Q&A with Author Carol Dawson

This week’s Q&A spotlights Carol Dawson, novelist and nonfiction author of The Waking Spell, Body of Knowledge, Meeting the Minotaur, The Mother-in-Law Diaries, and House of Plenty: The Rise, Fall, and Revival of Luby’s Cafeterias. Click here to register for Carol’s upcoming WLT class, Shaping Your Book to Sell: A Manuscript Revision Course on Saturdays April 30, May 14, May 21, and June 4 from 1 – 4 p.m.

What book are you reading right now?

Middlemarch, by George Eliot

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

Not That Sort of Girl, by Mary Wesley

Japanesque: The Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism, by Karin Breuer

When you’re not reading or writing, what do you like to do with your time?

I paint in watercolor.

What’s your favorite opening line of a book?

There are several that I can’t resist. One is the opening line of One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Marquez; it accomplishes a marvelous trick that he more or less repeats in the opening line of Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Another is the opening paragraph (six sentences—can that count?) of Huckleberry Finn. Talk about drawing you in with voice! Pride and Prejudice opens with a very tasty one-liner. Goodness-now I’m remembering a whole rash of them! My favorite opening line of one of my own books is from my first published novel, The Waking Spell: ‘My grandmother accomplished her chief female functions by knife.’

What life lesson did your last book or project teach you?

Every book I write takes me on a major adventure of awareness and self-discovery—what it means to be a human—through the act of living the life of its narrator. The revelations never stop. I’ve been very fortunate to have the privilege of living so many lives.

What word do you love? What word do you detest?

I love the word ‘luscious.’ Also ‘largesse.’ I detest the word ‘rectum.’ Although perhaps ‘anus’ is even worse. Neither are inviting words, phonetically speaking, and they have many unpleasant or suspect subliminal associations that lie utterly apart from their meanings. ‘Rectitude’….’dictum’….’aneurysm’….

What is a little known fact about yourself?

The exact number of times I’ve been married. And it will remain so.

How do you deal with ups and downs of the publishing business?

With as much stoicism and philosophical detachment as I can muster.

How do you balance writing with work and family?

It’s essential to thoroughly honor all your responsibilities, and to give your full attention, commitment, and mental presence to your family members when that time of day requires it. Otherwise the work suffers as well. I learned that lesson when my children were small, and the frustration of leaving the page unfinished sometimes bred a private resentment that I had to quell—very unhealthy. I could have been happy just writing all day long. I therefore learned to partition my time very carefully; it taught me patience, as well as deepening my love for my children and partner, by living up to that love without reserve.

What is your writing routine and where do you write?

I have a studio/study apart from the other rooms of the house that I use only for work. I get up in the morning and go straight to the computer to ‘open shop.’ That sets the workday spinning; I then have two cups of tea and a breakfast drink, go for a walk and/or work out (doing much of my day’s writing-thinking while I walk), and I spend [click the red “Read More” button below to continue]the rest of the day in the office, sometimes writing until seven or eight at night, if the flow is going well.

Do you outline or just start writing?

I just start writing. Often, after the first chapter is launched, I’ll draw up a time line. But outlines, unless I’m writing a non-fiction work, tend to cage my characters in.

Do you have trusted readers you turn to as you write, and if so, who and what stage?

Yes, I do. Not many. Only one or two, maybe. Sarah Bird is one. I only show her a ms. after it’s close to finished—usually after 2nd or 3rd completed draft.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

When I first learned to read and to form letters.

Cyndi’s Fast Five

  1. What are three things in your office/writing space that would surprise someone who popped in?

The metal-polishing machine

The Dogon fertility figure

The scope of the mess

  1. What book first influenced you as a child?

Kipling’s Jungle Book, The Bible, a child’s book belonging to my mother called Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare—good grief, there are far too many to name.

3. What time of day do you write?

All day.

4. If you could have a beer or coffee with a writer living or dead, who would it be and why?

Penelope Fitzgerald. What a brilliant, economical writer—what a lovely spirit and wit!

5. Beer or coffee?


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