K. Winter or Summer? Day or Night?
I. Would you rather witness opening night for Waiting for Godot, King Lear, Playboy of the Western World or Ubo Roi?
13. How important is social media in the development of the career of writers? Do you have your own web page and if so why? Do you think it is good business savvy to post free samples of your work online? Can you estimate how many hours a week you are online?
My website is at www.ainegreaney.com. Yes, I think social media is a great tool for readers and writers, and not just to promote ourselves, but to be part of the larger reader conversation.
. If you found out that a favorite writer of yours was grossly bigitoted would you lose interest in them?
I offer my great thanks to Aine for taking the time to provide us with such interesting and well considered answers. I look forward eagerly to reading more of her work.