Lewis DeSimone [desimone]
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?
My web site, www.lewisdesimone.com, contains an excerpt from my novel, CHEMISTRY, as well as information about other publications and a link to my blog, Sex and the Sissy.
What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
I find that ideas percolate in the back of my mind for quite a while before they turn into stories. Once an idea takes hold, it usually has a lot of associations around it—themes, characters, plot elements. Still, I won’t sit down to write until the first sentence comes to me. The first sentence can determine the tone of the entire piece, so I never force it. I just trust that it will come—almost always, when I’m not thinking about it—and when it does, I run to the computer to begin.
What do you think are the basic ingredients of a story?
You probably hear this from every serious writer, but it’s worth restating: it all begins with a character. It doesn’t have to be a likable character, or even someone you would want to talk to in real life. Characters become interesting from the way you develop them, the amount of empathy you invest. All the other elements of the story—plot, theme, setting, point of view, etc.—will follow from there, in one way or another. I don’t like rules per se, because most interesting stories bend them. But I don’t recommend that new writers try that: before Picasso invented Cubism, he had his Blue period. You have to know the rules before you can break them effectively.
What voice do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
The voice usually depends on the story itself. Some pieces come to me in first person, others in third. I have a slight preference for third person, because I find it allows for a wider scope and enhances the writer’s ability to provide a fuller description of the main character without the need for sleight of hand.
What well known writers do you admire most?
E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Philip Roth, Toni Morrison. Roth’s evolution as a writer is a beautiful thing to watch; that the Nobel hasn’t landed on his desk yet is a bit of a crime.
What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
The most important quality in the writer’s arsenal is empathy. In order for a character to truly come alive, the writer has to be able to imagine what it’s like to be in that character’s shoes—even if you hate him or her, you have to see the humanity at the character’s core and find a way to relate. My characters are often composites of real people I’ve met or heard about—and all of them also contain a touch of me, if only my imagined self.
Deep down inside, who do you write for?
I write for people who hunger for understanding, but haven’t quite figured out the path to take to get there. I write for my twenty-year-old self, and for that piece of him that still exists in this middle-aged body.
Is writing a form of personal therapy? Are internal conflicts a creative force?
I wouldn’t call it therapy, exactly, because the focus is not on me. The focus, instead, is on using those internal conflicts to feed the work—to discover things I might not be able to discover any other way. Writing is a lot like dreaming: when I’m deep into the story, unexpected things come up—things that reveal a lot about me, perhaps, but that also help the story resonate on an archetypal level that other people can relate to their own lives.
Does reader feed-back help you?
Absolutely. Writing is about communication, and it’s important for me to know what’s working and what isn’t. Of course, communication is a two-way street, so just because it works for one reader doesn’t mean I’ve completely succeeded at my job.
Do you share rough drafts of your writings with someone whose opinion you trust?
I belong to a writers group that meets each month to share our works in progress and advise each other on next steps. It’s enormously helpful to have their support and guidance.
Do you believe you have already found "your voice" or is that something one is always searching for?
I think voices evolve, and I expect that mine will keep developing over time. I do recall the moment when I initially “found” my voice, though. After years of stories that didn’t quite feel real, I hit upon one that worked. It worked because it was honest, and it was coming from deep within me. At that point, I could look back upon my earlier work and see that it was largely sentimental—full of unearned emotion because I hadn’t lived the feelings I was trying to write about. Once I resolved to write truthfully, from the heart, it began to click. That first serious story got me admitted to my M.A. program, and within a year I began publishing my fiction.
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?
Discipline has never really worked for me; I’ve always been a bit rebellious. Over the years, I’ve tried to write consistently each day, but I find that the muse simply can’t be forced. Since I also have a full-time job, it can be challenging to stick to a writing schedule. I find that what helps most is being open to inspiration and willing to jot down whatever occurs to me. I like to ruminate on a story throughout the day; inevitably, something arises in my imagination so that when I do sit down to write (I tend to do it in the evening these days), the words often come rather easily because the ideas already have.
What do you surround yourself with in your work area in order to help your concentrate?
Typically, I work in my study, where I am surrounded by books and can be reminded of literary tradition. There are few distractions other than the constant temptation to switch from Word to the Internet and see what’s going on in the “real world.”
Do you write on a computer? Do you print frequently? Do you correct on paper? What is your process?
I do write on a computer; I type rather quickly, so that’s the only way I can keep up with the ideas. It also allows me to fill in things as I go: while working on page 5 of a story, I may think of a bit of description or dialogue that belongs on page 2. Once I have a complete draft of a story or a chapter, I print it and do the revisions by hand—often by attaching handwritten additions. Revision is a more hands-on process for me; I like to be able to riffle through the pages at that stage.
What has been your experience with publishers?
My first novel, CHEMISTRY, was published by Haworth Press, and the experience was quite enjoyable: the editing was very helpful, and the production designer was quite open to my suggestions about both the page design and the cover. A couple of years later, Haworth was acquired by Taylor & Francis, which decided to cancel the fiction line, so I obtained the rights to the book and sold it immediately to Lethe Press. They’ve been great every step of the way, and I feel that the book has been reborn.
What are you working on now?
I’m putting the final touches on a novel about a group of friends whose lives emblematize the recent evolution of the LGBT movement, from AIDS to same-sex marriage. The story delves into questions about the relative costs of assimilation. I expect to shop it around to publishers by next spring.
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?
Just remember that writing is about communication: wouldn’t our lives be poorer if Emily Brontë had kept Wuthering Heights hidden in her desk drawer? Take another look at your work and then give it to a trusted friend—preferably another writer, someone who will be honest and constructive. The feedback of an astute reader is essential to helping you determine what works and what doesn’t. If left to my own devices, I will alternate between loving my work and thinking it’s absolutely wretched; to put an end to that ugly back-and-forth, I show the manuscript to someone. If you’re going to take your work seriously, you owe yourself a reality check—and, if you’re lucky, your friend can point you toward just the things you need to make your work sing.