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Intimate Questions About Writing - Guest Blog on Biographile

June 13, 2015

Editor's Note: In this installment of Behind the Books, Sanna discusses the quiet of night, the sensuality of writers from the American South, the draw of water, and the escape of a juicy novel.

Biographile: Whatís your writing routine? Where, when, and how does it happen?

Lucy Sanna: Iíve always been a night owl, staying up late reading or writing. The dark of night stimulates my creative juices. Others are asleep, the house is quiet. I donít have anywhere to go until... well, I may have trouble opening my eyes when itís time to get out of bed the next day.

And there, in the bright morning glare, is my nightís work. Reading through it, I sometimes wonder where it came from. This is when my "editor self" elbows in with her red pen, shakes her head, and tries to make sense of it all.

Biographile: What writers have influenced you most?

LS: I recall moments when, reading a story, I held my breath and thought, "I wish I could write like that!"

When I was in high school, a librarian gave me a list of 100 classic books to read. My first big WOW was William Faulknerís The Sound and the Fury. How does he do that? I sought out others who wrote from a nonlinear, interior perspective -- Virginia Woolf, Dylan Thomas, and later (much later) James Joyce.

Along the way I fell in love with the sensuality of writers from the American South whose stories dripped with humid emotion. In addition to Faulkner were Katherine Anne Porter, Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, and Flannery OíConner. And then I discovered the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Lewis Carroll, and Isabel Allende. I want to do that!

More recent authors who have surprised and delighted me are Zadie Smith (White Teeth), Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius), and Barbara Kingsolver (all her novels).

Biographile: To what extent does your writing reflect your own life story?

LS: I'm drawn to water, and I find that my fictional characters typically live near a body of water of one kind or another. I also love weather, so thunder, rain, and snow often come into play. I expect that my experiences as both mother and daughter, as well as lover and wife, seep into my writing; my stories tend to focus on those sorts of relationships. But if my experiences come into play, it is through my characters, which are totally fictional. For me, itís not what happens thatís important, but how the characters react.

Biographile: Read any great biographies or memoirs recently?

LS: I particularly enjoy biographies of writers who have lived unconventional lives. Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) by Stacy Shiff, and Katherine Anne Porter: A Life by Joan Givner are two of my favorites.

Biographile: What classics would you read if you had all the time in the world?

LS: I would read the short stories and novels I havenít yet read by my favorite authors. I readily think of Katherine Anne Porter, Margaret Atwood, William S. Burroughs, George Elliott, Thomas Hardy, Doris Lessing, Italo Calvino, William Faulkner. A real mixed bag!

Biographile: Itís said that people either read to escape or read to remember. Do you fall into one of these groups?

LS: I love escaping into a thick, juicy novel.

Biographile: To the aspiring writer, what advice would you give? What advice helped you become the writer you are today?

LS: Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep believing. Surround yourself with people who believe in you.

Biographile: Faulkner said a writer needs three things: experience, observation, and imagination. Do you use all three equally, or rely on one over another?

LS: We need all three, but not all at the same time. Experience, observe (including internal thoughts and feelings), imagine.

Biographile: Whatís next on your reading list?BIOG:

LS: Because Iíve been spending most of my time researching for the next novel, my nightstand is piled with books I long to read! On the top is Ellen Meisterís Dorothy Parker Drank Here