Friday, April 25, 2008

Louisiana Saturday Night with Jan Rider Newman

Meet my good friend Jan Rider Newman. We've critiqued each other for a number of years. We've sat for hours and pondered the publishing industry, and we still can't figure it out. I don't think I've ever met anyone with as much perseverance. I've learned a lot from this fine Louisiana writer, and it gives me great pleasure to share her with you today.

1. Tell us what you write and where you've been published?

I write mainstream/literary short stories and novels. I’ve written since I was eleven or twelve. After we got a TV when I was about ten, some of the dramas and their characters sparked my imagination, and I’d write about them. Then I got into rock and roll as a teen, and that was my rock-star period. As a college freshman, one of my English teachers suggested I might not be serious about writing. I decided I was and have gone from there.

My short stories, a poem, and a nonfiction piece have been published in the New Orleans Review, Louisiana Literature, the Denver Quarterly, and Oasis Journal 2007. I’ve also published book reviews in the Lake Charles American Press. I won first prize at the Deep South Writers' Conference short story contest two years in a row and received an Artist's Mini Grant one year from the Louisiana Division of the Arts. The Deep South was a great conference. I wish UL-L still held them.

2. What is your background?
My father was a sharecropper at the time I was born. He was one of the smartest men I ever knew, and he never went to school. My sister, who was seven years older, and I grew up in the middle of a rice field ten miles southwest of Mamou, twelve miles southeast of Oberlin, and six miles as the crow flies from Basile, i.e., the middle of nowhere. When I wasn’t out roaming the fields and gravel roads, I read everything I could get my hands on – thank you, Bookmobile! I also owned abridged versions of Little Women, Black Beauty, and Rose in Bloom, and read them over and over again, along with a book of Bible stories and a couple of issues of True Story – my earliest influences!

I graduated from Mamou High and moved to Lake Charles to study at St. Patrick Hospital to be an x-ray technician (the McNeese program didn’t get started until years later). I wasn’t any good at that, but as my studies ended, I met my future husband and didn’t write much until I started college.I got a BA in English education but never taught, unless you count teaching freshman English as a grad school teaching assistant. After writing three months for the Lafayette-based Catholic newspaper, I did a three-year stint as a paralegal, followed by graduate studies. I earned an MA in English and an MFA in creative writing, then went back to work as a paralegal. I’m currently unemployed. Working, even part time, saps my creative energy and my writing starts to die. Can’t have that.

Since I quit my job February 1, I’ve completed a new 10,000-word short story and my creative energy is fine.

3. What is your writing process? Do you outline or just sit down and start writing?
I don’t outline. I’ve tried that, but it never works for me. I usually have a character and a motivation, some dialogue, or a dream to go on, and I start writing from there. I also don’t restrict myself as far as when and how much I write – yes, I’m undisciplined, but I write when I write and it gets done, so what else do you need?

4. What does a typical day look like for you? I don’t have typical days. Since I quit my job, we’ve been remodeling, and I can never predict who’s going to be tramping through my house, or when. I just get up early, get some clothes on, and wing it.

5. What is the biggest challenge you face in writing and publishing?The biggest? Surviving the rejections. Not getting stale and taking the easy way out, but thinking through what I’m writing for the possibilities and implications.

6. What are the biggest surprises/disappointments you've encountered as a writer? The biggest surprise is the new idea. When it strikes, it’s like the first time I ever wrote anything, and it’s a relief that I can still think of things to write about after all these years. The biggest disappointments, aside from rejections, have come when I see that I’ve flinched or blinked in my writing. I hate seeing that I’ve written a scene, for example, that doesn’t explore some aspect of plot or character that would be hard to write about, or some aspect of a character that casts him/her in a rosier light than he or she might deserve.

7. How do you inspire yourself? What are your sources of creativity?
The new story I just finished came from a dream. I had been searching for an idea that fit a particular theme, and I gave myself the idea in a dream. The inspiration for a series of novels grew out of a desire to explore and write about the Acadian experience from Nova Scotia to the present day. I also get inspiration from reading great writers, the ones who leave me breathless and dying for more. I put down those books and think, "I want to write like that!" Then I go try to do it.

9. What is your proudest writer moment? When I know I’ve written a story that meets its potential. And when I get a response from an editor that is a "yes," not a "no." A few months ago I sent a friend a copy of the Oasis Journal that my latest published story appeared in. She told me that once she began reading the story, she couldn’t put it down, even though her favorite program was on TV. That was a great moment.

10. What's the best/worst advice you were given about writing? The best advice: just write! Do it – you’ve got it, so use it.The worse advice: outline and plot out your novels in advance. (See above – doesn’t work for me.)

11. Who/what do you like to read and why? I read almost nothing but fiction. I fed myself as a writer and reader for years, during and after college, on Truman Capote, Eudora Welty, E. M. Forster, Charles Dickens, Robert Penn Warren, Somerset Maugham, John Cheever, and too many others to mention. It isn’t that I’ve outgrown them, but I don’t need to read them anymore, not systematically, anyway. They fed one hunger and created another that’s fulfilled by current writers like Sarah Dunant, Barbara Kingsolver, Tracy Chevalier, Alexander McCall Smith, and Valerie Martin, to name a few.

12. What are you currently working on? Short stories and the Acadian novels. I’ve never done historical fiction, but it’s a challenge to learn something new. And writing about characters and events from an earlier time isn’t as different from writing about modern times as I thought it would be. My writing is character-driven. I’m not obsessed with the day-to-day details of life in the eighteenth century and with researching, though of course the research has to be done – it’s fun and eye-opening. And the times and events influence the characters. I look for the universal things, the constants, like love and family, injustice, bigotry, hardship, personal growth and goodness.

Wrap it up: Anything exciting happening in your publishing world? Tell us about any stories, articles, etc you have coming out that we can look for.
I keep submitting and hoping.
And so do I, Jan. So do I.
Thanks for being part of Louisiana Saturday Night.


Missy Tippens said...

I loved the Book Mobile too!! What great memories. The main thing I remember is how cool it was inside! I loved to go there in the summer and just sit and read in that nice air conditioning.

Thanks for that memory, Jan!

Great interview, ladies! Jess, did you learn things you didn't already know? (How fun to interview a cp!)


Erica Vetsch said...

What fun! I love reading tehse Louisiana Saturday Night posts. I love the advice question. Write, write, write.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

I absolutely love the answer to question #4 - typical day - get up, get some clothes on and wing it...sounds like my day, Jan!

Great interview.

May God Bless you with numerous acceptances!

Thanks again, Jess for a great interview.


Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

PS: Let's Play Tag, Jess!

Run over to my blog for details....