Exclusive Interview with
When did you start writing?
I started by imagining. I was an avid child reader and movie-watcher, particularly of historical fiction. In my head I would write elaborate parts into each story for a little girl, my age. I called it daydreaming. I think I finally put pen to paper in high school.
What makes writing your passion?
We choose how we best relate to and make sense of the world (or it chooses us). Mine has always been the written word.
How long have you been writing?
formally, as an author, for about 15 years.
What was the feeling when you published your first book?
It was a birth, but with the longest gestation you can imagine (13 years!). Even now, with it out nearly two years, when I look at a copy, it's still hard to believe that all that work is complete and my story is exposed and climbing into the heads of other people.
What’s the story behind your choice of characters?
The Fourteenth of September is based on experiences I actually had, so the characters have always been familiar to me. Highly fictionalized though they are, the ones I haven't conjured up full-cloth, each have bits of real people that I've shamelessly morphed into composites.
What annoys you the most in pursuing a writing career?
The business side is relentless, but necessary.
How do you get over the “writer’s block”?
It's very difficult and there is no one formula, but I learned at a writer's retreat years ago (where there was nothing ELSE to do) that if you just start free writing, it eventually starts behaving, and turns into something you can either use, or that will get you where you need to go.
We all know the writer’s path is never easy, what makes you keep going? What advice would you give to new authors?
Accountability. I wrote to deadline for year's in the business world. Now, I know my own deadlines are a fiction I don't HAVE to pay attention to. So over the years I've been in workshops and writer's groups, taken classes, etc. Right now, I'm having a highly productive time, exchanging writing with a kindred spirit author I've known for years. We have three-hour phone calls to discuss each Saturday.
There are so many options to get into a community of writers, no one should feel like they have to do it alone. Community will save you years.
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?
Honor your talent and take what I considered an avocation more seriously. Call yourself a writer and behave accordingly, and confidently.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones?
Yes I do. It's hard to believe that people don't. You learn quickly the ones that are useful and can let you know if and how you are or are not connecting. And, those that are irrelevant or mean spirited. A review is also a tremendous courtesy to a writer. I review every book I read, even if it's a classic by a deceased author. I know how much it means.
What is the feeling when you get a good review?
When someone tells you they loved your book--live or in a review, it's the ultimate satisfaction. You've achieved what you were after--made that connection. It works. Writers toil tremendously to give life to their intention, which is so clear in their minds. To know you have been successful is the most incredible high.
Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
Per above, my first novel is based largely on my personal experiences on campus during the most tumultuous year of the Vietnam War.
Which of your characters you can compare yourself with? Did you base that character on you?
My intention was to tell the story from a women's point of view--rare for the subject matter. My main character is the voice for my point of view, and resembles me, but is much more interesting and makes more dramatic choices.
What do you think, the book cover is as important as the story?
The importance of the cover can't be overstated. The reader has to be drawn to your story in order to actually read it, and the cover is the first impression. Authors often have to fight for their covers. For example, my publisher wanted to put a helmet on my cover, but this is a non-combatant woman's story. I pushed for the iconic flowers and gun combination-war and peace, male and female.
Do you connect with your readers? Do you mind having a chat with them or you prefer to express yourself through your writing?
There is nothing more fun and rewarding than to talk with a reader--to either encourage them to read your story or, even better, after they've read it. I've had incredible discussions with members of book clubs and online groups that dive deep, ask wonderful questions and spur added insight. At times, my readers see something in my book that I wasn't consciously intending, but works. It's a revelation when that happens.
How do you feel when people appreciate your work or recognize you in public?
I've had several situations where I've been at an event or a party and introduced to someone who says, "Rita Dragonette," the author? Or, "I loved your book." I felt like a rock star.
Who is your favorite author? Why?
This is such a tough question because I love the work of so many authors for different reasons. I would have to say that I most admire what Hemingway did for modern literature. Fiction writing completely changed with his short stories and The Sun Also Rises. Like his attitudes and image or not, you have to be knocked out by his razor sharp, to-the-essence sentences.
What’s the dream? Whom would you like to be as big as?
I greatly admire the careers of writers like Lauren Groff, Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Franzen, and Rebecca Makkai. Every book is an event. Even if unsuccessful, you are aware a master is at work.
Would you rewrite any of your books? Why?
Every writer has things they would change, because they learn more and move in new directions with each book. You can polish forever. I certainly find things at every reading. I also added something in my second printing that I'd learned was unclear from feedback. At some point your editor tells you enough....this story is done. There are other stories to tell.
If you could switch places with any author – who would that be?
Edith Hamilton. One of the most challenging parts of writing is the solitude and isolation. Hamilton constructed a life that was an incredible balance. She wrote in the mornings and the rest of the day and the evening, she socialized (often with Henry James), designed gardens, etc. She was also a great traveler and involved in many causes. She got it all in--and had a wonderful, rich life, including writing "perfect" books like The Age of Innocence.
What would you say to the “trolls” on the internet? We all know them – people who like to write awful reviews to books they’ve never read or didn’t like that much, just to annoy the author.
That what they think is amusing or snarky is actually quite damaging. Creatives do not have hard shells, if they had they wouldn't be be able to do what they do.
What would you say to your readers?
I hope you love my characters as much as I do, and have learned something from their journey.
Share a bit about yourself – where do you live, are you married, do you have kids?
I am a widow without children, but with many friends.
What is your day job if you have one?
Writing is actually my third profession. For many years I was a public relations executive at global agencies and my own, then I was a consultant to CEO's and entrepreneurs. Once my book found a publisher, I became a full -time writer.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?
Anything in the arts.
Did you have a happy childhood?
If I had, I probably wouldn't be a writer. It wasn't tragic, but certainly challenging.
Is there a particular experience that made you start writing?
Every book I read as a child made me want to write something similar but even better (ha!). Like Orson Wells, I always thought writing was the most admirable and challenging of occupations. To be able to be accomplished in it would be the pinnacle.
Do you have unpublished books? What are they about?
I'm currently working on two books: the first is a contemporary novel about expats who have come to San Miguel de Allende with their last dream. The second is a memoir in essays. I have a third in mind about WWII--how the impact of war on two women (one American, one German) trickles down through the maternal line into future generations.
What do you think should be improved in the education of our children? What do we lack?
If you were allowed 3 wishes – what would they be?
What is your favorite music?
Share a secret with us 🙂