Category Archives: author interview

Interview with Lorraine Reguly

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picture of Lorraine RegulyLorraine Reguly, BA/BEd, is an author and English teacher-turned-freelancer for hire. She offers 4 different services on Wording Well: writing/blogging, and editing. She also helps others become published authors! Check out her services and see what she can do for YOU. You can also visit her author site, Laying It Out There.

Shauna Kosoris: Your first book, Risky Issues, is made up of mostly fictional short stories. Why did you decide to change to nonfiction for your new book, From Nope to Hope?

Lorraine Reguly: I saw that many people needed help.

I wrote about my suicide attempt, and that article hit the #1 spot on Google. I was getting over 500 people a day reading that blog post. I was surprised that so many people were contemplating suicide, and were looking for answers on what to do, on how to cope with their problems, and how to improve their lives.

As someone who continually struggled with suicidal thoughts for years, I wanted to share the exact strategies and techniques that I used (and still use, on occasion) to overcome mine. I also wanted to share how I maintain a positive outlook on life now. I am a much happier person than I ever was… now. Finally. Thank God!

From Nope to Hope is a book that will change your life! It also contains a built-in workbook with exercises for the reader to do (at the end of each chapter).

FYI… My first book, Risky Issues, was my “practice book.” I wanted to make sure I could go through all of the steps to self-publishing.

My second book is my pride and joy (next to my son, of course!). From Nope to Hope took me about a year to write, and I shed many tears during the process because of all the old memories it brought up. However, I completed it, published it, and sold many copies. I’m proud of myself for helping others. It brings me great joy to receive emails and messages from people I have helped. There is no greater feeling in the world than when someone tells me I literally saved their life. Wow. It’s just amazing!

After overcoming many obstacles in your life (many of which you share in From Nope to Hope), you were able to turn your life around. What do you credit with helping you get to this point?

There are many factors that contributed to the positivity in my life. The person who drove me to change myself was my son. He is also the reason I always chose to continue to live and move forward.

The other factors are the strategies and techniques mentioned in my book, From Nope to Hope.

However, it was the epiphany I had while I was in the hospital when my appendix burst in 2012 and I nearly died. I realized that I wanted to live, that I didn’t want to die without saying goodbye to my son, and that I had so many things I wanted to accomplish before I died.

So I began LIVING. I reconnected with my son, and many wonderful things happened as a result.

How Re-Uniting with My Son Impacted My Life tells them all!

Along with publishing your books, you’re also an accomplished blogger.  How did you get involved in copywriting?

Once I began blogging back in 2013, others started noticing me and how well I write. My writing is always perfect and edited to perfection. I started guest-posting as a way to “get my name out there,” and one website owner hired me to write articles each month for his site. I then began marketing myself as a freelance writer and editor.

Once I became an author, I started offering services to help others become authors too.

These are the services I offer.

What was your first published piece?

I have had many published pieces both online (in the last several years) and in local newspapers (about 20 years ago!) so I honestly cannot remember. Sorry!

For a list of my online publications, you can refer to my portfolio on Wording Well.

Thinking about Wording Well, why did you start your freelance writing, editing, and coaching service?

First and foremost, as a way of helping others. Secondly, to supplement my income.

I currently have multiple income streams. You can read more about them all in the article called The Essence of Blogging (+ How to Earn Money Online).

You have written many different pieces, from short stories and articles to blog posts and poetry.  Do you have a favourite writing style?  

LOL – I like them all!

I like writing true, factual accounts about both my life and about any topic, in general.

I love writing poetry.

My favorite would have to be sharing stories about my life, though. I love talking about myself and how far I have come in my life.

To learn a bit about the obstacles I have faced and the situations I’ve overcome, you can read My Life Journey (#inspirational #poetry + #motivational #poem).

What are you working on now?

I’m considering a historical book about Winston Hall, an apartment building that contained about 130 apartments before it ultimately burned down. It used to once house the women who worked in World War II and it, at one point, contained a bowling alley, a dance hall, and a concession stand that later became a convenience store.

In fact, my mom was the last person to run the store. I also worked there, as did my sister.

My paternal grandmother and grandfather lived in the building for about 40 years. I lived there, too, for about one-and-a-half years, with my son, when he was a baby (to age one). I had many friends who lived there. I grew up in a house across the street from Winston Hall.

Winston Hall was a HUGE part of my childhood!

What book or author inspired you to write?

No book. No author.

My mother was an elementary school teacher who quit teaching when I was born. I was her firstborn child and she taught me how to read and write at a VERY young age.

I was reading and writing cursive by the time I was in Grade 1. Other children my age back then were still learning how to print within two lines, and I was already writing within one. (I remember this because I got in trouble for disobeying my teacher. Can you believe that?)

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

No. People should read whatever they are interested in.

My son does not read books, but he loves magazine and Internet articles.

I, on the other hand, prefer novels – mystery novels, to be exact.

And what are you currently reading?

I’ve heard many good things about Stephen King’s book, On Writing, and so I’m going to read that soon!

I’m currently reading (and editing) Maxwell Ivey Jr’s 3rd book. Max is a blind man from Houston, Texas, who is someone who is mega-inspirational to me. He lost over 250 pounds, runs two businesses, wrote a motivational guide book to success, wrote a book about weight loss success, and then travelled to New York City alone via train for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays in 2016-2017.

Max also uses social media, has two websites, and is internationally known as The Blind Blogger, a moniker I gave him! He is simply AMAZING and is someone I admire the most in this world.

Leading You Out of the Darkness Into the Light: A Blind Man’s Inspirational Guide to Success is his first book.

It’s Not the Cookie, It’s the Bag: An Easy-to-Follow Guide for Weight Loss Success is his second.

We are still finalizing the title for his third!

Learn more about Max’s books.

Learn more about mine.

Thank you so much for allowing me to share a few tidbits about me, my books, and my life!

Fro

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Interview with Chris Roberson

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picture of Chris RobersonChris Roberson is the co-creator, along with artist Michael Allred, of the iZOMBIE comics, which are the basis of the hit CW television series, and the writer of several New York Times best-selling Cinderella miniseries set in the world of Bill Willingham’s Fables. He is also the co-creator of Edison Rex with artist Dennis Culver, and the co-writer of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D, Witchfinder, and other titles set in the world of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. In addition to his numerous comics projects, Roberson has written more than a dozen novels and three dozen short stories. He lives with his daughter, two cats, and far too many books in Portland, Oregon. You can find him on Twitter by following @chris_roberson.

Shauna Kosoris: Where did you get the idea for iZombie?

Chris Roberson: The inspiration for iZombie largely came from two questions I asked myself. The first was, just why do zombies need to eat brains in the first place? What were they getting out of them? And the second was, would it be possible to tell a zombie story that took place in the modern day and not in some sort of post-apocalyptic setting? Answering the first helped me figure out a way to answer the second!

In an interview with Tobias S. Buckell, you said that your brain likes to think up ways of turning odd bits of trivia into stories.  What’s the most interesting bit of trivia you’ve ever used for a story?

I was still living in Austin, Texas when I was writing the original series, and the stylist who had been cutting my hair for more than a dozen years had recently joined a competitive Skee-ball league. So every time I went in for a haircut, she would tell me all about the latest competitions, and how her team had done, and I was just fascinated by the whole thing. At one point I planned to do an entire story arc built entirely around skee-ball, with Gwen having to take a dead woman’s place and help lead her team to victory, having inherited the woman’s skill at the game. In the end, saner heads prevailed and the whole story was dealt with  in a handful of pages. But Mike Allred did a fantastic skee-ball themed cover for the issue, so it was all worth it.

That’s super fun!  So in 2015, iZombie became a television show – what was that like for you?

It was, and remains, incredibly surreal. It would be enough if our comic was still well remembered and being discovered by new readers, but for it to have taken on this second life as a TV adaptation, especially one as fantastic as iZombie is, and made by such talented (and friendly!) people, has been a source of continual amazement.

Moving away from iZombie now, how did you get involved with Fables?

Bill Willingham has been one of my dearest friends for the better part of twenty years, and he asked me if I would be interested in writing a fill-in issue of Jack of Fables. That was my entrée into comics, which I’d been trying to break into for nearly 18 years by that point. My fill-in issue was well received, which led to Bill and his editor Shelly Bond inviting me to write a miniseries featuring the Cinderella character from Fables, and I’ve been a full time comic book writer ever since.

Now that you write comics full time, do you still write prose?

I still do a bit of both, though largely concentrated on comics. My most recent novel, Firewalk, was published by Night Shade Books last fall, and I’ve recently contributed a short story to a forthcoming Hellboy prose anthology, but most of my time these days is spent writing scripts for comic books.

I’ve read that your writing group become the publishing imprint Clockwork Storybook. How did that happen?

Clockwork Storybook was originally just four of us—me, Bill, Lilah Sturges, and Mark Finn— meeting up every week to read and critique each other’s latest stories, but in time it grew into an online anthology of urban fantasy, in which each of us wrote stories featuring our own characters that were all set in the same fictional city. This was the early days of Print On Demand (POD), so it was a short step from online publishing to releasing novels and short story collections in POD editions. Bill was already the old pro at that point, but the rest of us were still learning our craft, and I think that Clockwork Storybook played an immense part in helping shape the kinds of writers that we became.

Monkeybrain Comics, the imprint that you and your business partner, Allison Baker, launched was originally Monkeybrain Books.  Why the switch to comics?

Monkeybrain Books was an offset publisher (that is, traditionally printed and bound books, not Print On Demand) that originally specialized in nonfiction genre studies, and then went on to expand into novels, reprints, short story collections, anthologies, and even an art book and an encyclopedia! With the contraction of the bookstore market, around the time that Borders closed up shop, our book sales had dipped to the point where it didn’t make economic sense for us to keep printing traditionally anymore. But it was around that time that Allison and I started thinking about ways in which we could produce and distribute comic books digitally, which led to a partnership with ComiXology and the launch of the Monkeybrain Comics imprint.

So what are you working on now?

Most of my time these days is spent writing comic book miniseries set in the world of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. One series I did in collaboration with Paul Grist, The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed, recently wrapped up, and will be available in a collected edition later this year, and I’ve been collaborating with Mignola and a stellar cast of artists on the continuing Hellboy & The BPRD series, which are Cold War-era adventures set earlier in Hellboy’s career.

Let’s finish up with a few quick questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?

Oh, wow. ALL of them? I joke, but it’s hard to point to any single point of inspiration. But the novels of Michael Moorcock were immensely influential on me from high school onwards, and reading Matt Wagner’s comic book series Mage: The Hero Discovered  in my senior year was probably the single greatest influence on my development as a comic writer (which is why I’m thrilled that we’re finally getting the long away third installment, Mage: The Hero Denied).

And what are you currently reading?

I just started reading Grady Hendrix’s novel My Best Friend’s Exorcism, and as a child of the 80s who grew up immersed in pop music and horror movies, it is hitting me right between the eyes. Highly recommended!

Check Out the New Artwork at Waverley’s Vinyl Listening Station by Duncan Weller!

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Duncan Weller in his art

Duncan Weller is a very complex person; chatting about his art, he exudes a nervous energy, yet is simultaneously very soft-spoken and unassuming. “I love to draw and paint all sorts of subjects,” he says when asked about the complexity that is in many of his pictures. “I love assembling a number of images together.”

Along with being a visual artist, Weller is a writer, designer, publisher, promoter, and salesperson who lives here in Thunder Bay. He has written and illustrated several children’s books, a book of short stories for adults, and a book of poetry. One of his children’s books, The Boy From the Sun, won the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2007 for Illustration in Children’s Literature. The way his artwork and writing go together to tell his stories is deliberately planned: “I’ve actually thought quite hard about what I want to say and work hard to get ideas across. Some ideas are clearly in the text, but there can be an entirely different story created in the visuals that run in tandem with the story line.”

You can often find Weller at the Country Market, where he rents a booth and sells his books. The Country Market is where he met Bobbi, the model in the painting Weller created for the Thunder Bay Public Library. He was really inspired by her great attitude and wanted to capture her beaming face. Weller spent more time than he had planned to on the painting; it ended up taking two weeks to finish. He used acrylic to paint her pants and the purple background, while her upper torso, blouse and hair were painted in oil. Her natural hair is braided; she liked the idea of being painted with an afro.

Weller also rents a gallery on North Cumberland Street. “The gallery is fun,” he says. “It’s nice to see my work up on the walls. If I don’t have enough wall space, they’re in boxes.”  The gallery takes a lot of time, so he has created a work space inside of it. That was where the painting was created – he nailed the masonite up onto a wall and started painting. At the gallery, his eventual plan is to have other people’s work shown as well as his own.

While some artists mainly worry about creating artwork that sells, that is not Weller’s primary concern. “The whole idea of being an artist is to do your best work, to challenge yourself and see what you can do,” he says. “Too many artists hold back or rely on an ideology that makes it too easy to be an artist. I see nothing wrong with blowing people away, creating a sense of awe and mystery and wonder and excitement. If it’s fun for me, it’s got to be fun for the viewer.”

art work at the Waverley Vinyl Listening Station

Interview with Duncan Weller

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Duncan Weller in his art

Duncan Weller is a writer of children’s books, adult fiction and poetry.  He is also a visual artist who shows his work regularly.  He lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and travels often to get ideas and images for his books.  He won two of Canada’s top awards (Governor General’s, Schwartz) for his picture book, The Boy from the Sun.  You can find him online at duncanweller.com. And check out his artwork at the Vinyl Listening Station at Waverley Library!

Shauna Kosoris: So what came first for you: art or writing?

Duncan Weller: Children are quite happy to draw until they learn to write. The interest in writing supersedes drawing because words more easily express ideas and feelings than pictures. I kept drawing as I learned to write to satisfy an itch that I can’t explain. According to my mother, my first spoken word as a one year old child occurred when looking at a sundown over the Ottawa River. I said, “Pretty,” and not another word for three months. In my twenties I thought of myself as a visual artist. I was getting paid for my art long before my writing, but today I don’t distinguish between the two as powerful twins.

In university, you were originally in Fine Arts. Why did you decide to switch to English?

I wanted to learn about the history and methods of creating children’s books and other forms of literature. And at the time the Fine Arts Departments across North America emphasized modern art, which has value for some, but wasn’t my thing. The philosophical underpinnings of modernism was too subjective for my taste and Fine Arts departments completely ignored the potential of popular culture.There’s nothing wrong with the traditional functions of art when those traditional functions are used progressively to dramatically enrich a democratic society. And humanism is at the core of English literature which applies not only to visual art, but to cultures the world over. That emphasis, of art with a mission beyond aesthetics, ideology and the self struck me as more meaningful and useful.

Do you normally write or illustrate your books first? A Starship by Duncan Weller

Stories are movies in my mind, complete with settings, plot and characters long before they are organized into a format using words and images. In order for others to enjoy my books, movies on paper, I have to make the computer keyboard come atonally alive with the laborious part of organizing words and sentences into a meaningful story enhancing and being enhanced by the illustrations. It’s a complicated balancing act, so I make notes, a good outline and/or a story board. So again, the writing and illustrations come together. Hundreds of stories were memorized by griots or bards who passed down stories orally for thousands of years. I’m not that clever, but I have entire plots and ideas for novels worked out in my head where not a sentence has been formed, not a drawing made.

What is your favourite artistic medium to work with and why?

Watercolour is amazingly versatile and perfectly suited for illustrating children’s books. With the right paper and techniques, watercolour effects can mimic the texture of skin, bark, cloth, steel, clouds, water, etc. in wonderful ways. Oils are my second favourite. A story I completed called Lara Wood, yet to be printed/published was done in oils and alkyds. I used a crackle medium to imitate tree bark. It looks awesome. Painting faces with oils is the best way to go if you want to take your time and blend skin tones nicely, along with creating setting effects, like skies and atmospheres. For the books I’ve used all sorts of different mediums and plan to use more in the future.

In your books, you’ve written both prose and poetry. Do you have a preference for one or the other?

Prose. It’s so much easier. And safer. Poetry is hard to write and dangerous. An incredible number of poets commit suicide. This is because poets often look deeply inwards, searching for bigger truths in the well, reaching beyond the rejuvenating properties of the drinking water and heading straight for the rocky bottom. Also, the subjective nature of poetry and lack of financial support makes the life of a poet pretty hard. At its best poetry can be the most perfect form of human expression so I look forward to writing poetry for future children’s books. I look deeply, but I don’t plumb the depths of my own being for the rocky bottom. I’m not all that interested in ultimate truths. I believe there is some kind of order to the universe, and I have a few ideas about how it works, but I wouldn’t dare to take myself too seriously. I leave these depths to scientists and philosophers and try to look at the outside world as an observer with a heart. And because I’m sensitive I like to keep the poetic impulses to a minimum. I’ll live longer this way.

That’s fair. I know you’ve made videos of some of your children’s books; are you still working with film at all?

Occasionally I work on painting backdrops that may one day be green screened into a short film I want to make. And I’d love to make animated shorts and short films, leading up to making a feature film one day, but films get made by teams and require lots of management and money. So I’m sure I’ll do a few more small projects, maybe one next year.

The Ugg and the DripAs both a writer and illustrator, you must get pulled in so many different directions artistically.  How do you decide on the project you will focus your attention on?

As a writer, painter, designer, publisher, promoter, and salesperson I have to balance too many jobs with paying for rent and food like anyone else. So I take on commissions occasionally to earn some quick money. My book projects are eventually more profitable, and more so if I can find an agent and a good publisher this year. It’s expensive to print a book on my own, and will put me in debt for a while, but will eventually earn me good money. Despite the complications, choosing a project or starting a new project comes from feeling inspired or just getting bored with painting in one medium. Sometimes it’s a sudden rush of emotions that are connected with a story I love that I just can’t wait to work on. It’s also about timing and situations, some just too hard to explain.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’ve got three visual art commissions that will pay the rent. In my spare time I’m working on three different novels with lots of interesting characters and situations: We Play You (for adults) is about an artist who has his work stolen by a gallery owner. He discovers that the gallery owner is connected to an investment company that steals art from artists the world over. Punch-Out and The Search for the Ugg are two middle readers for kids. The Ugg story will have over 80 small illustrations. I hope to have Tiger Dream, a new picture book, completed this year.

So what book or author inspired you to write?

As a teenager I read nearly a novel a day, everything from Farley Mowat to dozens of science fiction authors, along with all the required books in high school, enjoying the Russian authors, Shakespeare and George Orwell. In University I was a big fan of the English Romantic Poets, Roald Dahl and the political writings of many American journalists, especially Tom Wolfe who blew up the writing world decades ago with his dramatic writing style. These days I read Ian Rankin and lots of political articles. I am looking to get back into reading a greater variety of novels by joining a book group.

What books influenced your children’s books?A picture from Girl from the Moon

For children’s books I had a few favourites like Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, books featuring Mr. Ben Red Knight, Graham Oakley’s church mice, a couple books by Dr. Suess, Jack Ezra Keats (Goggles! was my favourite), and a few oddball books from Europe including the strange imagery in Eastern European books of folktales. Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” was my absolute favourite because the allegory applied to all sorts of strange adult behaviours. Most often I was disappointed as a child with children’s picture books. I felt the authors and illustrators had very little imagination, playing it safe, especially when compared to the amazing imagery in movies and television which also had a big influence on me. The Tom and Jane series that my mother got me as a young child made me feel ill. These books and many others were so bad I thought adults were robots who had no idea that children had feelings. I didn’t want to grow up to be an adult. For a while I thought adults were another kind of animal. At the age of nine a school librarian recommended we read the picture books with gold stickers on their covers. After I read over twenty books with gold stickers I told my classmates that books with gold stickers were the worst. It was about this time that I gave up on picture books and began reading comic books. I recall how disappointed I was when I made this as a conscious decision. At seventeen I thought I could make a ton of money writing good books for children because so many of them were terrible. In my early twenties I discovered Roald Dahl which later had a big influence.

Is there a book you think everyone should read?

For anyone interested in the visual arts I would recommend Learning to See by Alan Gowans. It’s out of print, but old copies can be ordered from Amazon and found in secondhand book shops in British Columbia. Gowans was an art historian who taught at the University of Victoria. He offered an alternate history of art that is amazingly coherent, practical and useful for artists if they ever feel confused about what art is for – about the amazing things that art can do for people.

And what are you currently reading?

I’m reading a book by Keli Goff called Party Crashing: How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence. It’s one of many books I’m reading about race relations in order to improve the allegory for a story called Tiger Dream. I want to show children that it’s okay for us to eat, dress, talk and express ourselves differently because underneath the human dress (culture) we are all biologically the same. Our variety of cultures make the world an amazing place. I have to do a lot of reading for this story to better develop the allegory and ensure I’m representing other cultures accurately and positively. My research for Tiger Dream began with a trip to Ghana, which was made possible by a Chalmers’ Art Fellowship Award through the Ontario Arts Council.

Duncan Weller's books

Interview with Ruta Sepetys

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Photo of Ruta Sepetys by by Magda Starowieyska

Photo by Magda Starowieyska

Ruta Sepetys is the New York Times bestselling author of Between Shades of Gray, Out of the Easy, and Salt to the Sea. Born and raised in Michigan, she grew up in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. She currently lives in a treehouse in the hills of Tennessee. You can find her online at rutasepetys.com.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired your newest book, Salt to the Sea?

Ruta Sepetys: My father’s cousin was involved in the refugee evacuation of East Prussia and was granted passage on the Wilhelm Gustloff. By a twist of fate, she did not board the ship the day it sailed. She shared the story with me and that inspired me to write about it.

How fortunate! Your novels are all historical fiction; how much time do you typically spend on research for them?

I typically spend three years researching each novel. I know it seems like a very long time, but it goes so quickly!

What was the most interesting fact you discovered while researching the Wilhelm Gustloff?

There were so many interesting and surprising things I discovered, but one that stays with me is that it’s estimated that during World War II, over 25,000 people lost their lives in the Baltic Sea.

Wow! On your website, you say that while researching your books, you interview people who have experienced the event you’re writing about, then you combine their stories into one character.  Have you always used this method to make your characters?  

Yes, I generally interview and research the background of dozens of people and then weave elements of all of them into one character. That allows me to represent a larger human experience.

Are any of the characters in Salt to the Sea based off of real people, or are they all amalgamations of people you have interviewed?

The main character of Joana was partially inspired by the story of a Lithuanian nurse who fled during the evacuation, but then I quilted together elements from several other witnesses as well.

All three of your books are set between 1940-1950.  Why does that decade appeal to you?

I’m drawn to stories of strength through struggle and the journey of finding meaning through hardship. The war and post war period are full of experiences of hope, courage, love, and loss.

So what are you working on next?

I’m currently working on a novel set in 1957 Madrid, during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco in Spain.

Good luck with that!  Let’s finish up with a few quick questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?

There were many authors and many books, but as a young child I was incredibly inspired by the work of Roald Dahl. His books are so full of creativity and imagination, of innocent young people at the mercy of unsavory adults. I still cherish my copy of James and the Giant Peach.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

I love Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. It reminds us that even if suffering is unavoidable, we alone choose how we cope with our suffering.

What are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading research materials for my new book, so I’m reading Interrogating Francoism by Helen Graham. Once I’m finished with research, I can’t wait to read Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman.

 

Salt to the Sea cover

Interview with Amor Towles

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author picture of Amor TowlesAmor Towles was born and raised in the Boston area. He graduated from Yale University and received an MA in English from Stanford University. An investment professional for more than twenty years, he now devotes himself full time to writing. His first novel, Rules of Civility, was a New York Times bestseller in both hardcover and paperback. Towles lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children. You can find him online at amortowles.com.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired your newest novel, A Gentleman in Moscow?

Amor Towles: Over the two decades that I was in the investment business, I travelled a good deal for my firm. Every year, I would spend weeks at a time in the hotels of distant cities meeting with clients and prospects. In 2009, while arriving at my hotel in Geneva (for the eighth year in a row), I recognized some of the people lingering in the lobby from the year before. It was as if they had never left. Upstairs in my room, I began playing with the idea of a novel in which a man is stuck in a grand hotel. Thinking that he should be there by force, rather than by choice, my mind immediately leapt to Russia—where house arrest has existed since the time of the Tsars. In the next few days, I sketched out most of the key events of A Gentleman in Moscow; over the next few years, I built a detailed outline; then in 2013, I retired from my day job and began writing the book.

A Gentleman in Moscow seems rich in historic details, particularly concerning the Metropol Hotel. What sort of research did you do for the book?

Rather than pursuing research driven projects, I like to write from areas of existing fascination. Even as a young man, I was a fan of the 1920s and 1930s, eagerly reading the novels, watching the movies, and listening to the music of the era. I used this deep-seated familiarity as the foundation for inventing my version of 1938 New York in Rules of Civility. Similarly, I chose to write A Gentleman in Moscow because of my longstanding fascination with Russian literature, culture, and history. Most of the texture of the novel springs from the marriage of my imagination with that interest. For both novels, once I had finished the first draft, I did some applied research in order to fine tune details. In the case of A Gentleman in Moscow, I gathered firsthand accounts of life in the Metropol from an array of prominent people including John Steinbeck, E. E. Cummings, and Lillian Hellman. You can survey these accounts at amortowles.com.

Having researched all of these firsthand accounts, are any of the characters in the novel based on real people?

None of the novel’s central characters are based on historical figures, or on people that I have known. That said, I have pick-pocketed my own life for loose change to include in the book such as these three examples:

The thimble game that the Count plays with Sofia was from my childhood. My great grandmother was a Boston Brahmin who lived until she was a hundred in a stately house. When my cousins and I visited her (in our little blue blazers), she would welcome us into her sitting room. After the appropriate amount of polite conversation, she would inform us that she had hidden several thimbles in the room and that whoever found one would receive a dollar—prompting a good deal of scurrying about.

When I was a boy of ten, I threw a bottle with a note into the Atlantic Ocean near summer’s end. When we got home a few weeks later there was a letter waiting for me on New York Times stationery. It turned out that my bottle had been found by Harrison Salisbury, a managing editor of the Times and the creator of its Op-Ed page. He and I ended up corresponding for many years, and I eventually met him on my first visit to New York when I was seventeen. It so happens that Salisbury was the Moscow bureau chief for the Times from 1949 to 1954. A few colorful details in A Gentleman in Moscow spring from his memoirs; he also makes a cameo late in the novel, and it is his fedora and trench coat that the Count steals to mask his escape.

Finally, the scene in which the tempestuous Anna Urbanova refuses to pick up her clothes, throws them out the window into the street, and then sheepishly sneaks out in the middle of the night to retrieve them, was a scene that played out between my parents shortly after their marriage. Although, it was my mother who wouldn’t pick up her clothes, and my father who threw them out the window. I’ll leave it to you to guess who went out in the middle of the night to pick them back up.

What was the biggest challenge in writing the book?

Initially, I imagined that the central challenge posed by the book was that I was trapping myself, my hero, and my readers in a single building for thirty-two years. But my experience of writing the novel ended up being similar to that of the Count’s experience of house arrest: the hotel kept opening up in front of me to reveal more and more aspects of life.

In the end, a much greater challenge sprang from the novel’s geometry. Essentially, A Gentleman in Moscow takes the shape of a diamond on its side. From the moment the Count passes through the hotel’s revolving doors, the narrative begins opening steadily outward. Over the next two hundred pages detailed descriptions accumulate of people, rooms, objects, memories, and minor events, many of which seem almost incidental. But then, as the book shifts into its second half, the narrative begins to narrow and all of the disparate elements from the first half converge. Bit characters, passing remarks, incidental objects come swirling together and play essential roles in bringing the narrative to its sharply pointed conclusion.

When effective, a book like this can provide a lot of unexpected satisfactions to the reader. The problem is that the plethora of elements in the first half can bog readers down making them so frustrated or bored that they abandon the book. So, my challenge was to craft the story, the point of view, and the language in such a way that readers enjoy the first half and feel compelled to continue despite their uncertainty of where things are headed. Whether or not I succeeded in doing so is up to you.

Can you comment a little more on that diamond structure of A Gentleman in Moscow?

From the day of the Count’s house arrest, the chapters advance by a doubling principal: one day after arrest, two days after, five days, ten days, three weeks, six weeks, three months, six months, one year, two years, four years, eight years, and sixteen years after arrest. At this midpoint, a halving principal is initiated with the narrative leaping to eight years until the Count’s escape, four years until, two years, one year, six months, three months, six weeks, three weeks, ten days, five days, two days, one day and finally, the turn of the revolving door.

While odd, this accordion structure seems to suit the story well, as we get a very granular description of the early days of confinement; then we leap across time through eras defined by career, parenthood, and changes in the political landscape; and finally, we get a reversion to urgent granularity as we approach the denouement. As an aside, I think this is very true to life, in that we remember so many events of a single year in our early adulthood, but then suddenly remember an entire decade as a phase of our career or of our lives as parents.

That’s very true. Why did you decide to write A Gentleman in Moscow as your follow up to Rules of Civility?

When I was deciding what to do after Rules, I picked A Gentleman from among a handful of projects I had been considering. In retrospect, I see that my choice was probably influenced by an unconscious desire for change, because the two novels are a study in contrasts. Where the former takes place over a single year, the latter spans thirty-two. Where the former roves across a city, the latter takes place in one building. Where the former is from the perspective of a young working class woman on the rise, the latter is from the perspective of an aging aristocrat who has lost everything. And where the former is virtually free of children and parents, the latter is very much concerned with generational relationships.

So what are you working on now?

Last year, Viking/Penguin contracted with me to publish my next two novels; now I just have to write them. I like to carefully design my books, beginning the writing process only once I have an extensive outline. I am still in the process of outlining my next book, but I suspect it will follow three eighteen-year-old boys on their way from the Midwest to New York City in the early 1950s…

I’d like to finish up with a couple of quick questions on what you read. What book or author inspired you to write?

I began writing when I began reading in first grade. Since then, the two practices have proceeded in parallel. Read, Write, Repeat. That said, probably my three favorite novels are Moby Dick, War & Peace, and 100 Years of Solitude.

And what are you currently reading?

For the last thirteen years, three friends and I have met monthly to discuss a novel over dinner. We generally work on projects over many months. Right now, we are in the process of reading 8 Philip Roth novels focused on those involving his alter ego, Zuckerman.

book cover of A Gentleman in Moscow

Interview with Paul Gooding

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picture of Paul GoodingPaul Gooding enjoys poetry from the Victorian to the modern age, especially Tennyson, Frost, and Andrea Cohen. He’s the contact person for the Writers’ Circle, who meet on the last Wednesday of the month in the Waverley Auditorium. For more information on Writers’ Circle, please call him at 807-345-8513.

Shauna Kosoris: How did you get involved with Writers’ Circle?

Paul Gooding: Through a library ad. I was put in touch with Irene Warmenhoven, who edited the first anthology, Voice of Thunder, in 1998. I believe that they had existed prior to the first anthology.

For new members, it doesn’t matter if you’ve written a little or a lot, you can bring what you have and we’ll celebrate and read it. Everyone is welcome. There are no authorities. Everyone has their own thoughts on the piece. Everyone is welcome.

It’s wonderful that Writers’ Circle is so supportive. Other than that support, what is the most positive thing you have gotten out of being a member?

I think it’s the experience of seeing my work in print to a wider audience. To more than just fellow writers. The Writers’ Circle books were placed in the Thunder Bay depot of local works. That was instigated by Ken Boschcoff. I don’t know where it is located but it is the mayor’s collection of books.

That’s very exciting! You were on the editing team for Thunder on the Bay, the Writers’ Circle’s 4th anthology. Who else worked on that with you?

Thunder on the Bay was edited by Joan Baril, Michele Tuomi, and I. Martin Hicks assisted in editing as well (he’s since passed on). L. Keith Johnson was the guiding light to that one. Each time we met he kept a record of who came to the meeting. He was a massive contributor to everything.back cover picture of Thundering

The last anthology, Thundering, has a picture of all our contributors. Keith is third from the right.

Your bio in Thunder on the Bay and Thundering says you started writing after taking a course in Victorian Prose & Poetry. Why did that course inspire you?

It was an era of poetry that appealed to my mother. She got me several Tennyson books. I find the music of the poetry very enticing. I had to imitate it. The professor of that course was Dr. S.R. MacGillvary.

Was that here at Lakehead?

Yes. There’s another teacher, Claude Liman, who also inspired me. He’s since left town.

Have you always written poetry, or have you tried prose, too?

I tried prose in high school. I’ve written several academic papers. But poetry really. I’ve been in several poetry groups besides Writers Circle. My friends and I test each other. It’s lots of fun.

What is your favourite poem form to write and why?

I think variations on sonnet form, 14 lines. But the order of the lines isn’t given much prominence. Whatever I can fit into 14 lines. I’m not a strict follower. It takes a lot of skill. A sonnet is 14 lines, 3 quatrains, and a couplet. I don’t adhere to it strictly.

In terms of interests, I think also in terms of influences: Robert Frost. Andrea Cohen.

Why those poets?

I like their voice. I can feel them speaking to me directly and enjoy sharing their poetry. Sharing common interests.

How long does it take you to write a typical poem?

Probably no more than 30 minutes. I don’t write a lot. I write when I feel like it. Not interrupted. 30-40 minutes generally.

What was your first published poem?

I think the poems in Voice of Thunder. That was back in 1998.

So what are you working on now?

Right now, I’ll be giving a presentation to Writers’ Circle on William Wordsworth sonnets. That will be the last week at Waverley in May.

Good luck with that! Let’s finish up with a few questions about reading. What poet first inspired you to write?

I’d say Tennyson. Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He represents an isolated individual speaking for his age. An isolated individual who can remain true to his individual self.

Is there a book you think everyone should read?

Just read anything, really. If you get a copy of Victorian Poetry and Prose, it has major poems and essays.

Stuart Mill -essays
Carlyle -essays
John Henry Newman – essays

Victorian poetry still satisfies. I’ve been writing poetry since 1998 and it still provides challenges, examples, flights of fancy. It’s an escape from the mundane world to a higher reality. It lifts everything up to a higher dimension.

And what are you currently reading?

A book called The Crimes of Paris. It’s about the theft of the Mona Lisa and the criminal underworld of Paris. It’s got larger than life characters. From before Sherlock Holmes.

I also read a book called The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson.

thundering cover