Lynda Rutledge, the author of Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam) was my featured author of the month for May. Here’s Part II of our “blinterview” about the craft of writing.
Let’s talk about your writing career. You’ve written nonfiction for a long time and taught writing. As a writer, what was it like for you to delve into a fictional world?
I used to describe my career as being a full-time freelance journalist with ongoing literary pretensions. I’ve always preferred writing fiction; I just happened not to make any money doing it. Each day I either wrote for money or I wrote for love. For years, my joke was that my husband would come home from work and he’d ask me, “Did you work for money today or for love?” If I said, “Money,” we’d go out to eat and if I said, “Love,” we had leftovers.
So fiction was always my first love, but it’s a lot harder than nonfiction. Nonfiction is more a skill that can be made outstanding by being artfully done. But fiction is art that requires skill –– that is, it’s skill AND art, which takes time to mature and develop. Nonfiction gave me the time to do so, working with words.
You had the great fortune of attracting the attention of Amy Einhorn, one of the most respected editor/publishers in the country. How did that come about?
By choosing to stand where the lightning was going to strike, basically. Actually, I didn’t know who Amy Einhorn was back then, few outside publishing did, really. She was just making her name with The Help. But my agent was the one who had Amy in mind from the moment she read the manuscript, even before she took me on. You can’t do much better than that.
You know how you question good fortune because, well, good fortune isn’t the norm in life; hence the name “good” fortune. And so for a while I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, something to come along to keep this from being real — as any writer will tell you is part and parcel of the writing life. The truth is, the entire revision experience with Amy, while crazy-making in how long the revision process took –– since she’s famous for being a hands-on editor which means your manuscript has to wait its turn –– was truly worth waiting for. Many, many talented writers don’t get the agent/editor experience I just had. Especially considering the state of publishing today.
Do you outline or just start writing?
I do both. Over and over. And over. I jot down things, then if some character starts talking, I take notes by just throwing it in there, right in the middle of the very loose outline. If that works, then I grab a marker and start throwing it all up on a dry erase board so I can see the entire thing at one glance. I’m really, really visual. If I could I wouldn’t have a closed drawer in the house. I need to see things in order to start figuring out the puzzle.
Do you have trusted readers you turn to as you write, and if so, who and at what stage?
If a writer wants to keep her friends or her “trusted readers,” she learns the “first reader” rule. It goes like this: There can only be one “first read.” So it should be saved until the very last moment. (Subset of rule: Be kind enough to create a set of questions to guide your brave reader’s responses.)
After that, foisting your every revision onto friends is a good way to not have friends; it’s also counterproductive, unless you happen to be blessed with a trusted reader who is also a professional editor and owns a publishing house. But the urge to show your creativity to somebody is huge, especially for new writers. I laugh at myself thinking about how patient my friends and family were until I “got a clue” about this. I’ve thought many times about finding them all from long ago and sending them thank you notes.
Since the urge to share is so huge, I always suggest workshops as the best place to find “trusted readers” for the long haul, and a great way to meet other writers for whom you can also be one. But a little writerly restraint goes a long way to success in friendships and in writing. Writers are lonesome enough as is, all those hours alone with our thoughts. We don’t need to make it any more lonesome!
What do you like most about writing a book?
The creating of it all, like a puzzle, and the moments that an answer to some piece just comes to you, usually when you’re doing something else. Which makes it a part of your life, and I love those moments.
What do you like the least?
All the sitting. I’m a really antsy writer. I bet I write more standing up than sitting. Laptops are godsends.