What is your most recent writing project, or what is a piece you’ve had published recently?
I’m revising a novel manuscript.
Here are links to some stories and essays:
“My First Brush” : Essay about trying to keep working while confronting mortality, published at The Quivering Pen
“They Did March for Me” : Essay about the Women’s March of 2017 at Hypertext.
“How Not to Write a Political Novel” : An essay published at Read Her Like an Open Book , a fascinating website covering women writers.
What’s your favorite thing someone else has said about your writing?
Gosh, that’s hard. A lot of wonderful things were said and written when my novel Cementville came out. Forced to choose, I’d have to pick the blurb Richard Bausch gave the book:
“Unflinching and clear, and beautifully written, it manages to be what good books always are: a window into the true world, exhilarating and inspiring even as it faces into the dark.”
What is one craft or writing book you love?
Charles Baxter’s Burning Down the House.
Who is one other writer you’re excited about right now?
Again, a dang hard question. I’m just nearing the end of Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God. So, Louise Erdrich.
What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten
‘Show, don’t tell.’ It’s not that it’s bad advice, I just hate when people fall back on it because they can’t think of anything else to say in a workshop or critique. There are simply times when you need to just tell a thing, and spare the reader some forced, long-winded scene strictly for show.
What’s the best?
‘Show, don’t tell.’ Most of the time, it’s true that a scene arouses a more visceral response—and understanding—in the reader.
Do you have a dedicated work space? Do you write in your home or do you prefer to write elsewhere? Can you write while traveling?
I have a writing studio in the attic of my house, a room of my own, which I love. I also write in rooms all over the house though. Once a week or so, I meet my writing buddy in a public space to actually be working around another human being. I can often write when traveling—though only when alone. My dear husband is just too good a travel companion (and too much fun) to ignore.
What are some of your writing habits? (Do you write at a particular time? Do you write every day? etc.)
First thing is the morning is always best. Problem is, if I wake up hungry, I have to make breakfast, which leads to checking out CNN or NY Times or both, and an hour later I’m kicking myself.
When you are sitting down to write, what is the first thing you do?
Turn on my terrible little desk fountain and reposition my little plastic T-Rex so his little claws are just brushing the shoulders of my little wooden Mark Twain statuette.
How do you pay the bills/financially support yourself?
I edit manuscripts, beg granting organizations for funding, apply for fellowships and residencies, wait for royalty checks that will allow me to treat my husband to dinner and a movie, and thank the Fates that put my amazing, supportive husband in my path.
When in your life have you felt your work/life balance to be most in sync?
Once I became a single mom, then once my two daughters seemed to developing as humans separate from me, then once I quit looking for answers in the bottom of a cocktail glass, it felt like work and life were finally operating in syncopation—or at least not falling to ruins every other minute.
When in your life have you felt the most out of sync?
Breast cancer and two lung diseases simultaneously made hash of whatever plans and goals I had for 2017. Thanks to The MacDowell Colony there was a 5-week reprieve between treatments when I actually completed the draft of a new novel.
What are the most pressing demands for your time, energy, labor (including emotional labor)?
So far this year, the biggest demands still seem to be related to recovering my health. Turns out the effects of pumping chemicals and radioactive beams into your body don’t just go away when you stop. Trips to Northwestern Hospital are still constant.
The good news is that part of taking care of myself now includes rowing. I joined Recovery on Water (ROW), which is a nonprofit to help breast cancer survivors take back their bodies. I’m small, and not terribly athletic, but I’m frigging obstinate.
What has worked best for you in terms of balancing those demands with writing?
Part of my spiritual practice is to learn to treat myself with the same patience and compassion I would provide a loved one in need. Hey, I’m working on it.
What are the ideal conditions for your creativity?
A residency where I’m sheltered in a cozy writing space, treated with kindness and respect by a like-minded community of artists, musicians, and writers, and fed wonderful food.
Do you have any writing rituals? Or any non-writing rituals that feed your writing life?
A deep bath as hot as I can stand it is a good thing. But you can’t do that every day or you’ll shrivel up to nothing. Gardening and cooking are stand-by tonics that make my mind go quiet. I used to live in Colorado, and I spent a lot of time hiking wilderness trails. Chicago is plum out of those though. Here in the city, I sometimes hang out in places where I feel slightly uncomfortable and out of my element, to make me imagine living in other people’s skin.
What self-care practices do you have and what, if any, routines do you have surrounding them?
I row four mornings a week. As I get older, it seems that more and more of the movements and choices I make in a given day are part of self-care (with the exception of ‘Black Mirror’ activities like Facebook, and even CNN). I find myself moving more slowly and deliberately, coming to acceptance of biology.
How does self-care relate to your writing life?
When writing is going well, it feels synonymous with self-care. When writing is difficult (and I’m currently in a difficult stage of revision), it feels like the cruelest form of self-deflation.
Paulette Livers is the author of the novel Cementville (Counterpoint Press), recipient of the Elle magazine Lettres Prize, and finalist for the Center for Fiction's Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, the Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year, and the Kentucky Literary Award. Among recognitions for her work are fellowships and grants from the Artcroft Foundation, Aspen Writers Foundation, Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, The MacDowell Colony, Ox-Bow Artist Residence, Vermont Studio Center, and Virginia Center for Creative Artists. While earning the MFA at University of Colorado, she taught creative writing, worked as a speechwriter to the Chancellor, and curated the University’s reading series. The recipient of the Meyerson Prize for Fiction at Southwest Review, her work has been honorably-mentioned or shortlisted for the International Bridport Prize, Lamar York Prize, Mosher Prize for Short Fiction, and Red Hen Press Short Story Award, among others. Her stories and essays appear in many print and online journals.
Paulette teaches in workshops and presents on creative writing and publishing topics internationally, and is on the faculty at Story Studio Chicago. She is at work on a new novel. Please visit www.PauletteLivers.com for more information.
Her publishing and visual arts career includes over 20 years as an art director and book designer for publishing companies around the US, and a varied freelance career serving the book and magazine industries, as well as companies and individuals in many fields. She is Creative Director at Mighty Sword Studio, specializing in fine book design, editing, and helping publishers, writers, and artists bring their work to the printed page. Please visit www.MightySwordStudio.com to learn more about these services.
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/PauletteLivers.Writer/