Could you tell us a little about yourself? I’m a novelist, a poet, a short story writer, a screenwriter. I’ve been a musician (piano, violin, composition), a bus driver, a social worker, a university instructor. I speak a couple of languages other than English. Early on, I traveled a lot but now I don’t like to get too far from home. Home is the room I write in. I’ve spent a lot of time in Latin America. It turns out that a lot of my writing focuses on South American themes and ideas. My latest novel, Gabriela and The Widow features a 19 year old Mexican woman who takes the hard trip to El Norte where she becomes the caregiver for a 92 year old widow.
Describe your desk/workspace. It’s a mess. It is always a mess. When I finish a novel or book I try to clean up some of the muck but I look at each paper and tell myself that I know where it is and if I file it I lose it. So I don’t file it. There are stacks of print-outs and copies of finished work. On the desk there are three computers, two printers, two backup drives (I’m obsessive about saving files so have never lost a byte…) and a separate flash drive for storing each project. I guess you’d call it “creative chaos”. The value of computers is that everything there is orderly. Everything is defined and easy to find so I don’t worry about the physical chaos. In this, computers are salvation. But be sure to keep a couple of external backup drives…you never know…
What are your top three favorite books and why? They’re not all novels, if that’s what you mean but right now I’m thinking a lot about Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Atwood is a seer who reads right into the heart of civilization. I also spend a lot of time in Claude Levi-Strauss’s Mythologiques because a writer needs to have a solid understanding of anthropology and myth. Finally, Lynn Margulis’s Acquiring Genomes is a terrific book that helps me see how Life (with a capital L) isn’t defined solely as human. Very humbling to think that the bacteria in your body have been there from the beginning.
What was your favorite book as a child and why? To be honest with you, I don’t remember any books from my childhood. Music was my art from the time I was 5. I played the piano early but I don’t remember learning to read either words or music. My reading life really didn’t start until I was in high school where I discovered Albert Camus’s The Stranger and Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. Of course I didn’t understand Camus, Nietzsche or Existentialism until later, but they were foundation authors for me.
Are you a morning person or a night owl? I’m up at 5 or 6 each morning, but I stay up late. I like the quiet of both morning and late night. I do my best work then and there’s an added dimension—I’m working while everyone else is wasting their time in dreams. My books are my dreams so the sooner I can return to them, the happier I am.
Where do you dream of travelling to and why? I travelled a lot early on, but now I’m content to mine my experiences to turn them into novels. I’m a note taker so I filled notebooks about my travels. Those notebooks now are good source material.
Do distant places feature in your books? Yes. I lived in Latin America for years. I studied foreign languages and music in Quito, Ecuador. I have written three books with settings either in South America or France. I don’t do that to be “exotic” but the stories needed those locations. For example, my novel Blood, which deals with colonialism and natural resources, had to be set in South America. My book One Year in the Time of Violence finds a young American traveling in Colombia during a brief civil war. Gabriela and The Widow opens in Mexico then moves north.
Do you listen to music while writing? It depends on what stage of development a novel is in. Early on I write longhand in cafes and coffee shops. I write on yellow lined paper and I use a timer (this is Natalie Goldberg’s “writing practice” as set out in Writing Down the Bones.) Later, while I’m typing up the writing, I listen to Bach. Bach is pure structure. I find that his music informs writing in the sense that in the fugues you hear patterns and transformations in much the same way that objects, characters, and action are introduced then developed in fiction. In the final stages of a novel, I need the quiet once again so that I can hear the words. I read everything aloud and I record or video myself reading. The is perfect feedback because I know this: if the words don’t fit in your mouth, they won’t fit in your reader’s brain.
What are three words that describe you? Disciplined. Curious. Relentless.
Who, or what, if anything has influenced your writing? I’ve had three big influences in my writing life. Jack Moodey, a poet. Thom Gunn, a poet. Natalie Goldberg, a writer. All of these people in one way or another changed the way I write and think about writing. Natalie Goldberg gave me timed writing, what she calls writing practice—writing under the clock to put the internal editor to sleep. Thom Gunn taught me the discipline of the poetic line and the intense, compressed image. Jack Moodey taught me that every poem is an epic poem. He told me that the good poet finds the best line in a poem and then makes everything else just like it. All of this carries over into my fiction—timed writing as a discipline that forces me to finish what I start. Moodey’s epic thinking forces me to turn every sentence into a model that can be the model for every other sentence. Thom Gunn’s discipline of compression and image leads to the realization that stores are told with action and image.
Anything you would say to those just starting out in the craft? Write a lot before you try to publish. Take some writing classes. Study rhetoric. A useful book for this is Writing With Clarity and Style, by Robert Harris. Work only with writers who know more than you do. Beware of the phrase, “I really like your writing but…” Learn about timed writing as set forth in Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Don’t be afraid to fail, and don’t let failure eat you up. Every writer has boxes full of rejection notices, so don’t dwell on them. Don’t wallow in success. And above all, when you do get in print, don’t read your reviews. Hemingway said: “You’re only as good as your last book.” Bill Russell, the basketball legend said: “Money and success only make you a bigger what you were before.” Jack Remick says: “Discipline is your obligation to the gift.”
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Genre – Women’s Fiction
Rating – PG
The Widow (La Viuda) is ninety-two years old. She lives in a house filled with photos and coins, jewels and a sable coat. Aware that her memory is failing but burning with desire to record the story of her life on paper, she hires Gabriela, a nineteen-year-old Mixteca from Mexico. Gabriela is one of the few survivors of a massacre and treacherous journey to El Norte. Gabriela and the Widow is a story of chaos, revenge, and change: death and love, love and sex, and sex and death. Gabriela seeks revenge for the destruction of her village. The Widow craves balance for the betrayals in her life. In the end, the Widow gives Gabriela the secret of immortality.
Connect with Jack Remick on Twitter
About his Novels:
Gabriela and The Widow
Next Stops on this Tour
27th May – Author Interview at Voicu Mihnea Simandan‘s blog
28th May – Guest Post at High Class Books
29th May – Book Review at Book Lover’s Dream
30th May – Author Interview & Book Review at Unending TBR Pile