Chris Amisano [chrisamisano]
What did you first read? How did you begin to write? Who were the first to read what you wrote?
I can't even remember what I read first. My mom tells me that I was very happy reading all of the signs on the road when I was in the car with her, which was probably pretty annoying. I began writing in first or second grade - one of my first stories was about a little girl who tried to hide a dragon in her house. My family, especially my parents, were always the first to read what I wrote. As I got older and went into high school, I found support from two English teachers, Joanne Roseman and Liz Hankins, who taught creative writing workshops every summer. I'm lucky I was introduced to constructive criticism very early.
What is your favorite genre? Can you provide a link to a site where we can read some of your work or learn something about it?
Readers can always visit my website: www.chrisamisano.com to read excerpts from my first novel. I also write commercially, that is, for businesses and for purposes other than creative expression. My business, Blue Notebook Communications, is located at www.bluenotebookcom.biz.
What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
My creative process is 90% mental and about 10% physical. I spend quite a lot of time with an idea "percolating" in my head - sometimes weeks or even months. I think through characters and stories to make them plausible before I ever get them out on paper. My partner also helps me out with this process. I take him to lunch and start throwing ideas at him - he is often times able to polish an idea from the reader's perspective and give it back to me ready to write. For a novel or short story I usually have a good idea of how it starts and how it ends, but the middle is the fun part and I let my imagination run when I'm fleshing out the story.
What type of reading inspires you to write?
I am an unusually voracious reader - I'll read just about anything, from history and politics to fiction. But my inspiration typically comes from fiction, where a good story and great characters can help me fashion my own stories and characters. Isabelle Allende and Amy Tan are tremendous storytellers and their work is always an inspiration to write. Philippa Gregory, who writes historical fiction, is also one of my favorites. When I read great fiction, I get ideas, character traits, and even some literary techniques that are completely useful. I always say if I had not been such a reader throughout my life I never would have wanted to write.
What do you think are the basic ingredients of a story?
The answer to this question depends on who you ask. Literary purists will give you a laundry list of elements you must have. My creative writing teachers would probably mark me down for my answer, too. But I honestly believe that the key element, as simple as it may be, is a compelling story that keeps the reader turning the pages. I've read novels and short stories that are missing the story - they ramble from one unrelated "happening" to another and this just doesn't work. Second, you've got to have characters that your reader loves or loves to hate. Something in all of those characters has to strike a chord with the reader - some trait, or history, or outlook, or belief of each character should evoke an emotion. If you've got those two elements, you're going to have a story that engages the reader and leaves them wanting more.
What voice do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
That's a tough one. First person is easier to write because there's no question about point of view. The first person narrator knows how he or she feels, can describe all the action he or she sees, and can talk directly to other characters in order to find out what's going on both internally and externally. But this does leave you with a limited range. On the other hand, third person voice gives you the opportunity to take the reader to places and emotions that the first person doesn't allow. Third person opens a spectrum of new possibilities for both the writer and the reader. But the problem we run across is trying to put too many points of view into the third person - where do you stop going inside your character's heads and describing "unseen" action? Too much and you've got a confused reader and a convoluted storyline. Which do I like best? I like both voices equally and it really depends on the story I'm trying to tell as to what voice I choose.
What well known writers do you admire most?
I'm a huge fan of Isabelle Allende. The House of the Spirits is a wonderful book that weaves storylines and characters into a beautiful tapestry. All of Allende's novels and memoirs are just amazing. Amy Tan is a masterful storyteller, as well. Her novel Saving Fish from Drowning was superb in character and story. I read historical fiction quite a bit and enjoy Philippa Gregory, Margaret George, and Jean Plaidy. These authors take true history and add the romance and dialogue - and when I read their books I'm truly taken away from my little world for a while. I've recently discovered Donna Tartt, whose novel The Secret History gave me a fantastic insight into foreshadowing without giving away the story.
What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
I think I may have touched on this earlier. I feel that a character is believable if he or she (or it!) can strike an emotional chord with the reader. The reader has to identify with something that the character feels or something that is part of that character as a person. These don't necessarily have to be good things - they can be bad elements, as well. But the expression of these traits is just as important as the traits themselves. A character whose dialogue or actions are completely inappropriate will ruin the story right away. It's a package: identifiable characteristics that are believably transmitted to the reader through speech and action. My characters generally start out based on someone I know or a composite of people I know - then they get embellished or switched around. This way, I have the basis for a believable character with room for imagination.
Are you equally good at telling stories orally?
I don't see myself as an oral story teller. When I was a child I had the ability but was way too shy to speak up. That trait may have stayed with me into adulthood, as well. Writing is the outlet that lets me communicate without doing it "live".
Deep down inside, who do you write for?
Reading has gotten me through some very tough times in my life. When stress and emotions were way too high, a good book removed me from the situation even if just for a little while. There was a time in my life when I had the capacity to turn to alcohol or drugs to escape, but reading saved me. I say this to point out that I write primarily for people like me, the ones who need an escape for just a little while. If I can give that tiny bit of enjoyment, I've succeeded. Now, don't get me wrong: I also write for myself because it IS a form of therapy and self revelation. There is also a tremendous sense of accomplishment from finishing a chapter, a story, or a full novel. My second novel, as of this interview, is being mildly entertained as a publishing possibility but the greater joy is in the accomplishment of finishing it!
Is writing a form of personal therapy? Are internal conflicts a creative force?
Writing is definitely a form of personal therapy. My writing expresses grief, regret for what actions could have been taken, joy for actions that were taken, and the general embrace of everything that makes up our lives. My internal conflicts have certainly made it to the page - and serve as excellent fertilizer for a garden of creative ideas and storylines. People often tell me, "I'd love to write, even if it were just to express my feelings." I always ask them what they're waiting for. Write - it's cheaper than a therapist.
Does reader feed-back help you?
I love hearing from readers - in both praise and criticism. I received an email from a reader regarding An Imperfect Arrangement. He was happy with the story but indicated that my main character was just too much of a drama queen - I think he said something about the main character needing to get over himself. I laughed out loud, because that character had a seed of myself in him! This kind of feedback helps me move forward with my writing - and helps me avoid some pitfalls that take away from the story and the realism of the characters. After all, I'm writing in a vacuum if I don't hear from the people who are reading my work.
Do you participate in competitions? Have you received any awards?
I am not big on competition, to be honest. I get unnerved when someone else is competing. The 2008 Presidential election drove me to distraction. Can you imagine what it would be like if I were waiting for word on my own competition entry?
Do you share rough drafts of your writings with someone whose opinion you trust?
I am so lucky to have a creative writing group. We share our work and critique each other once a month. The opinion of the group members is gold as far as I'm concerned. They look at my work as readers and writers - and help me clean up the mistakes I can't see. My partner also offers a golden opinion - when he reads my work, he can be more brutal than the creative writing group. When I see my work through those sets of eyes, I am able to go much further than I would have alone.
Do you believe you have already found "your voice" or is that something one is always searching for?
Always searching. Definitely. I found my personal voice a few years ago, but that's not the voice my readers want to hear every time they read. My literary voice is constantly changing, constantly looking for a new way to express. This duality keeps things interesting. You'll hear my personal voice in my literary voice at times, but I hope that the literary one continues to evolve.
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?
I spent many years in a corporate environment, so I'm one for SMART goals, that is, specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. When I'm ready to go with an idea, I'll set a goal like, "Write one scene per day for a week" or "Write one chapter every two days for a month". I set a goal for my second novel to be finished with the first draft within six months, and I did it. It was something I knew I could achieve. Schedules are different: I go from day to day to schedule my time. My creativity is not like a city bus. I can't say that I'll be ready to write something at 10:30 tomorrow. I have to go with it when the urge comes on.
What do you surround yourself with in your work area in order to help your concentrate?
My work area has one wall devoted completely to books. These are my favorite novels, reference books, textbooks, and even a few magazines. I have an affinity for my literary stuff and it's always an inspiration to have it around. If I get stuck, I may pull a favorite off of a shelf, curl up on the sofa, and read a chapter or two to get back on track. I also have some of my favorite entertainment memorabilia around in my office. I've got framed autographed photos of Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Gloria Swanson on the wall behind me - it's the diva wall. My desk faces a beautiful view of Miami Beach and the cruise ship docks near Biscayne Bay, as well, so palm trees and blue sky also help me concentrate. And it's beautiful to work from home, which for me is a place of peace, love, and harmony. Concentration and inspiration.
Do you write on a computer? Do you print frequently? Do you correct on paper? What is your process?
I write on a Mac Book using Microsoft Word. I print only when I've got the whole piece together (even a whole novel) and then disappear to another corner or the terrace or Starbucks to start reading and correcting with a pen. I will edit on the computer when I've finished a scene or a chapter, but this is never the final edit. One of my favorite things is to see a printed manuscript with my handwritten notes all over it. That gives me a sense of tremendous accomplishment.
What sites do you frequent on-line to share experiences or information?
I'm a Facebook addict - I've got some connections with fellow writers and that's always helpful. But I try to stay away from online forums and discussions because of my sense of "justice". It's hard to explain, but I get very upset when I see people treated badly in an online environment - and this happens quite often. Of course then I want to jump in and play defense and that's not helpful for a reputation, especially for a new author. Technology has given us some of our greatest triumph - and probably sends some poor souls into complete despair. That's why I "hide" from online attention.
What has been your experience with publishers?
Publishers are tough. Just with any creative judge, it all depends on how a person is feeling on the day he or she reads your manuscripts. I have a couple of interested publishers for my second novel - and I've had a few that simply hated it. J.K. Rowling tried numerous times to get Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone published - and got turned down. I believe John Grisham got the "tintack" a few times, too. So publishers wield a lot of power based on personal feelings and the almighty dollar, which leaves many talented artists out. But the world is changing - the Internet and self publishing make it possible for any artist to get out there and I think that's wonderful.
What are you working on now?
I am editing my second novel, Finding Mississippi. I'm doing my own editing and also handing the pieces over to my creative writing group for their input, which has been invaluable. I'm "percolating" an idea for a third novel and hope to start writing soon. I'm also doing contract work as a copywriter and instructional designer, so both the creative and the commercial are in full swing.
What do you recommend I do with all those things I wrote years ago but have never been able to bring myself to show anyone?
What are you waiting for? Pull them out, read them, edit them, join (or start) a creative writing group and keep on stepping. The beauty of our technical age is that creative writing groups don't even have to be "in person". Just use the notes feature in word processing and you have a face-to-face meeting right there at your computer. I always say that being published doesn't make you a writer. The act of writing makes you a writer, so get that stuff out, dust it off, make improvements, and start writing again!
Miami Beach, FL USA