4. Tell us about your memoir “The Distance Between Us.” How different is it writing memoir and fiction?
There are similarities and differences. With a novel you start from scratch. You build the world and the characters from the bottom up. It is an addition problem. In memoir you have a ton of material to choose from. Depending on how many years you are covering of your life, you have years and years of material that you need to sort through and pick what to keep and what to leave out. It is a subtraction problem. The similarities are that in both novel and memoir, you still need to write scenes, dialogue, and vivid descriptions. You still need a narrative arc, character arc, tension, build-up, a good beginning, and a good ending. Characters need to be three-dimensional no matter if they are imaginary or real. When I was writing the memoir, I wrongly assumed that because I was writing about real people I didn’t have to work as hard on developing my characters as I do in my fiction. I was wrong. I had to work even harder.
5. Are there any stories or novels that helped you write any of your own books?
I like books that are lyrical and sparsely written. Some of my favorites are The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Mother Tongue by Demetria Martinez, We, the Animals by Justin Torres, The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka, The Autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kinkaid, A Country Called Home by Kim Barnes, and many more. I read these books for inspiration whenever I’m stuck with my own writing.
6. Which character is your favorite fictional character (from your own works) thus far?
Oh, hard to say. I love the heroine in Across a Hundred Mountains, Juana, because she is a fighter and never lets life bring her down. I also love Soledad, one of the main characters in Dancing with Butterflies, because she is so sweet and true to herself.
7. What can students expect to learn in your class at Writing Pad?
They will learn that there is no right or wrong way when it comes to writing…As long as it works, I will say, “Go for it!” Throughout my years of teaching, I have to say that this is one of the best things that I can teach a student–to not be afraid to try new things. Students come with a lot of fear. They get overwhelmed with the “rules” of writing. I teach my students the rules. I show them traditional methods, but I also show them non-traditional approaches to writing that WORK. This liberates them. It gives them permission to explore and find their own voice.
8. What is your writing process like? Do you know how your fiction stories will end when you first start them? How often do you write?
First thing I do is to not FORCE myself to write. If I don’t feel it, I don’t feel it. Instead, I read, I do some gardening. I make jewelry. I watch a good movie. Then I have my “Aha!’ moment and I write like a maniac, cranking out pages and pages within a short time. So I guess you can say that through all the non-writing things I was doing I was in fact writing, subconsciously that is. To me that is the key thing to remember–just because you aren’t physically writing it doesn’t mean that you aren’t writing inside your head. I always have my characters in my head. I am always trying to work out the story problems as I go about my day. So in a way I am always writing.
When it comes to starting a new book, sometimes I write by the seat of my pants, or the “headlight” method. E.L. Doctorow once said that “‘Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Having said that, once I have a draft of my book, then I switch gears and I do an outline just to make sure my structure is right. Right now I am writing a historical novel. This is the first time I’ve done a basic outline first before I start to write. I used the historical timeline and super-imposed my story timeline. I have an outline that has the major events, such as the inciting incident, the first plot point, the midpoint, the second plot point, the resolution. Every book you write will teach you something new.
9. Do you ever get writer’s block? Any tips on how to get beyond writer’s block?
Don’t stress out about it. Stress only makes it worse. Accept it and do something fun. When I have writer’s block I do a lot of gardening and while I’m doing that I’m having conversations with my characters, trying to get to the bottom of things. I also read my favorite books, and when I read them I remember why I love the written word and that makes me want to write again. I go to book readings, or I teach a writing class, and being in a room full of people that love books energizes me, it hypes me up and I want to go home and write.
There you have it, friends. If you liked what Reyna had to say about crafting a perfectly paced novel while also finding your own voice, don’t miss her Story Marathon: Plot Bootcamp. This is your chance to learn from a pro!