by Pavan Atwal
Talented writers are easy to find, but writers who are talented and have an immeasurable amount of passion are much more difficult to come by. I received the honor of interviewing the accomplished and intelligent Zu Vincent on April 21, 2014 . Vincent has written numerous short stories and novels, including her most recent, The Lucky Place (Front Street, 2008). She has also published articles in many different newspapers and magazines. Vincent will be holding a workshop called “Fire Up Your Fiction” on April 26 at the WordFire 2014 creative writing conference hosted by Butte College.
Pavan Atwal (PA): Many writers find themselves writing either fiction or nonfiction pieces, however, you do both. Where do you find your inspiration and how do you formulate completely different ideas for each piece of work you produce?
Zu Vincent (ZV): Pavan, thank you for the great questions!
In terms of moving between fiction and nonfiction, in nonfiction I often have an assignment for a specific publication, which will dictate its form. For instance, an essay of mine in an upcoming anthology on Notable Native Americans called for a compelling narrative, and this one tells the story of one girl’s tough upbringing in an “Indian” school.
Otherwise, in choosing between fiction and its many forms, and nonfiction, I’ve learned to let the material tell me what form it needs to take. In other words, if you listen, the story itself lets you know how it should be told.
PA: How do you switch your mindset from writing informative fact based articles to writing amazing fictional short stories and novels? Do you find it difficult or does each concept and idea flow effortlessly from the other?
ZV: I find that many of the same techniques apply to both genres. While it’s true they use different writing muscles, I feel I can get a bit creative in nonfiction by using fictional techniques, and incorporate some nonfiction techniques in my fiction. Using creative openings and story structure when writing nonfiction for example, comes to mind. And , while each writing project calls for its own approach and in this way the voice springs naturally from the material, magic can happen when what you’re writing about in one piece informs another piece at the same time.
PA: Many writers are found to also be editors and English professors, which seems as if it would keep their schedules packed. How do you balance being a writer, editor, professor and speaking at conferences, and which one do you find to be more of your calling and why?
ZV: I throw myself into whatever I’m doing, so balance is often hard for me. Especially when I enjoy everything I do. But I will confess that writing is my passion.
PA: When did you know that literature was for you? Did you ever have your doubts after you decided this is what you wanted to major in?
ZV: No doubts. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been in love with books and writing. I was about three when I decided I was going to be a writer. I have no idea where that came from, but I was always making up poems and stories in my head, even before I knew how to write. I don’t believe every writer knows their calling at a young age, but it does seem as if there are certain traits writers possess.
I recently read that the author John Irving knew he was going to be a writer when he was in his teens and felt a compelling need to be alone after school, rather than with friends. Irving said that the craving or desire for solitude often marks a writer very young.
PA: Being an English professor you find yourself looking over many different papers. However, when you review peoples’ work outside of the classroom, what do you look for and find yourself noticing most often?
ZV: As an editor, I think of working with a writer as a collaboration. I want to discover what the writer’s intention is in writing their piece, and make suggestions that will help them reach that intention. Giving a good critique calls on a lot of skills that you have to develop over time, and just as with writing, I’m always learning.
PA: Which do you enjoy more, writing fiction and putting your imagination and thoughts down on paper or thinking critically about facts and ideas writing those down and being able to support or extend your ideas in a more fact-based manner?
ZV: That’s a great question and it makes me realize how much I’m always moving between creative and critical thinking in all my writing. I love finding new insight in my fiction by applying critical thought to the work and visa versa. For instance, a great way to analyze character is to ask what bias they have or what psychological impediments they operate under, and how that might be impacting their actions and the actions of those around them.
Vincent’s WordFire workshop will focus on using story-boarding techniques to create tension, balance narrative modes, and peel back character motivations in your fiction.
To read up on the other workshops and presenters at this year’s WordFire conference, or to register, please visit: buttewordfire.org.
Still not convinced? We’ve got one more interview yet to come! Or, drop by Lyon Books (135 Main St) Friday, April 25 at 7p to meet some of this year’s presenters and hear them read their work.