With an MA and MFA in Creative Writing, Claire Ortalda is an award-winning fiction writer and poet whose adult fiction frequently explores the juxtaposition of the whimsical with the realities and challenges of adult life. This is her first work of juvenile fiction. She lives in Berkeley, California surrounded by animals and people who may bear some resemblance to the characters in The Stair in the Wall. She particularly wants to honor the real-life Bobby, a wise and lovely disabled cat.
What inspires you to write?
I think in terms of stories. I believe story structure is fundamental to the structure of the human brain, as it makes meaning out of event. I believe most writers, myself included, have an overwhelming need to make life meaningful through the interpretive art of fiction. (The opposite would be a belief in randomness — nihilistic and scary.) I love mysteries, as well and believe that people’s fascination with that genre is the fact that all people are mysteries, that the face they present or the part of themselves we are privileged or doomed to see, is not the whole person. The invisible part of the person is capable of…what? Very intriguing.
Tell us about your writing process.
I credit Carl Jung for introducing me to the idea that each person’s life is an adventure – if we include our psychic life. Dreams are a door to that interior life. Once I began writing down my dreams, writing block was gone as, to record their strange happenings, I dismissed my internal editor. I believe the writer has to both plan (lead) and follow the strange psychic messages that bubble up and put words not intended in character’s mouths and have them do odd things. It’s kind of a dance between conscious and unconscious.
On the advice of my mentor and now husband, novelist Floyd Salas, I tend to write the first draft without an outline..letting all the richness of the subconscious bubble up. I then outline what I have written and take a step back…usually the ‘holes” in the manuscript, logical errors and other deficiencies then rather glaringly show up. Here’s a tip for making the rewrite less onerous. Picture yourself as a movie director who has just received your first draft as a script and now has to shape it to your vision. Think of the beginning of the “movie,” the colors, richness, costumes, even music, then write to that vision.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I listen to them closely. It’s like following them down a dimly-lit path. My short story, “The Orange-Eating Lady,” published in The Rattling Wall, The Rattling Wall, Issue 2 (Winter, 2011), was almost entirely written in that way. So was ny short story”Littlejack,” which won an award, available on Kindle. Frankly, when I don’t, I find myself in cliche-land and have to kick the character unceremoniously out!
What advice would you give other writers?
Write. I love Hugh C. Howey’s advice — to write for the love of it. Writers should take themselves, how they choose to spend their time, their process and their work seriously. Commerce is a whole different thing. Howey notes that no one tells a weekend painter that she should quit painting if she doesn’t sell a painting, but people are eager to do that for writers if they don’t hit the bestseller list in the first year of writing. Why? Write, make an effort to get yourself out there, but don’t judge yourself by any kind of number.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
My short fiction and poems have been published in a number of literary journals and I have prizes for some of them. But many people will not have access to them. The Kindle format provides access. A few of my short stories, previously published, are up there but I decided to put my children’s novel The Stair in the Wall on Kindle because it doesn’t quite fit the genre conventions for middle-grade readers…it’s a bit too long, according to word lengths prescirbed by publishers, and though all words are understandable in context, it does expose the middle-grade reader to language that will make them stretch a bit…just as the classics of children’s literature does. I felt that a certain kind of middle grade reader would love the very things that made Stair not fit in the genre, so decided to offer the book in this format.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I don’t know. I am in contact with a number of writers and believe me we spend hours debating this. I am grateful that people are reading…that’s the important thing. In what format and how they obtain their reading materials…that is changing.
What genres do you write?
Children’s literature, mysteries, literary fiction, poetry
What formats are your books in?
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