Q&A: Five alumni authors
We asked five recently published authors from the Lakeside Goodreads group to respond to a few questions. They kindly obliged with answers that are, not surprisingly, exceedingly well-written. The following are excerpts from the full article in Lakeside magazine, which can be read on issuu.
Stephanie Clifford '96Brooklyn-based Stephanie Clifford sold her 2015 debut novel, “Everybody Rise” — “a morality tale of misguided ambition and financial obsession set in the bubble years leading up to the U.S. financial crisis of 2008 (NPR Books)” — to St. Martin’s Press in a major book deal and sold the movie rights to Fox 2000. The book quickly made The New York Times best-seller list and “summer best” lists of People, Time, and Entertainment Weekly.
What did you find most challenging about writing your latest book?
A: The early mornings! I had the idea for “Everybody Rise” in my head for a few years before I started it but kept waiting for that perfect time to write it, as though somehow life would suspend itself while I absconded to an imaginary country house and waited for inspiration, just me and the muses. Eventually, I figured out that I had to fit novel writing into my everyday life if I wanted to get it done. … I wrote the book while I was a reporter at The New York Times and during years that I got married and had my first child — and saw that the early mornings, from 6 to 8, were the times when I was least likely to be interrupted.
Gavin Kovite '99Gavin Kovite was sent to Baghdad while in his senior year at the University of Washington to serve as an infantry officer, later served as an Army prosecutor, and now is going for a Master in Teaching at UW. He is published in “Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War” (Da Capo, 2013) and is the co-author, with Chris Robinson, of “War of the Encyclopaedists” (Scribner, 2015), which The New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani called “a captivating coming-of-age novel that is, by turns, funny and sad and elegiac,” about two best friends in Seattle as their post-grad lives diverge — one into liberal academia, the other into the American military occupation of Iraq. They followed with “Deliver Us,” which Kovite describes as a “biggish social novel set in the near future (under a Trump administration — it was intended as a joke at the time!) in Detroit.” Unfortunately, he says, “all the major houses passed on it.” They’re still hoping but have started on another work.
A: Understand that first drafts can and should be bad. Trying to draft a piece that’s as good as someone else’s published work will lead to frustration and block. English teachers should provide terrible first drafts of the masterpieces they’re teaching from time to time, to reinforce the idea that writing is a process.
Allison Winn Scotch '91Los Angeles-based Allison Winn Scotch’s best-sellers, which have been on must-read lists in publications such as Redbook, Glamour, and People magazines, are “The Department of Lost & Found” (2007), “Time of My Life” (2008), “The One That I Want” (2010), “The Song Remains the Same” (2012), “The Theory of Opposites” (2013), and “In Twenty Years” (2016), which made the Library Journal’s Best Fiction of the Year list in the “women’s fiction” category (described in The Hollywood Reporter as “a female-centered update on ‘The Big Chill’”). She began with a traditional publisher, tried self-publishing, and now is in a two-book deal with Lake Union Publishing, a fullservice Amazon imprint.
Most challenging about her latest book:
A: I set the book at Penn, where I actually attended college, and there were times when it was difficult for me to separate my own experience from that of my characters. I never, ever cull from real life or base characters on people I know, but my own memories kept getting in the way. I considered shifting it to a fictional school, but my critique partner (who also went to Penn) read it and said I was being a little crazy with my worry.
Doug Merlino '90Doug Merlino ’90, center, with American fighter Jeff Monson, one of the fighters Merlino followed for “Beast," and Japanese fighter Satoshi Ishii after their 2013 bout in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Doug Merlino's latest book is “Beast: Blood, Struggle, and Dreams at the Heart of Mixed Martial Arts”; The New York Times Book Review praised him as a “gifted writer,” and Kirkus Reviews said “Merlino consistently captures the grit, determination, and sheer willpower of these hungry warriors . . . Fascinating.” The New York-based journalist won the 2011 Washington State Book Award for biography/memoir for “The Hustle: One Team and Ten Lives in Black and White,” which crosscut.com called, “A captivating memoir that sees racial and class divides in intimate personal terms, but with no easy pieties or excuses, no righteous indignation or blame.” He also wrote “The Crossover: A Brief History of Basketball and Race, from James Naismith to LeBron James” (2011).
Significant book read at Lakeside:
A: I remember reading Richard Wright’s “Black Boy” in Middle School and how viscerally it drew me into a different reality. It was a really powerful experience of how writing (and art) can create empathy and shift your perspective.
Marjorie Liu '96Marjorie Liu is an attorney and New York Times best-selling author of more than 19 novels and short stories. Her comic book work includes issues in series featuring Han Solo, Black Widow, X-23, and Astonishing X-Men, which was nominated for a 2013 GLAAD Media Award. Her current project, “Monstress,” a dark steampunk fantasy that Entertainment Weekly named the "Best New Original Series of 2015," hit No. 2 on The New York Times graphic novels best-seller list and received rave reviews. Liu has been interviewed on CNN, MTV, NPR’s All Things Considered, and the New Yorker Radio Hour. She teaches a course on comic book writing at MIT.
Most challenging character to write?
A: The main character of my comic book “Monstress,” Maika Halfwolf. … She’s a raw, open wound — a young woman who survived a terrible war and who feels like a monster and has an actual monster inside of her. Every moment of her life is about asserting control, not just over her internal life but over her larger life, fighting to maintain her autonomy in a world that wants to corral her because she’s too powerful. Which is what a lot of women have to deal with in our own reality. This is a society that doesn’t always welcome powerful girls, powerful women.