A Q&A with Author Therese Anne Fowler
We are so excited that Therese Anne Fowler will be running a one-day novel writing workshop for us on July 27, from 12 to 4 pm, at Quail Ridge books! (Sign up here before registration ends at midnight on July 24! That is tonight!) In anticipation of the event, we did a Q&A with Therese to find out her thoughts on “aboutness,” craft, and favorite summer reads.
Q: You attended NC State's MFA program during your development as a writer. In your experience, what's the importance of learning about craft from people who are further along in their writing development than you? Can you tell us about a transformative moment for you in your own learning process?
A: The importance of learning about craft from more experienced writers is akin to getting travel advice from people who’ve spent time where you intend to go. You can ask them: How did you get there? What should I bring? Any places I ought to avoid?
As for a transformative moment, I had finished a draft of the novel that I intended for my thesis and turned it over to my thesis director to read. We met to discuss it, and he gave me some nice feedback on the writing quality, characterization, and so forth. And then he said, “But what’s this story about?” And I realized that while I sort of knew the answer—that is, I could articulate an answer to him as I thought about the question—the story really didn’t know. So I rewrote the whole thing from scratch. That’s the novel that got me my agent. And you can bet I didn’t make the mistake again!
Q: You write historical and contemporary novels from the points of view of a range of characters. Can you give us one piece of advice for how you navigate narrative distance from those characters? How you achieve closeness even when you're writing across gender or centuries?
A: Narrative distance is one of my pet craft issues (along with point of view). The easy way to understand it is to compare it to the way film or TV directors frame their shots—from panorama to close up and every distance in between. The camera doesn’t care what gender the character is. The camera doesn’t care what year it is—or what planet it is, for that matter. The same is true for the writer.
One how-to tip? If the aim is to minimize the distance between the reader and the character, eliminate what I call translation verbs, e.g. “she thought,” “he wondered,” etc. The less you translate for the reader, the closer to the character’s perspective you’ll be.
Q: Can you briefly describe one exercise that you're going to have students do during your Quail Ridge workshop?
We will do an exercise that is designed to help shortcut the drafting process by giving a technique to use whenever there are story decisions to be made.
Q: What books are you reading these days? Give us a few recommendations for summer vacations!
I just finished reading Stray City, a terrific debut novel by Chelsey Johnson. I’ve just started another debut, The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts by Tessa Fontaine. Anyone who loves writing or writers should read Andrew Sean Greer’s charming novel Less, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It’s one of my favorites of recent years.
Thanks to Therese for sharing these insights! We hope to see you all at the novel writing workshop on July 27!