So Anna, at your blog you post delightful little pieces now and then of your writing--what book(s) are these pieces from?
I have three stories currently rattling around in my brain: The Brew, which occupies the most of the limited space Up There, consisting of a murderesque mystery with an odd slant; Swashbuckler, which is a fairytale set on its noggin; and Cadwalader, the legend of a hat thief pitted against (or perhaps doomed to share the friendship of) a man who only ever loved one hat. As you can see, I like to set things on their heads. (I also like puns.) Most of what I post is from The Brew, since I'm mostly dabbling with that.
Nearly every time you share your writing, I find myself wishing I could pack so much soul into so few words. You say you do not write often--do you think this is a case of quality vs. quantity?
Necessity and choice. I just finished nursing school, and now I work 40+ hours a week. I rent a house with my two sisters. That's the necessity: I don't have time to crank out pages-per-day. I'm more of a paragraphs-per-day kind of girl. And that doesn't really bother me; I like my paying job, and keeping house, and I actively choose to do these things. I believe that the act of setting words to paper constitutes but a fraction of my (genuinely perceived) calling as a writer. But that's a rabbit trail for another day...
Which "antique" authors do you admire the most?
Jane Austen. G.K. Chesterton. Flannery O'Connor. Sayers. A.A. Milne. A bunch of dead Greek poets.
Who do you take your inspiration from?
The spring of my senior year in high school, I took a college class on Jane Austen, taught by my the-following-semester-to-be Greek professor. I'd read Austen before and dabbled in writing a bit, but in a very proud, sheltered sort of way - because I wanted to be a good reader/writer. The HONR-1000 seminar on Jane Austen changed all that. I can still feel my back cramping up in the awkward desk, smell the old chalk and carpet in the second story classroom of Gundersen, and picture that eccentric Herr Dr. Prof. explaining some detail of the "glorious" Emma with tears in his eyes. Then I saw words not as an art to be perfected and worn like an accessory, but as the capacity for masculine rationality mingled with soul and sensibility, and the vision stole my heart. Some time later I read The Man Who Was Thursday, and that's when Chesterton invaded my soul-space and I've not been able to shake him nor his paradoxes since ('now, I warn you, this Gladstone bag is heavy...'). Of course, I find fellow-writers and other people inspiring, but I think the job mostly belongs to those three men who found reason beautiful enough to break their hearts: the job first and always belonging to my father, then shared with an Episcopalian lecturer in classics and a long-dead British Catholic.
If you want to be style-specific, my writing reads like an undercooked jumble of A.A. Milne, Dorothy Sayers, and G.K. Chesterton, and I don't care who knows it.
If you could choose one perfect day, what would it look like?
Jesus, no sin, and tea. Which brings us to...
Coffee or tea?
Tea is like a well-worn friendship: it takes time to brew and enjoy, and the best kind is made around homey things. Coffee is like a romantic fling: you can buy it cheaply or expensively, and get it just about anywhere, but in the end it makes your stomach jumpy and leaves you with a caffeine headache. I think they're both delicious, but I'll take tea over coffee, any day.
Sun or storm?
Sun after the storm, when there is still plenty of grey mixed with thunder and the smell of rain in the air and cool damp all around, and then the gold starts pushing through the grey and steals your soul like a window into truth.
What is your favorite sort of music to listen to while living life?
Most days, I revert to my old standbys: Mumford&Sons, Andrew Peterson, Tenth Avenue North, Hawk in Paris (band), Rich Mullins, Fernando Ortega... Carbon Leaf and The Decemberists are music for all seasons, as well... anything that has a range of slow to upbeat pieces and actually uses good instrumentalization. Matthew Perryman Jones' latest, Land of the Living, is excellent. (...and the just-released The Struggle by Tenth Ave and Light for the Lost Boy by Andrew are fantastic, too - I would say more about them, but I'd never stop.)
What does your laugh sound like?
I'm usually self-conscious of how I sound, but I'm fairly shameless when amused. Whether 'tis cackling, hooting, hollering, chuckling, gasping, chortling, carousing, rioting... all might describe me, though I try to draw the line at snorting.
Do you tend to write humor or drama best?
I like drama, but even my most dramatic moments are ironical or at least a little lopsided. Even when I'm spitting mad, I'm very likely to break out laughing at myself. My appreciation for the ridiculous is quite sharply tuned.
Whimsy or Heartbreak?
I like whimsy because it has potential for both heartbreak and happiness. It is, as Andrew Peterson puts so frightfully well, the joy that we feel that leaves a terrible ache in our bones. Whimsy written truly and well ought to break our hearts. So I'm going to plead false dichotomy and not really answer this one. Fair 'nough?
What do you look for first as the mark of a good writer?
We could get into a lot of boring discussion on what makes a good this or that, but I have one initial step, a sort of litmus test, that I often find myself taking. That is, to turn to the back cover and read the brief biography of the author. If they're British and deceased, that's generally a good sign.
(If they're American and living, proceed with caution; Russian and oppressed, bail now or forever hold your peace, because forever's roughly how long it will take you to get a word in edgewise. See, you can judge a book by its cover.)
Which of your created characters is your favorite?
I have a profound soft spot for Darjeeling Falcon, the hero of The Brew, who is as pretentious and idiotic and tack-sharp as his name.
Is there anything else you wish to say while you have a captive audience?
I'm going to pull out my mildly-worn soapbox here, because I just can't resist. There are a million and one ways to live life and miss people, and as a writer you can't afford any of them. If you want to understand the humanities (let alone leave your mark on them), you can't ignore humanity. Sitting down and putting words on a page using proper grammar and stylistic excellence is easy - thoroughly indispensable, but also thoroughly capable of being taught with a textbook and mastered with a little practice. People don't fit in textbooks; they barely fit into stories, and that only by sitting on the lid to get the latches closed. Humanity is horrid and difficult and bulky and awkward and no amount of experience prevents you from landing on your face at least one more time. But you have to know it if you mean to write anything worth reading.
Flannery O'Connor once said something to the effect that humans are made of dust, and those who don't want to get their hands dusty shouldn't write. So what if you have the best plot full of meaningful symbolisms and cunning metaphors? Excellent, symbolic writing is not the chief end of any person's life, writer or no. The great writers all got their hands dusty; think of Tolkien and Lewis, with wars and tragedies and childhood stories of ordinary, rotten things like boarding school and Latin grammar.
Ponder Isaiah 58, live your life (that is: seek first...), and all these things shall be added unto you. As one deceased Russian queries, "How could you live, and have no story to tell?"
I have no last name half so cool as Dostoevsky, but I shall clamber down from this podium and continue plodding after the eternal God who spoke and it was. It's a long haul on aching limbs, but that's just the joy taking root.