Tag Archives: Debra Gwartney

Interview with Debra Gwartney, this year’s nonfiction writer for the In Print Festival of First Books

Deborah Gwartney

Debra Gwartney is this year’s nonfiction author for the In Print Festival of First Books, and also the star of our second excerpted interview from The Broken Plate. She is the author of the memoir Live Through This, published by Houghton Mifflin in 2009, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is a former reporter for the Oregonian and worked as a correspondent for Newsweek for ten years. She teaches writing at Portland State University and is the mother of four daughters. Here is our excerpt of her interview:

What was your thought process on how to structure the book? I noticed the events were mostly chronological, but you use quite a few flashbacks. Why did you include flashbacks?

When I first began writing about this time in my family’s life, I found I could structure a fairly decent two- or three-thousand word piece. I wrote, and published, maybe six such stories and then I figured I’d just put those together and have at least a good hunk of a book. Um, no. That didn’t work in the least. I wasn’t after a book of essays—nor did the stories succeed as a book of essays—and yet the over-arching arc of a book-length memoir eluded me. After many failed attempts at discovering a structure, I finally one day sat down and wrote a list of the, say, ten integral scenes. Ten scenes onto which I’d hang the rest of the narrative. I didn’t worry that much about the chronology of those scenes (although of course I had to consider chronology eventually), because I was determined not to let the narrative get trapped in the plodding episodic, “and then this happened, and then that happened…” I was much more interested in the themes I was watching emerge organically from the text, and in glimpses of metaphor, which I tried not to over-think but let take shape as they wanted. Flashbacks would occur to me here and there as ways to deepen the meaning, to sharpen the symbolism, of certain sections. I felt the reader needed to know at least a little something about my younger self—my childhood, and my young adulthood—in order to relate to the woman who, as narrator, was ready to face her own responsibility in the conflagration of her family.

What’s the future in writing look like for you? What are you working on now?

I’m working on another memoir, even while I have to ask myself how one person could have enough life experience, really, to justify two books about herself. I’d like to think I do, and so on I go collecting pages of drafts and continuing to research, in order to discover that “over-arching arc.” I’d like to write about growing up in the west, a fifth-generation Idahoan, my relationship to my region and my people, as well as my conflicted desires regarding place and family: to both celebrate and cling to my heritage, and to run from it as fast as I can.

*(Interviewed by Phoebe Blake)

We would like to thank the editors of The Broken Plate for allowing us to excerpt these interviews. We can’t wait for the new issue to be released at this year’s In Print. Here’s a breakdown of the In Print info as a reminder:

Wednesday, March 23, AJ 175, 7:30pm: In Print Reading.
Debra Gwartney, Paul Killebrew, and Tina May Hall will read from their recently published books.

Thursday, March 24, AJ 175, 7:30pm: In Print Panel Discussion.
The authors will be joined by James Tadd Adcox, editor of Artifice Magazine, for a discussion about writing and publishing.

As a bonus for attending this year’s festival, all In Print attendees will receive a FREE copy of the 2011 issue of The Broken Plate! There will also be a book signing and reception immediately following each event. We have one more excerpt in the works from an interview with poet Paul Killebrew, so keep watching, BSU!

Interview with Tina May Hall, this year’s fiction writer for the In Print Festival of First Books

The annual In Print Festival of First Books at Ball State University includes readings, discussions, and classroom visits with authors who have recently published their first books. The two-day event typically includes three emerging authors and an editor or publisher. This year, the authors are Tina May Hall (fiction), Debra Gwartney (nonfiction), and Paul Killebrew (poetry). Fulfilling this year’s editor/publisher portion are the editors of Artifice Magazine, a nonprofit literary magazine.

In Print also marks the release of The Broken Plate. This year, the editors of The Broken Plate asked the visiting authors to contribute an interview to the issue. TBP’s editors would like to note that they are grateful to Tina May Hall, Deborah Gwartney, and Paul Killebrew for the opportunity to share their ideas about writing with the readers of TBP. In the weeks leading up to In Print, we will be excerpting these author interviews here on the BSU English Department blog.

Tina May Hall

Our first interview is with Tina May Hall. Hall won the 2010 Drue Heinz Literary Prize for her short story collection The Physics of Imaginary Objects. She teaches at Hamilton College and lives in the snowy Northeast with her husband and son in a house with a ghost in the radiator. Some days, she spends with her ear pressed to the wall. Some days, she snowshoes with her son to the wolf-ring in the woods where they drink hot chocolate and howl until the crows chase them home. Here is our excerpt of her interview:

The characters in The Physics of Imaginary Objects are so fleshed-out and distinct. How do your characters come to you? How do you find their voices?

I usually begin stories with a line or image, so the character often evolves in surprising ways. I am a painfully slow writer, mostly because I love revising, and it is in the revisions (which generally span a couple of years at least) that the character begins to emerge.

In this book, the reader will find a pregnant woman who craves meat, a woman who keeps her own cut-off digit, a grandmother’s ghost, a museum full of body parts, etc. Is there something you are trying to say or explore with this reoccurring darkness?

What is odd is that many of these things don’t seem particularly dark to me. Which maybe is more revealing of my own worldview than the impetus behind the collection. Many of these things seem rather humorous or hopeful to me, even if a bit macabre. As you note, many of the tensions center around the body, and I think the body is a kind of mysterious, funny, sometimes shockingly strange thing. Then again, my mother is the only one who consistently finds humor in my writing, so maybe the lightness I see there isn’t translating well.

You have a unique ability to explore the absurd and the mystical. Who has helped influence and shape your distinctive style?

I’ve had lots of influences, writers I’ve read at various points in my life who have opened my eyes to what fiction can accomplish. The first was Jane Austen when I was very young, and after that, Gabriel García Márquez, Charlotte Brontë, Italo Calvino, Jayne Anne Phillips, Angela Carter, and many others.

*(Interviewed by Alysha Hoffa)

We are very much looking forward to this year’s In Print. Remember to pick up a copy of TBP for the full interview, and have a safe and fun spring break, BSU!