Interview with Lisa Hannon

September 14, 2009 at 5:27 pm | Posted in Interviews, Writing: The Secret of Hurricanes | Leave a comment

Interview with Lisa Hannon

Interview

Theresa Williams

Author of The Secret of Hurricanes

Interview by Lisa Hannon

  
Theresa Williams has degrees in studio art and English from East Carolina University and earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, where she won the Devine Award for fiction in 1989. She has published in The Chattahoochee Review, Sulphur River Literary Review, Paterson Literary Review, Seems, The Comstock Review, Visions International, and other magazines. Her short story, “Blue Velvis,” was nominated by The Sun for a Pushcart Prize. Her novel, The Secret of Hurricanes, is published by MacAdam/Cage in San Francisco.  She is a professor of English at Bowling Green State University.

 

LH: Tell us about your life these days.  Are you still juggling teaching and late-night writing?

TW: Oh, yes. My mind is always more fertile at night.  The only real kink this semester is that I am teaching a morning class.  That makes it harder for the body to stay awake long enough to write; however, my mind still stays active into the night.  So even if I’m not physically writing, I’m lying in bed, writing in my head.

LH: You work mostly in poetry and in short fiction.  How was publishing a novel, (book-signings, self-promotion)?

TW: I had mixed success with book-signings. Like many writers, I’m a solitary and mostly shy person, so I knew nothing about promoting my work.  And I felt terrible about the small attendance at my events.   At my very first event, at my favorite bookstore, the person in charge of promotions didn’t advertise my event and neither did I.  NOBODY CAME!  The store then set me up with a small table near the cash register, but people mostly ignored me.  I felt like a tinker, selling battered pots and pans. 

Then I had two experiences that put some things in perspective for me:  1)  At an event in Cleveland, only two people showed up, the novelist Mary Grimm and her friend, Jane.  Mary Grimm, sensing my embarrassment, shared with me that once at a book-signing, she was at a bookstore on the same day as Barney (the dinosaur).  She said most of the people who stopped by her table asked her where they could find Barney.  and 2)  At the Southern Festival of Books, I attended the presentation of Dorothy Allison, one of my favorite authors.  I have her on the highest pedestal you can imagine.  Without having read Bastard Out of Carolina, I could never have written The Secret of Hurricanes.  Allison’s frank portrayal of abuse gave me permission to write about similar unpleasant experiences. After Allison’s presentation, I rushed to the book-signing colonnade because I didn’t want to have to stand in a long line.  However, once at the colonnade, I discovered only one other person in the line.  Next to us was an incredibly long line snaking out of the colonnade and down the stairs–that line was for Garrison Keillor.  What I learned from both of those experiences was to put my position as a first-time novelist in perspective.  I learned to expect less in terms of interest and enthusiasm, and then I was not as disappointed when the events were not that well attended.  One of the best experiences I had was at East Carolina University, where I earned a BA and MA in English back in the ’80s.  The event was attended by four of my former professors.  That kind of support also helped to wipe away some of my earlier, more disappointing book-signing events.

The actual publication of the novel was much easier than the promotion end.  The novel was accepted at MacAdam/Cage in January of 2002.  The novel went through a series of revisions between January and April.  The novel was published in September of 2002.  MacAdam/Cage was gracious and very easy to work with.

LH: In college, I sometimes envied students of more concrete disciplines like engineering: they knew they “had it” when the machine worked or the equation produced the right answer. Tell us about the challenge of teaching something like poetry.

TW: I see it as an opportunity more than as a challenge.  I believe most students, unfortunately,  have few opportunities to pursue their creative life.  I’m glad I can show them how attending to their creative lives can enhance their lives.  I tell them that my creative life is my life.  My creative life awakens me to how it feels to be alive, truly alive.  I tell them that is what I want for them, too, to feel truly alive.

LH: You have said that you had an epiphany about connecting with people and what you needed to pass on to that audience.  What can you pass on to our audience about that?

TW: When I thought of myself as part of a community of writers, not as a lone writer, my whole orientation towards storytelling changed.  I came to this epiphany as a result of struggling with my novel over the course of weeks, months, and years, and also from reading If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland.  Since, I’ve read Writing Down the Bones, in which Natalie Goldberg points out that writing is a communal act.  She also said that “Writers are great lovers.”  Writers are in love with other writers, living and dead.  They are in love with the myths and fairy tales of old.  We pull from our personal, cultural, and cosmic mythologies.  We assimilate these into stories that will help show readers through the labyrinth of life.

LH: What’s next for you?  What do you need to be happy?

TW: To keep reading and thus to keep loving. 

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