Q&A with Victoria

What made you want to become a writer? When did you realize that this was the career for you?

When I was a young girl reading The Count of Monte Christo or Great Expectations, I marveled that anyone could produce such miraculous books. I thought if only I could write a novel, how happy I would be. Later I fell in love with languages, and in college, had a double major in French and Spanish with a minor in German for which I spent copious amounts of time studying literature and words. And yet, in my 20’s and early 30’s, I seemed to digress when I wrote and acted in independent art films. Now I see that my circuitous path allowed me to piece together the elements that help me as a fiction writer. Finally, after dealing with some health issues and being forced to contemplate the meaning of life, I embraced my heart’s desire. One summer day, soon after I regained my strength, I walked down my driveway to get the mail and suddenly was struck with unshakeable resolve: I want to write a novel! I haven’t stopped writing since.

What is your writing process? How do you prepare yourself to write?

The timeworn cliché of a slovenly, drunken writer is 180 degrees opposite from my approach. To me, being a writer requires an almost athletic discipline: clean body, sharp mind, and an open heart. I start each morning at 8 a.m. and usually finish around 2 p.m. My writing computer is offline so I’m not tempted to Google around, and I only answer the phone for my kids or time-sensitive matters. Before I begin, I meditate to clear my mind of outside distractions and kick start my creativity. Ideally, I set a goal of how many pages I hope to write or edit. Later in the day, I try to exercise because sitting for so long is hard on the body. And yet, those five or six hours of writing go by in a happy blink!

How is writing a novel different from writing a screenplay?

They are completely different animals. In a novel, character is mostly revealed through the use of inner voice or the author’s omniscient description. It may take us many pages to get a clear image of our protagonist. However, a screenplay might only give the reader a simple line or two of character description such as: JOE KEMBLE, 35, wears his hard luck past like the old scruffy jacket on his back. Of course, in both a novel and a screenplay, more will be revealed about the protagonist through dialogue and his or her actions. At around 110 pages, screenplays are much shorter than the average novel and so the juxtaposition of scenes must tell volumes. For example, when we read that Joe wakes up alone at the crack of dawn in a small apartment, throws on a grimy uniform, and strains coffee grounds through a cheesecloth for his cup of black coffee, and then cut to the next scene of him riding on the back of a garbage truck down the empty streets of New York, you have telegraphed a lot of information that usually unfolds at a more leisurely pace in a novel.

Which character have you felt the closest connection to: Lexie or Eden?

Both Lexie and Eden helped me sort through deeply personal feelings about different issues. Lexie showed me how to believe in my voice and intuition just as she learned the same. Along with Eden, I learned that love is possible if you open your heart and set aside negative perceptions about yourself. These were great gifts, and working on each novel changed my life. Perhaps the opportunity for self-exploration is one of the things I cherish most about being a fiction writer.

What advice do you have for young writers?

Read, a lot. Mostly, read good books. Each book I read—and I read about 30 books a year—is like a mini-course on writing. I may be terribly involved in the story, but on another deeper level, I pay attention to the writer’s use of voice, language, character and plot. I always find some delightful gem to add to my treasure chest of writing tools.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing for you?

Editing, editing, and even more editing. There’s nothing I love more than tearing down the blank page, hand-in-hand with my characters. The feeling of discovery in a first draft thrills me. If only I could stop after that… but then, my story might never fully blossom. Over the years, I have begrudgingly accepted the tremendous value of editing. Often, after making major improvements to my manuscript, I’ve been grateful for the patience and stamina to plod through another draft. I even may have a little fun while editing nowadays though it’s never like the first dance.

What is your goal as a writer?

As a young girl, I was anxious to learn more about life beyond the safe confines of my existence. I also longed for a deep confidante. Great books provided me with both, and I clung to them like life rafts in a stormy sea. Crime and Punishment, 1984, and The Great Gatsby, as well as Hemingway’s novels gave me eye-opening views of the world. With Holden Caulfield, Harriet The Spy, and Scarlett O’Hara, I discovered new friends, ones that mirrored my deepest feelings. I was bereft when I finished one of those books. I can only hope that my books also will offer some insight or recognition to a curious, lonely reader.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever had on writing?

“Kill the inner critic! Off with his head!” She didn’t put it quite like that, but Claire Douglas, JD Salinger’s ex-wife, showed me how to overcome the negative onslaught I faced when I began my first novel. You know, “Who are you to write a novel? This material stinks! You’re wasting your time.” She suggested I write down such jabs and then add my response, as if I were interviewing this horrible critic. At first, my answers were tentative, my voice shaky. As I persevered, my confidence grew until, eventually, the creative-sucking critic lost its power and slunk away into the darkness. Now if it ever rears its ugly head, I simply laugh. I’ve discovered that the joy of writing is found in the process and not in the end result. If you stay focused in the moment, you won’t have time or interest in worrying about what someone might think of your material. And voila, you just might finish it!

The Virtual Life of Lexie Diamond

What was your inspiration to interweave the themes of loss and grief into a coming-of-age novel?

My beloved grandmother passed away before my first child was born and I deeply regretted that they never met. Several months after my daughter’s birth, I was driving down Sunset Boulevard—ideas often come to me while driving or in the shower—and I thought, what if they could meet online? I dropped the idea into this big stew, which simmers at the back of my mind. Over time, I added my maternal fears of what might happen to my children if I died, as well as my fondness for the hacker’s language and a good mystery. Eventually, the material seasoned into the coming-of-age, supernatural thriller that became The Virtual Life of Lexie Diamond.

How were you able to write from the perspective of someone Lexie’s age?

First, I outlined the story and mulled it over for some time. Perhaps during that process I dialed in Lexie’s voice, because once I began writing the novel, she took me for a fast and furious ride. The original draft came ripping out of me in three months—I could barely keep up with the pace. Of course, I then had to spend a long time fine-tuning the manuscript. All through it, the voice of this isolated, unhappy 13-year-old girl, Lexie Diamond, whispered in my ear. Of course, I had similar teenage angst. And yet, I am a grown woman, and my life has been quite different from hers; I didn’t have a computer at her age! Writing is a mysterious process—Norman Mailer called it the Spooky Art.

Save the Pearls Part One

What drew you to the themes of beauty and racism in Save the Pearls Part One REVEALING EDEN?

I never felt beautiful as a young girl; I felt smart. Mostly, I lived in my head, observing life from the inside out. Once, in fifth grade, a boy shocked me into seeing how different I appeared. I stood at the front of the school waiting for my mother when he leaned out of the window of a departing bus and hurled an offensive epithet at me loud enough for most of the student body to hear. His racist statement pointed out how different I was from the majority of white girls with straight blond hair and thin hips. I’m half-Italian with wild curly hair, a curvy figure, big eyes and big lips, and I guess that frightened him. I never have understood why appearance often matters more than character or intelligence, or why our differences inspire fear. In Save the Pearls Part One REVEALING EDEN, I wanted to create a world where environmental chaos turns today’s prevailing beauty standards upside down. Eden is forced to discover her inner beauty, which finally opens her heart to true love.

What places did you use for inspiration when you created the futuristic and natural worlds inSave the Pearls Part One REVEALING EDEN?

I simply considered the path of destruction our society and environment already treads and projected into the future. I was easy to imagine that one day solar radiation might force us to live underground and how such a world might shake up the status quo. For the last remaining patch of natural world, to which Bramford takes Eden, I researched the dwindling Amazonian rainforest. Bramford uses the word “solastalgia,” which means the heartbreak one feels for the loss of a natural habitat. Believe me, I have a bad case of solastalgia and am passionate about conservation. While writing Save the Pearls Part One REVEALING EDEN, I was able to explore those feelings, and I hope the story will inspire similar reflection in others.

Was it difficult to interweave a romantic theme with such an intense, action-driven plot as in Save the Pearls Part One REVEALING EDEN?

I believe that no matter how much our world changes in the future, love will never die. It may be harder to recognize because of our growing estrangement from our environment and continuing social isolation. In her futuristic world, Eden is raised to believe that love is dead and all that remains are the biological needs to survive and continue our species. I wanted to contrast her rigid mind-set with the free-flowing natural world and a heart-shattering experience of true love. Even now in our violent world, it’s easy to harden our hearts to love. And yet, how wonderful to surrender to it, despite the emotional risks. Finally, I have come to believe that love is beyond chemistry, beyond reason. Perhaps love is that indefinable, some say, divine essence that really can change the world.