It's a sunny but cool Friday and I'm looking for warmer climes. So I hop in my transporter and pick up this week's author, Cynthia Polansky. She gives me directions which fulfills my desires. Soon, we are sitting on a veranda outside a fashionable hotel in Tahiti. The water is absolutely gorgeous, the air is clean, and the sun is warm. She hands me a passion-fruit punch and we begin the questions.
1. Who is Cynthia Polansky and what makes you the most fascinating person in your city?
What makes Cynthia Polansky fascinating is her unpredictability. I seem to constantly surprise people with my interests and projects. That's why my tagline is "Expect the Unexpected."
2. Without revealing a deep dark secret (unless you want to), what one thing would people be surprised to learn about you?
I've never used any recreational drugs, not even marijuana. I just wasn't interested.
3. What interested you to be become a writer rather than something else such as becoming an archeologist?
I had always liked to write and thought I was fairly good at it, but lacked whatever magic ingredient was necessary to become a "professional" writer. In my mid thirties, a friend commented that I'd missed my calling. Irealized that I didn't want to miss it, and I signed up for an adult-education creative writing class the very next day.
4. Writers are readers. With which author(s) would you enjoy sharing dinner? Why?
I would love to have dinner with Stephen King; I've always been awestruck by his prolificness (is that a word?). I enjoy what I call "Twilight Zone" stories and King's imagination is as bizarre as mine. I'd also like to have met the late Cynthia Freeman, a mainstream novelist who crafted characters like no other could.
5. If I were stranded on a deserted island (or suffering a four hour layover at the airport), why would your book(s) be great company?
Either of my novels would take you completely out of your surroundings and into the world I've created or emulated. They are pretty fast reads, so they're better suited to the four-hour layover than a deserted island...though a tropical island is a nice place to come back to when you're finished in my world!
6. Share the Polansky process of writing in regards to: idea and character development...
Because I'm not Stephen King, I have to spend a good deal of time thinking about my idea and characters before I can start writing.
I have to know pretty much where the story is headed before it begins.
That comes after I've thought about the story for a while and have an idea of its direction. I definitely like to outline so I never sit down and feel intimidated by the pressure of creativitiy.
Research (do you Google, visit places/people or make it up on the spot?)...
I definitely use all available resources in my research: the Internet, books, interviews with real people, anything I may hear or see in the course of a day might find its way into my book. I write everything down on notecards and organize them into the appropriate book sections. Ultimately, some gets chopped but I prefer to have too much than too little.
I wish I could say that I write eight hours a day, five days a week, but that's just not the way my life goes. When I'm in research mode,. I'm always working, though: reading, outlining, bookmarking resources. My most striking ideas seem to come during three activities: driving, showering, or walking/running. I do have a regular weekly writing date with a good friend of mine who also has a busy life. It's the only way we can guarantee to get a specific amount of work accomplished. Now, when I'm writing for hire and have a deadline, I tend to be more methodical in my writing schedule.
Editing and number of rewrites...
As many as it takes! No fewer than three drafts: the rough draft, which I do in longhand; the first edit, which occurs as I'm typing the rough draft into the computer; and the second revision, which again is done in pen and ink on the printed-out manuscript. I am much more creative with a pen in my hand than directly on the keyboard.
7. “I think I have a good idea for a story, bit I don’t know where or how to begin. Your process may not work for me. Any advice?”
The instructor of that adult-education creative writing class gave me the best advice: Just start writing. Write one true sentence. Don't worry about where it's headed or how you'll get there. Just start writing. And he was so right! I tutor at the Naval Academy's Writing Center, and students come in every week with the same problem: they don't know how to start. I ask them to tell me a little about their paper, and they launch easily into a discourse. Then I tell them to write down exactly what they've just verbalized to me. It works like a charm! For some reason, "talking it out" seems to blow away the cobwebs holding them down.
8. I saw a great T-shirt the other day which read ‘Every great idea I have gets me in trouble.' What is your philosophy of life?
"Dog" spelled backwards is "God." If we lived as simply and happily as they do, we'd be a lot better off as a species! As Mahatma Gandhi said, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."
9. Please tell me you’re not going to stop writing? What’s next for you?
I'm working on a nonfiction pop-reference book on the history of human body odor. Working title: WHIFF: Human Aroma Through the Ages. (I told you to expect the unexpected.)
10. Where can people find more information on you and your projects?
My website, www.cynthiapolansky.com, has lots of information about me and my novels. Readers of my nonfiction dog books can find me at www.cynthiapgallagher.com, both of which are on the same site. I also have a blog of lists: homophones, odd street names, words that are no longer used in their literal meanings, etc. Crossing Polansky (a desperate attempt to humorously blend the film title Crossing Delancey with my cross-genre writing persona) can be found at www.crossingpolansky.blogspot.com, and I welcome suggestions for new lists, as well as suggestions for a new blog title! In fact, I think I see a contest coming down the pike...