One piece of advice you never follow and why.
Write every day.
I’d love to write every day. I’d love to have a regular schedule and clock in and clock out as a writer. But in the same way I’d love to have a clean desk, it’s never worked for me. I work best in chaos, oddly. I work in fits and spurts, and though it’s probably not the most productive, it’s the only way that’s worked for me. If I had to absolutely stick to a regular writing schedule every day, I would not be a writer today. I would’ve given up years ago. So I’ve stopped putting the pressure on myself and just steal away as much time as possible, when possible.
Name three commandments for writers.
- Read other people’s writing and learn from it.
- Be nice! Writing may be a solitary act, but you can’t be an author in a vacuum. What I mean is, you have to find a community, build a network. Say yes to things, even if you’re doing it for free. And never do anything for another writer or editor expecting them to do something for you in return. The rewards will come, and often in unexpected places, if you’re kind, committed, and honest and genuine.
- Accept criticism. Don’t be pigheaded, be open to others’ thoughts on your writing. But don’t take everyone’s advice either. Do what your gut says is right, but don’t do what your ego says is right.
Describe your relationship with the characters in this book. Are you a merciful writer?
So Bystanders is really, at its core, a book about how violence can have a ripple effect. So plenty of bad things happen in my stories—murder, theft, hauntings, car accidents—but not always directly to my main characters. Still, these violent things have a way of unraveling something in my characters that wasn’t wound too tight to begin with. That means they suffer sometimes, and honestly I struggle with that. Because I love my characters, even the nasty ones, and sometimes it’s actually hard for me to make something bad happen to them. It’s why I can never be a television writer. I always want the bad guy to get caught, and I always want the true-love couple to get together. As a writer (especially when writing longer things like a novel) I have to constantly fight that desire for harmony and push toward the conflict.
With that love for my characters, though, I like to think that means they are sympathetic, that even if you don’t agree with what they’re doing you can at least understand where they’re coming from. Otherwise, there’s no point.
Favorite and least favorite places to write.
My favorite place to write is actually at home in my office, surrounded by all my clutter, with a nice-smelling candle burning. But most of my writing these days is on the commuter train to and from work. Do I love it? No. In fact, sometimes it sucks. Funny story: I was working on a scene from my novel a few months ago and an older man sat down next to me in the crowded train car. I really hate when people look at my computer screen while I’m working, and he was clearly doing it. There wasn’t much I could do about it because we were so close, but it was making me uncomfortable. After a time, he said (very loudly in a very quiet car): “Are you writing a book?” We then had a very awkward exchange in which he asked if it was a romance novel (it’s not, although the scene I was working on could’ve suggested that). He then said, “Oh, I wasn’t reading it or anything” and then got flustered, and I was flustered, and well, nothing good came of that whole exchange. I thought about it later, and if I’d been brazen enough I might’ve started typing a scene in which my main character stabbed the man next to her on the train with a pencil. But I always think of these things too late, and never have the guts to do them anyway.
What book is currently on your nightstand?
I tend to fall asleep if I read at night in bed. My husband Art Taylor actually reads out loud to me almost every night before we go to sleep, and so the book currently on my nightstand is one of those adult coloring books that are all the rage right now. I color (to help stay awake) while he reads. It’s an excellent situation. Currently, we are working our way through Otto Penzler’s new The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories anthology, which is basically a large collection of Holmes’ fan fiction, and they are great. We also just finished Raymond Chandler’s “Red Wind,” which might be one of the best mystery stories I’ve ever read (heard?).
Tara Laskowski is the author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons (Matter Press 2012) and the forthcoming Bystanders (Santa Fe Writers Project 2016). Her fiction has been published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-American Review, and numerous other journals, magazines, and anthologies. She was awarded the Kathy Fish Fellowship from SmokeLong Quarterly in 2009, and won the grand prize for the 2010 Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards Series. Since 2010, she has been the editor of SmokeLong Quarterly. She and her husband, writer Art Taylor, write the column Long Story Short at the Washington Independent Review of Books. Web: taralaskowski.com.