Sunday, November 17, 2013

Interview with Author Claire Mulligan

I interviewed Claire Louise Mulligan, author of the collection “Reading Abigail and Other Stories,” and the novels The Reckoning of Boston Jim and The Dark. She is just back from the latest writing festival in Vancouver (her former home), where she read alongside such famous authors as Eleanor Catton, the 2013 winner of the Man Booker Prize.

How long have you been writing?

I wanted to be a writer as long as I can remember. Ever since I was a child.

Do you have a favorite author, one whose writing inspires you, or just an author you'd like to write like?

There are so many. But one is Rose Tremain, an English historical novelist. Her latest is Merivel: A Man out of Time.

So many novels today are plot-driven. The narrators are interchangeable. One-of-a-piece. But in Tremain's books, the character development is as important as the plot. Other than that, I love a poetic approach – a prose style that's distinctive without being overdone.

Are there any Canadian authors (besides yourself) that you'd care to name that Americans should be reading?

Definitely, more people should read David Adams Richards. He's very Canadian.

When readers become authors, they sometimes claim that they've lost the ability to enjoy reading. That is, instead of just reading for pleasure, they get involved in the mechanics of a story. Do you ever feel that way?

Sometimes, especially when I'm doing book club stuff. I tend to get very analytical. But that's OK – I'm in awe of great writing.

You've won or been nominated for many awards. Your first novel, The Reckoning of Boston Jim, was nominated for the 2007 Giller Prize and for the British Columbia Book Award. Once you've won or been nominated, is there pressure for to continue that with subsequent books?

Sure. Awards get you on the map.

Let's end with this: you've done many interviews. Can you tell us the stupidest question an interviewer has ever asked you?

My latest book, The Dark, has a theme of spiritualism. A radio interviewer once asked me “Do you believe in ghosts?” What does that have to do with anything? It's as if, if you're not a believer, you shouldn't be writing about ghosts.

Do they ask a writer who writes about zombies if he believes that zombies exist? Of course not. And they probably wouldn't ask if I believed in God – that's too personal. But they feel free to ask about ghosts. It's as if belief in ghosts lies somewhere between science and religion.

Another question I couldn't answer was “Why do Canadians support their writers more than Americans?” How would I know the answer to that? You'd have to do a sociological study to come up with an answer.

All I know is that it's true. Canada treats its writers like movie stars.

Thank you, Claire.

Claire Mulligan's website is She will speak to the Brandywine Valley Writers Group on Tuesday, 19 November, 2013 at 7 pm. Admission is free, but we meet upstairs at Ryan's Pub in West Chester, and the restaurant expects attendees to purchase some food or drink. For more information on this event, please go to

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Don't Hate Me

I'm cheating on my Starbucks this afternoon by writing in a BrewHaHa.

I know, I'm a rebel.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Interview with the Publisher of "Unclaimed Baggage"

To celebrate the publication of the anthology "Unclaimed: Voices of the Main Line Writers Group," I interviewed the book's publisher, Gary Zenker, who brought it out under his White Lightning imprint.  It is also available as an ebook from Amazon.

Gary, “Unclaimed Baggage” is a project of the Main Line Writers Group. You're the founder and leader of that group. How long has it been in existence?

The Main Line Writers Group has been around for five years now. It’s one of the most successful groups in the area. I attribute that to the writers themselves. They are really engaged and excited about welcoming new members. 

In most writers' groups, writers (and potential writers) meet, talk about writing, exchange tips, and/or do writing exercises. How did the Main Line Writers Group end up producing their own anthology?

In one word, talent, The writers that make up the Main Line Writers Group are extremely talented. We’ve all read each others’ work. I am in awe of the stories and story telling skills they have. Many of the writers have been published in a variety of publications: print collections, online collections, some have even published novels.
Since the group’s primary goal is to help the writers grow in all areas, we figured a collection of their work would be a great way to add to their portfolio and learn the details of producing a book.

And by book, you mean both a print version and an e-book, correct?

Absolutely. I have no doubt we will distribute ten times as many ebooks as print books. The printed book isn’t dead yet…some people prefer it. But ebooks are a necessity for almost any one publishing today.

Unclaimed Baggage” has a pretty low price, almost half what someone would expect for an anthology. Why is that?

This is a non-profit venture. We wanted to showcase the writers and give people exposure to them. As a group, we decided to cut out any profit from the sales. All of the authors agreed to this.

But most books are not group projects.

That’s right. There’s a huge value to the writers learning all of the steps and roles in the creation of a book. Over the next few years, many of them will complete enough work to create a book. And the entire publishing industry is changing so quickly. They need to understand ALL of the steps and options they have to make the smartest choice for bringing their completed works to market.

Whose idea was it to create a book?

I remember it being a group idea sparked by  by another book. A local writer, Jim Breslin, created a book called “Chester County Fiction.” It was his personal project, not but directly tied to the writing group he attends. I thought it would be interesting to do a book for our writers group and the members jumped all over that. A couple of conversations later and we had a basic plan for producing the book.

Where did the title, “Unclaimed Baggage,” come from?

We didn’t set a theme that the submitted stories needed to follow. We were just going to use the title Voice of the Main Line Writers. But we started to rethink the theme as we were creating the cover graphics, looking for a visual presentation. We found this image and realized that most stories involve some kind of baggage, figurative or literal, that people are carrying. Sometimes it’s the core of the plot and sometimes it’s just the backstory. But it seemed to work, the image and the title.

Finally, what's next? Will the Main Line Writers Group come out with another anthology?

Well, it would be a shame not to leverage all this knowledge and experience we gained. But it really depends on the group.

One last question: if someone in the Philadelphia area wanted to join the Main Line Writers Group, how would they contact you or find out when the meeting are held?

The Main Line Writers Group meets in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, on the third Wednesday of each month (unless that conflicts with a holiday). The best way to contact us is through Sign up (it's free) - you'll get information about meetings, you can RSVP, and you'll get email reminders. And I'm excited to say that we have a new website! It's still being developed, but, unlike the Meetup site, it will promote the individual members of the group.