Steven Axelrod [sax52]
What did you first read? How did you begin to write? Who were the first to read what you wrote?
I'm the living proof that it doesn't matter what you start reading, as long as you start reading something -- with passion and excitement. I began with Marvel comic books and Tom Swift novels; I moved on to dog-book writer Albert Payson Terhune, and then Ian Fleming and Alistair MacLean. From there a small prod from my father got me started on The Sun Also Rises, and from Hemingway to Fowles to Graham Greene to Tolstoy and Faulkner was a startlingly quick trip. I guess I began to write because my father was a writer and I wanted to impress him and be like him. Of course I would have raged against such a description when I was a kid. But it's the truth. I started writing little stories when I was ten or so, spy stories and boy's adventure stories. One of my high school teachers wrote on one of them (as I sat there watching) "This story is flat as a pancake, dear." That "dear" will instantly identify the severe and delightful Hortense Tyroler to any of her ex-students. My mother was the first one to read my work -- another merciless critic!
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?
I've always enjoyed crime fiction, but my MFA thesis was about the way some books can transcend their genres and become something more. Books living on the borderline of literature -- like Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union, or the novels of LeCarre and Len Deighton. I love stories and the great story-tellers, from Dumas to Tolstoy, engage my interest the most. I did manage to get through almost 1300 pages of Proust, aided by a fresh new trnaslation. But finally ... something has to happen to keep me reading.
I blog at Open Salon
My own blog (which contains much of the same material) is named after one of my father's books, "Where Am I Now, When I Need Me?" --
My Hollywood novel "Just Like in the Movies" -- self printed, not 'published' -- is is available in handy 'trade paperback' form at Amazon. com
What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
I write early in the morning and tend to pose a question or frame a problem in the hours before I go to bed. I generally wake up with an answer, or at least a direction. If I'm working on a book I work every day. Momentum is all.
What type of reading inspires you to write?
Anything good. A sentence like "She gave him a look you could pour over a waffle"*; a sequence like Levin helping his serfs with the harvest**; a character like Elliott Templeton.**
* Ring Lardner
What do you think are the basic ingredients of a story?
Character, plot driven by character, and the author's voice -- the sense of the writer that comes through the prose. What else? Sense of place. Setting should be another character.
What voice do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
I poefer third person, both reading and writing. I do love many first person novels, from Catcher in the Rye to "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime", from "A Farewell to Arms" to "The Postman Always Rings Twice."
But I generally prefer the scope and variety that third person gives you.
What well known writers do you admire most?
The short list: Jonathan Franzen, Ian McEwan, Michael Chabon, The Vikrams (Chandra and Seth), Jane Smiley, Alice Munro.
In genre fiction, Michael Connelly, Stephen Hunter, Thomas Perry
What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
They have to be flawed and contradictory and confused. I dispute the whole idea of consciously 'creating' characters. You just start writing and they come out. If you have to make lists of 'traits' and habits and childhood traumas, then you're on the wrong track.
Are you equally good at telling stories orally?
Yes, I suppose. But it's a different skill; and requires a different type of story. Ultimately, the prefect such story would be a joke: setup and payoff, detail and atmosphere not required.
Deep down inside, who do you write for?
I write for myself and my friends. My Dad used to say that an author viewed writing the way call-girl viewed sex: something you do first for yourself, then for the amusement of your friends ... and lastly, for money.
Is writing a form of personal therapy? Are internal conflicts a creative force?
It's more like revenge. But very helpful
Does reader feed-back help you?
It's very important to me. I love the MFA workshops and have always tried to set up writing critique groups wherever I was l living. Of course some of the comments are just wrong headed or foolish ... but most of them hit home. You know it when someone tells you something you should have figured out yourself. It's a good, healing sting -- like iodine in a wound.
Do you participate in competitions? Have you received any awards?
Not really, though I was one of six finalists (out of more than 1300) in an on-line first paragraph contest. I didn't win.
Do you share rough drafts of your writings with someone whose opinion you trust?
Tough question ... I'd like to, but I generate a lot of prose and wading through it can be a burden. That's what critique groups are for.
Do you believe you have already found "your voice" or is that something one is always searching for?
No, for better or worse I've found it. But you always hope you can keep refining it.
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?
I mentioned this earlier: up early, every day. I try to do at least two pages. It adds up.
What do you surround yourself with in your work area in order to help your concentrate?
All I have is the internet -- our finest technology of procrastination. The struggle against the urge to browse keeps me focused.
Do you write on a computer? Do you print frequently? Do you correct on paper? What is your process?
I write on the computer -- sometimes I'll work by hand first, if something is particularly tricky or scary. Recently I've been able to fool myself by finding excellent 'handwriting' fonts for the computer. I recommend 'mistral' especially.
What sites do you frequent on-line to share experiences or information?
I like Open Salon; I've toyed with FieldReport and Facebook ... but I don't need that many friends!
What has been your experience with publishers?
Very limited! Right now the editor in chief at a publishing house is looking at my most recent book (She responded to my last effort by saying "I want to see more stuff by this guy" in her rejection letter to my agent). She's had the book for quite a while, so all I can say about publishers now is ... they're slow.
What are you working on now?
A father-son story, set against the New York art world; it's based on my most 'successful' screenplay (It's been under option many times, though not yet filmed). The story started as a novella, so it feels like coming full circle.
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?
Read them over, and see what you think. I went through a massive pile of poems (30 years' worth) recently, and found about twelve of them I still liked. Most of what I wrote back then was junk. Most of what you wrote back then is junk; most of what everyone wrote back then is junk -- look at Paul Simon's early lyrics. He's often complained that stuff he would never show anyone he now has to hear on elevators.
But read it all again -- there may be a "Sounds of Silence" in there somewhere, who knows.