An Interview With Margie Klein
From The Odyssey Online
Aspiring writers get a lot of advice from a good many people: teachers, peers, haters, forums. However not very many get the chance to sit down and talk one on one with a writer who has successfully navigated the field. When they do, they often find that writing is not nearly as hard as they are sometimes led to believe.
Recently I had the opportunity to interview local fiction author Marjorie Klein about some writing questions that don’t I don’t often find asked.
1) Do you consciously decide on an audience before sitting down to write?
I’m my own best audience, and I write what I think is interesting to me. Certainly, there are times when I overestimate what interest that may hold for anyone else, but if you can’t entertain yourself, what’s the point? I think writing should be fun or be a learning experience in some way that expands your world. If it does that for your audience, so much the better. But no, I don’t even think about who my audience might be. I just hope they’re out there.
2) What is the best way to create a complex character? How do you make sure every character is complex in a work? Does it matter if every character is complex?
Observation. Watch people, listen to what they say, pick up on their mannerisms and language, and learn a little about their history and background. This will translate into the creation of your characters, either consciously or subconsciously, and give them depth and individuality. Not every character can, or should be, complex. Your main character should be, for sure, and any peripheral characters who play an important role in their relationship. But it’s okay if your side characters are pretty flat — if they become too interesting, they might steal the show from your protagonist, and make it their story instead of his or hers.
3) Is writing/workshopping your full-time occupation?
At this point, I don’t work full-time (as I did when I was managing editor of a magazine), but I do try to write every day and teach occasionally. Teaching makes me learn more about my craft, in a way, and I love working with students.
4) To you, what is the most important aspect of a piece of literature?
Wow, that’s a tough one. In fiction, one of the most important aspects is the story. What’s this about, who are these characters, what draws me to keep on reading to the end? It helps if it’s exciting or adventurous or mysterious or poignant—all of those are attractions. But most of all, it’s the characters who create the story, and whether or not I care about what happens to them. Another thing is language. Reading an author whose language sings in some way, whether it’s soft or loud, thrills me and inspires me to try and write better. One more thing: a piece of literature should broaden my world and take me to a place that I never knew I didn’t know until I read about it.
5) What inspires your writing? How do you decide what to write about?
In fiction, I don’t decide. It decides for me. Usually, ideas seemingly come out of nowhere, but I believe they begin from someplace deep inside (perhaps where dreams begin), and then surface when triggered by something that I either read, or heard, or even glimpsed in passing. But the idea was there all along — it just needed a little nudge, plus a big dose of imagination.
6) What is your favorite part about writing? Least favorite?
I love the writing itself. It takes me outside of myself, and allows me to give my imagination (there’s that word again) full play to go wherever it takes me, to create characters that entertain me, and to just make up stuff. That, coupled with a love of language, is what fiction writing is for me. Nonfiction has its own allures, but I always felt constrained by facts.
The least favorite part is the process of getting work published. Getting an agent, sending work out, wondering if it will get accepted. Not fun. But necessary.
7) What is the best way to find a book agent to send work to larger publishing houses?
This is the hard part. Writing is fun; publishing is not. However. Getting an agent is a complicated process, involving a query letter, synopsis, agent search, and patience. Writers magazines (Writer’s Digest, Poets and Writers, etc.) always have articles devoted to getting an agent. There are annual publications (Guide to Literary Agents) that list agents, as well as websites devoted to that subject (AgentQuery, etc.). The only way is to use these avenues to narrow down your search to agents who represent authors in your genre, keep a good record of whom you submitted to, and don’t be discouraged by rejection.
8) What is the best way to market yourself, independent of a publishing agency?
I’m not good at this, so my answer will be inadequate. Publishers no longer provide much in the way of marketing (unless you’re a best-selling writer), and pretty much throw the burden onto the author. If you’re good at social media—Facebook, Twitter, etc.—you’re way ahead of the game, because that’s what they call your “platform.” You can hire a publicist, but that can get very expensive, and unless you’re willing to spend the big bucks to hire someone for a long stretch of time, that burst of publicity is often just that: a burst. And then it’s over. Some writers actually pile books into their cars and make the rounds of bookstores, pushing them to carry their books, and if you’re up for that, great! But not many writers have that kind of time or perseverance to do it. I sure don’t.
Ms. Klein’s answers have been most helpful to me and I am thankful for the time she took to answer them. I hope they are equally as helpful to other up and coming authors.