Monday, 19 November 2012

Author Interview: Wally Wood

What is your name (or pen name) and where do you live now?
Wally Wood. I live in a small town in western Connecticut.

Did you always want to be a writer? If not what did you want to be?
I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was 14 years old, wrote a comic essay for a class assignment, and discovered through my writing I could entertain my friends, other students—even adults. I’ve always thought of myself as a writer even when I was ostensibly something else (soldier, magazine editor).

What is the name of your latest book, and if you had to summarise it what would you say?
Getting Oriented: A Novel about Japan. The reader lives 12 days with Philip Fletcher, recently-widowed, recently-downsized, as he leads his first group of 10 American tourists on a tour of Japan. His charges have their own issues. There’s a high-powered career woman who finds far more than historic sights; a man who discovers a hidden interest in Japanese comics; a neglected wife and a Southern belle vying for attention on Phil’s futon; and a retired couple facing their deepest fears. The group travels from Kyoto to Hakone to Nikko to Tokyo, with (I would like to think) gradually rising tension over the behaviour of one of the guests.

How long does it usually take you to write a book, from the original idea to finishing writing it?
My non-fiction books (I’ve ghost-written 19 commercially-published business books since 1990) take between six and nine months. Fiction takes longer. Getting Oriented probably took two years, but it was spread out over eight or nine years because I was continually distracted by writing that paid money. My new novel, Mt. Koya, was a effort last year, so it’s taken me almost a year to put it into a semi-final form.

Do you have plans for a new book?
I’ve just finished the third draft of Mt. Koya. I have two other novels in different states of completion. When I finish Mt. Koya I’ll return to one of them.

What genre would you place your books into?
That’s a problem. I’d call Getting Oriented commercial fiction. I don’t think it’s “literary” enough to be classified as literary fiction. It’s not a mystery, or romance, or paranormal (not a body, a vampire, or a ghost anywhere). That makes it difficult for a bookstore to know where to shelve it. A good book without a genre is an orphan.

What made you decide to write that genre of book?
I didn’t decide. I have stories I want to tell and I do my best to write an interesting story without trying to squeeze it into the confines of a specific genre.

Do you have a favourite out of the books you have written? If so why is it your favourite?
My favourite so far is a non-fiction book I wrote with a client, Jerry Acuff: The Relationship Edge. Although we wrote it for salespeople, you can apply the techniques it teaches—how to build a strong, positive relationship with almost anyone—in many, many situations. I know they work because now I’ve done so.

Do you have a favourite character from your books? Why are they your favourite?
No. One of my problems with my early unpublished (and unpublishable) novels was that the main characters were far more interesting to me than to any reader. I think that’s because they were idealized versions of myself (and I find myself fascinating). There was not enough distance between myself as the author and the character. Readers rightly found the books self-indulgent and tedious.

Where do you get your book plot ideas from? What/Who is your inspiration?
I don’t know. I speak enough Japanese to have led tours in Japan, and it seemed natural to base a novel loosely (very loosely) on that experience.

Do you have a certain routine you have for writing? ie You listen to music, sit in a certain chair?
I am a full-time, freelance writer. I have an office in my house. I write virtually every day from 9:00 to 5:00 with breaks for lunch, laundry, tea, e-mail, snail mail, errands. We are able to listen to a totally non-commercial, local, classical music station, and the radio is on all day.

Do you choose a title first, or write the book then choose the title?
It depends. I had all kinds of trouble coming up with Getting Oriented. (Wiser heads persuaded me that Found in Translation was a bad idea.) The title Mt. Koya existed before I began Chapter 1 of the new novel.

How do you come up with characters names and place names in your books?
I look at lists of names and try to pick one that sounds like the character. I don’t invent place names. I believe it adds to a story’s richness when readers believe these imaginary characters move through real places. Except for fantasy or science fiction, I don’t understand the argument for inventing place names.

Do you decide on character traits (ie shy, quiet, tomboy girl) before writing the whole book or as you go along?
I try to write a complete biography of my main character(s) before I begin a book. I answer questions like: How does she feel about himself?  Little self-respect?  Placidly self-satisfied? Is she in or out of harmony with her environment?  Is this situation likely to change? Who are the most important people in her life, and how does she relate to each of them? What does she want that seems most unattainable?  What price would she pay to get it  Would she regret the bargain? What could she scarcely dare to part with?  What price would she pay to protect it?  How would she react if it were lost? What must she deny or disguise, even from herself, because she absolutely cannot deal with it? What does your character believe that is doubtful or absolutely wrong? Once you have interesting characters and put them in an interesting situation, you have a story.

Have you ever suffered from a "writer's block"? What did you do to get past the "block"?
I tell writing students that writer’s block is a symptom, not a disease. The disease, I believe, is fear: fear of failure, fear of shame, even fear of success. If you can figure out what you’re afraid of, the block tends to go away. Certainly fear can be incapacitating, but usually what you write is not going to harm you physically, so what are you afraid of? Failure? No piece of writing is ever as good your vision of it, but that doesn’t mean you are a failure.

Is there a certain author that influenced you in writing?
No one author.

What is your favourite book and why?  Have you read it more than once?
My favourite book tends to be whatever one I’m currently reading.

Do you think books transfer to movies well? Which is you favourite/worst  book to movie transfer?
I think it depends on the book and the movie. I thought the movie “The English Patient” was brilliant; I found the book unreadable. I thought Memoirs of a Geisha fascinating; I found the movie terrible. I don’t think I have a favourite or a worst transfer. A great book does what only fiction can do, which is something no movie can do. A great movie does what only film can do, which, with sound, colour, movement, and acting, no book can do.

What are you currently reading? Are you enjoying it? What format is it? (ebook, hardback or paperback)
I’m currently reading a paperback edition of The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud. I am thoroughly enjoying it.

Do you think ebooks will ever totally replace printed books?
No. “Printed books” includes text books, cook books, art books; I don’t think e-books are good substitutes.

What piece of advice would you give to a new writer?
Write every day. You learn to write by writing. Don’t invest in an MFA program. If you want to be a writer, learn as much as you can about psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, philosophy, theology, economics and how people and the world actually works so you’ve got something to write about. Read the best stuff you can find.

Wally Wood is a full-time professional writer and has 19 business books and one novel to his credit. He is a volunteer creative writing teacher in the local library and in a medium-security men’s state prison. He has M.A. in creative writing from City University of New York and a B.A. in philosophy and oriental studies from Columbia University.
You can download the first chapter of his novel, Getting Oriented, read the reviews of it, and click to order it from as either a paperback or Kindle version at his blog:

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