Interview with Author Aine Greaney–Book Blogger Appreciation Week + Giveaway
>As part of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, I’m participating in an interview exchange with another blogger. We were blindly matched by an admin team and that’s how Aine and I came to find each other. Through email, her website and her interview, I’ve come to know and adore Aine for her warmth, kindness, easy-going nature and humor. I also purchased her writing how-to book, WRITER WITH A DAY JOB and am loving it!
This year, Anne is celebrating the release of two books: her second novel, DANCE LESSONS, a look into the secrets immigrants keep and the lies they tell during their otherwise ordinary lives in our adopted countries and WRITER WITH A DAY JOB, a how-to book offering guidelines and tips for maintaining a creative writing schedule while also holding down a job.
With a Bachelors degree in English and a Masters degree in English, Aine is a perfectly designed as a speaker and presents illustrated lectures on Irish culture, literature and the writing life. She also hosts numerous writing-related courses ranging in topic from story structure to inspiration and tackling everything in between.
Her blog, Writer with a Day Job, covers topics related to…yep, you guessed it, getting your butt in that chair and putting your fingers to those keys even when you’ve got a day job. Her guests include writers, instructors and experts in related fields who discuss all the facets of this quite prevalent predicament and gives suggestions on succeeding in spite of the challenges.
You’ll get to know Aine even better through the questions she answered for this interview:
Aine, I love your take on journaling. I’ve tried to journal for years based on the process lined out in The Artist’s Way: 3 full pages, every single morning. Period. Every time, I’ve failed. Your suggestions, little and often, anytime and anywhere, among others, really spoke to me and I’m going to pick up a journal again with these goals in mind.
Your theory on why journaling for a writer is so important spoke to me. Can you elaborate on that for our readers?
Thanks, Joan. I have been journaling for as long as I can remember. I guess it was a way to just put my deepest thoughts on paper. For a writer, I think it’s a good way to tap into all that stuff that’s bubbling just beneath the surface. I also use my journal to “tease out” some issues in the writing, such as who a character really is, what a personal essay is really about or, indeed, my own motivation for working on a piece. I also use it to make lists … Oh, those dang lists.
You were a teacher before you became a writer. And a teacher after you became a writer. What do you love about teaching?
I started out life after college in Dublin as a primary school teacher, grades 1 & 2, though I was trained to teach all the way up to grade 6. It wasn’t the job for me, I’m afraid. I was very young when I left college, and I found I just didn’t have the patience or vocation (yes, I think elementary school teachers have a vocation) for it. However, many years after I had moved to the U.S., I started teaching adults and really fell in love with it. It’s interactive, it’s lively, it’s human, it’s a two-way flow of information. Also, as a writing teacher, it’s a real privilege to be a witness to other people’s stories.
What workshop/s do you like teaching the most?
Hmm… well now, Joan. That’s tough. I love teaching the personal essay. I also love teaching short fiction techniques. I also love teaching teen writers–they’re fresh, they’re full of ideas, technology is so intuitive to younger writers.
Your writing-related workshops sound amazing. Aside from teaching across the New England area, is there anywhere us West-coasters can find you? Do you give online workshops?
No. I did do a webinar for Writers Digest in support of my writing book, Writer with a Day Job. It’s a book on balancing work and writing. The webinar was fun, but I must say that I missed the person-to-person interaction. I’m happy to come to the west coast anytime, especially any time in Jan, Feb or March. In those chill New England months, I should make myself a placard: “Will teach for food.“ (but only in the sun).
What do you miss most about Ireland?
Sometimes I miss the people and that easy, ironic sense of humor. I miss how easily conversation happens there, even with people you’ve just met. Mind you, that has changed quite a bit. I also miss the music. I love Irish music and always have.
What do you love most about America (or Boston)?
Ah, America. Well, for starters, I love that there’s so much of it. I mean, in terms of square footage or mileage, America is an all-you-can-eat buffet really, isn’t it? I love that each state has a kind of identity and character or feel, or even sub-regions within that state. I also love that you don’t have to fit any particular mould in America. Hippie, soccer Mom, leftie, right wing (eeeuuuu!), financier, preacher, prude. You get to choose or re-invent. I also like the separation of church and state (at least officially), and that, relatively speaking, there’s a tremendous tolerance of different faiths and belief systems.
With your varied work load and schedule, I can guess what inspired you to write your how-to book, Writer with a Day Job. But while many writers are inspired to write about the process of writing, few do. What made you move forward with this book?
I was working a grueling job and also finishing up my 2nd novel. Once the novel ms had been handed into my publisher, I was very scared that this would be the end of creative writing for me. But then, I thought, well …. Maybe I should write about how I was managing to hang in there and finish up my novel while also working. I also love to teach writing so much that the book was a kind of writing workshop extension–just written down.
Which of your works is your favorite? Which was the most enjoyable to write?
Gee, I don’t know. I love my personal essays. They’re very, very difficult for me to write. So when they finally come together, it’s such a thrill. My novel, DANCE LESSONS was a 7-year project, but I truly did love writing it. And, with all their flaws, I love every single character in that novel.
It’s a story about a 39-year-old American widow who finds out, after her Irish-immigrant husband’s death, that he was not an orphan. Instead, his mother is still living and working the family farm in Ireland. So the book is about families and the fractures that happen–some fixable, some not. Ultimately, though, the book is about a woman’s quest to find her own self and equilibrium. In its review, Book List cited it as a book about relationships and solitude, and I was very, very flattered that they picked up on the solitude part.
What sparked the idea for this book?
I had been thinking about a book about families for a long time, and that issue that often, we don’t really know our spouses’ previous lives. This is especially possible when that spouse has moved here from another country.
What was the hardest part of this book to write and why?
The dang thing kept running away from me. I think I just had way, way too much in there in the beginning. It was too much about the Irish family. Once I focused more on my American main character, the book fell more into place. I was also dead nervous that I had the American voice wrong … maybe that’s why it took me 7 years to write. I needed to live here longer myself!
Tell us something unusual about this book (i.e. in its creation, execution, production).
It’s a complete departure from my first novel, THE BIG HOUSE, which was really pretty light hearted and pitched as a kind of “cute” all-Irish book. I didn’t want that this time around. I wanted a story that any reader could related to–or not. But I really wanted to get away from the idea of writing an “Irish book.”
What do you love most about this book?
The highest compliments I got in the Blogosphere and elsewhere were that the book celebrated women’s solitude. One wonderful reviewer even interviewed me about the fact that the book didn’t have a widow-gets-her-second-man ending. Instead, the young widow grows to love herself and her inner life. I was so proud that I resisted temptation (Hollywood always has the sunset, lovey dovey ending) and had my main character where I wanted her to be–alone and hiking and stronger as a woman.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I love the British author, Penelope Lively. Her command of language and the intelligence of her plots and books intrigue me. I also like Joanna Trollope–again, well plotted family stories. I think it’s not enough to be a writer able to bang out a good story. You also need to let some part of your own sensibility and consciousness and intellect seep onto the page. Jhumpa Lahiri is also a favorite writer of mine. I just noticed: These are all women authors. Dang! I’ve got to come up with a mentor man, yes? Seamus Heaney, one of our Irish Nobel prize writers, has always been inspiring, not just because of his sheer brilliance–and the fact that he was my professor in college–but he’s also what I call a gracious writer. The irascible or pit-bull strain of writer does not impress me.
Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
I’m not sure any one person has. But I guess our writing is a mish-mash of all that we ourselves have read and loved and lived.
How does your family view your writing career?
My family lives in Ireland, so they’re not really here in Massachusetts to witness the strangeness or the wonder of it all.
What entity do you feel supports you most in your writing career outside of family members?
My husband is a fantastic support, and has always been my biggest cheerleader. He also holds the fort when I go off on writers retreat to hole up in a room to write for four days or a week at a time. That’s how I get the bulk of my work done. I also love having a good day job. I’m a communications director for a non-profit. Having a steady paycheck frees me from the financial worries (debt collectors make *very* bad writing coaches–trust me) that beset so many people nowadays.
What is your writing routine?
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. That’s a good one, Joan. I try to write in the mornings before work, but … unless I’m under deadline, that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes I have early-morning meetings, and I’m not a super early riser. Mondays are my day off, so I get some writing done then. But for new or very involved projects, I have to go away to write. I get so much more work done that way. But in between my full-blown writing stints, I keep a selection of notebooks, a recording device and pieces of paper on which I write down ideas.
How do you keep in touch with your readers?
I have a Facebook page (Author Áine Greaney) and a twitter account @ainegreaney. But I love to hop around literary blogs, which has been a true blessing for me. As someone with a really busy day job, I can’t be out and about rubbing literary shoulders as much as I‘d like to. So the blogs keep me in touch with other readers, writers and the entire book world. I’ve “met” some incredible people online–like you, Joan. I mean, just look at us, gabbling away here like we’ve known each other for years! That’s what I love the most: relating to readers and book lovers one-on-one–either at a book club, reading, or exchanging emails.
What are you reading now?
A fantastic novel, “You” by Joanna Briscoe. I’m almost done, but I don’t want it to end.
What is in your TBR pile?
Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead (yes, I’m behind), Caleb’s Crossing (for my book club; behind again) and the 2nd memoir by Alexander Fuller
What would you like to tell readers?
Writers aren’t anything special–really. We apply many of the same techniques to writing a book as you do to all kinds of chores. It’s hit ‘n miss and trial and error. It’s often washing the colored with the whites simply because you’re a bit spacey or out of ideas or you want to just push the envelope. And the only true reward are the work itself and the readers. For example, one Sunday I was feeling really down and out and like I’d never write again, when … ping! .. This email appears in my in-box from a woman in the U.K. who had read a very old short story of mine. She’d been through some really tough stuff in her life, but she said that re-reading that story always brought her comfort, and she wanted me to know that. That’s where the reward is: when your words on the page resonate with someone out there or make them feel better or bring them to a higher level of shared understanding about our shared humanity.
What is your preferred genre to read for pleasure?
Generally novels and the occasional memoir.
Do you have a second career? (Yes, motherhood counts!)
I’m a very busy communications manager for a non-profit here in Massachusetts. I really enjoy my job. I’m not a parent, though I have a very spoiled cat, Harry.
What did you do before you became a full-time writer?
I’ve been in communications for over 15 years now.
What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
A real mastery over the language, and a sense of courage to use the language. I also love a well-written story. I will not waste time on books that don’t bother to sign post me as to where I’m at in the story line.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started writing?
Ooooh, tough one, Joan. I wish I had known that it’s an industry like any other industry. I started out a bit wide-eyed and over-assumed that it was all just a jolly little garden of wordy and literary delights. That said, that kind of innocence was actually bliss (sigh).
How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
No. I’m a very, very organic writer with no real methodology. I use my journal to tease things out.. I make a lot off middle-of-the night notes to myself.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
Patience, a good laptop, a good coffee maker, a steady source of non-writing income.
How would you best describe your books?
I think they tell a story–I hope. Some readers have told me that there’s often a darker undertow to them, even when I’m being funny. But you know, I’m the worst judge of my own work.
What would you write if you could do write anything you wanted to write?
Probably a memoir with a twist. I’d love to write a really smart memoir that says many of the things I want to say –especially about women’s lives and, as I’m a woman, I’d have the starring role and, and … oh, right, a memoir, so I would automatically be the star, wouldn’t I?
What do you most like about writing? Least like?
I love when it all comes together. I love to edit, too–absolutely love that part. I hate the despair and the sheer terror that comes over you so easily and quickly. Like, writers can go from one bad paragraph to “I’ll never write again” in about 60 seconds. Why is that?
Which is your favorite of the books you have written?
What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing?
It’s given me a boldness, an independence. The writing has *become* my room of my own. Through writing, I have been able to discover and be more confident in who I am as a person.
What would you say is your biggest writing quirk?
Oh (and I hate this about myself) the fact that, the minute a short story or essay gets published, I pick it apart and red-pen it one more time–after publication. Arrrgh!
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love to walk, read, play with my cat. I’m also a real foodie.
What are your current projects?
I keep going back and forth between a fledgling 3rd novel and an idea I have for that memoir with a twist.
Where can we find you online?
Facebook, my website, www.ainegreaney.com, Twitter @ainegreaney.
Do You Have Any Undiscovered Or Hidden Talents?
I’m quite a good singer. I love to sing, also, though have to be coaxed to sing in public. But my singing voice is pretty strong, I can pick up any melody by ear, and I can hit some high notes. I can still sing in Gaelic, too!
Are You The Same Person You Were As A Child, Or Much Different?
You ask such fascinating questions. I think there are parts of me that are similar. I was one of those anxious-to-please kids. One of the few benefits of getting to be middle-aged is that pleasing others is not as important as it once was. I was a voracious reader as a kid, so I’m grateful that that carried over.
Do You Believe That The Cup Is Half Empty Or Half Full?
Half empty. I’m trying like mad to train myself to re-think that. Full, full, full, I tell myself–to no avail.
Favorite Midnight Snack?
Are You An Introvert Or An Extrovert?
Are You A Window Person Or An Aisle Person?
Do You Like Short Or Long Hair On A Guy?
Oh, long. It’s so intriguing–except for the straggly, greasy variety.
Ever Hit A Jackpot On A Slot Machine?
Never played a slot machine. Just saw my first one this summer, in fact.
What is Your Favorite Beverage?
Dry white wine.
Do You Have Any Phobias Or Fears?
Heights, snakes, losing my memory.
Do You Have A Recurring Dream? What Happens In It?
I do. I have a recurring dream that I’m out of work and have had to relocate back to Ireland and live on unemployment benefits there. Strange, huh? Wonder if every immigrant has some form of that dream?
Are You Usually Late, Early Or Right On Time?
Err … late …
Ask Aine a question of your own or leave a comment to enter to win a fun prize:
MAGNETIC POETRY – LITTLE BOX OF PASSION.