Joining us today is Jack Remick, author of the novel Gabriela and The Widow
Thank you for joining us today, Jack. Can you share who first introduced you to the LOVE of reading?
A lot of writers tell me they cut their eye teeth on some book from their childhood that they remember so fondly they choke up just thinking about it. To tell the truth I don’t remember much before high school so I guess you could say I had an impoverished background. The first book I remember is From Here to Eternity that my gang and I read in the alley behind the drug store. In high school, it’s a different matter. I had a great English teacher, Mary Saxon, who introduced me to Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales. From her I learned that language changes through time. That’s a big insight when you’re an ignorant kid with no notion of culture. My experience with Ms Saxon (she often came to class wearing mismatched shoes but with such exuberance that you didn’t care) got me turning pages and from there on I read everything I could find. I was especially fond of Nietzsche and Grace Metalious.
Who influenced your decision to become a writer?
There are too many to name, but there is one igniting experience that helped me turn the corner to make the transition from reader to writer. Somehow I got into college. They shouldn’t have let me in, but they did. I was taking an English course from a poet named Paul Gordon who, I learned later, was a distant relative of George Gordon, also known as Lord Byron. Paul assigned a paper. I decided, for no apparent or logical reason, to write it in verse. The title was The Death of Atahualpa. Atahualpa was the last Inca emperor. Don’t ask me why I chose that topic because I don’t remember, but out it came. Paul read the “poem” and wrote these words on it: “You didn’t solve any of the problems of rhyme and meter.” Well, just what is rhyme and meter and why does it matter? That set me on a course. A couple of months later my first publication appeared—a translation of a Federico Garcia-Lorca poem from Poeta en Nueva York. After that there was no stopping me. I met Jack Moodey, a “minor” poet and author of four books of verse including Weather of the Mind and Thom Gunn who became a major influence because he was a master of rhyme and meter.
Why did you decide to write stories/nonfiction books for the fiction market?
The market? I can’t say I write for a market. I write. I know that’s not how you’re supposed to do it—you’re supposed to find a market, copy the market, target the market, get famous in your market and die in your market. I write poetry—Josie Delgado, A Poem of the Central Valley. I write short stories—Throwback and Other Stories, Terminal Weird. I write non-fiction—The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery (with Robert J Ray). I write screenplays—Black Madonna in Blue, and Lemon Custard. And then there are the novels—The California Quartet which includes The Deification, Valley Boy, Book of Changes, and Trio of Lost Souls—as well as Blood and this last one, Gabriela and The Widow. I guess I write all over the place. As I say, that’s not how you’re supposed to do it, but remember—I don’t have a favorite book from my kidhood and I’ve always been a rebel.
What is your favorite part of writing for this group? What is the greatest challenge?
You have to get out of the way and let the characters tell the story. That’s really hard because it demands complete Point of View control. That’s the technical answer to your question. The group is always a market of some kind, so you have to tailor the writing to the group without sacrificing your originality. I’ve learned that there are two books—the book you’ve written and the book your readers want you to write. If there’s a disconnect between those poles, if you don’t meet the expectation, they don’t love you. Being loved is the death knell for a writer because it keeps you from being honest. Writing in America today is so market driven and there are so many niches in the market—look at Romances: Nurse, Teacher, Secretary categories. Look at zombies, ghouls, walking dead—that you have to decide how to limit your work. Some of us aren’t interested in limits but choose to go astray. The good thing about the electronic publishing world is that if all else fails, you can do it yourself. I joke with my fellow writers that I have the same number of readers whether my books are published or not.
Can you tell us what your latest book is all about?
Gabriela and The Widow is the story of Gabriela, a 19 year old Mexican woman who migrates north (to El Norte) where she meets a dying 92 year old woman, The Widow. The novel is their story. It’s a novel about Mothers and Daughters, sex and deception, love and death. Through the Widow’s story, which Gabriela writes down as it’s told to her, she learns about the world and she comes to understand her own story. The novel, in that sense, is about our need to write down our history.
What inspired you to write it?
My mother turned 92. I watched the interaction between her and her caregiver—named, as you might guess, Gabriela. These two women from completely different cultures and backgrounds had bonded in a way you see only between mother and daughter. I wanted to write that story, but I didn’t want to write the sentimental memoir about an old woman with Alzheimer’s who couldn’t remember her past. So I created this world in which these two women, living in isolation—the novel’s main setting is a big house in a desert somewhere in California—share their lives until they become interchangeable. It is a novel with some fantasy. It is not a memory.
Has getting published changed how people treat you?
Yes. People now defer more to my idiosyncratic ways than before. When you’re a Writer people say yeah yeah. But when that first book lands on the table, you become a Published Author and people say oh. I developed what I call Remick’s Rules:
Rule 3: Writing by people we know and like is better than stuff by people we don't know.
First Corollary to Rule 3: Once we meet a writer, male or female, the writing magically gets better.
Second Corollary to Rule 3: Writing by people we know and don't like is uniformly awful and probably can't be fixed. (see Rule 4)
So you can see that once you’re a Published Author, it’s your job to get as many people to like you as possible so that your writing will get better.
I have a website, my webmaster—Mindy Halleck—calls it my “author page”. She’s built it so that with one click (we live in that one-click world now) you can see all my novels and be taken, as if by magic, to http://amazon.com or to http://smashwords.com. The books are published by Catherine Treadgold at Coffeetown Press. If you want to order directly from the publisher, hit this link: http://coffeetownpress.com. In addition, Gabriela and The Widow will be in bookstores after January 15, 2013.
Do you have a website and/or blog where readers can find out more?
My author page, http://jackremick.com has summaries of all my novels, but if you want more, try http://bobandjackswritingblog.com. That’s the blog I keep with my co-writer and long-time friend and mentor, Robert J. Ray. On that blog you’ll find not just information about me and my books, but tips and techniques for writers that Bob and I have decided to make available—free, gratis, no charge—to anyone who wants them. Our goal, as the title of the blog suggests, is to make good writing better. Three recent posts are “Writing Tips for the Committed Novelist,” “Twenty Steps to Starting Your Novel,” and “Story Development.” Give it a shot, see what you can bring back that’s useful.
What is up next for you?
I’m deep in the throes of a new novel, working title—Prisons of Desire. I don’t know enough about it right now to say anything coherent. But it’s another challenge and a new direction for me.
Do you have anything else to add?
Discipline is the writer’s obligation to the craft. Honor your words.
Thank you for spending time with us today, Jack. We wish you much success.
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