AUTHOR INTERVIEW / C.P. STILES AUTHOR OF THE CALL HOUSE: A WASHINGTON NOVEL


C.P. Stiles lives and writes in Washington, DC. The Call House: A Washington Novel is her first published novel, but she has a drawerful of new novels just waiting to be published.  

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What’s inside the mind of a literary fiction author?

I’d guess the same kind of stuff that’s inside the mind of any author – stories, conversations, trying to figure out how to describe a person or a place, what happens next.

What is so great about being an author?

I feel like I’m always learning. About what makes people tick. About stories that are very different from my own life. About times and places other than the ones I know. I get to make stuff up. There’s always something new or just something to take me away from the everyday routine.

When do you hate it?

When I can’t think of anything to write about. When I have to make changes that I know are important but I’m feeling lazy. When what I’m writing just isn’t very good.

What is a regular writing day like for you?

There have been times in my life when I’ve been very disciplined. I’d get up, get coffee and write for a few hours. Now, I must confess, I get up, get coffee, read the paper, check online. Then, if I’m lucky, I tune everything out until it’s time to take my dog for a walk. In the afternoons and evenings, I edit my work and read.

How do you handle negative reviews?

At first, I’m crushed. But then I go back and see if the reviewer said anything helpful. I try to remind myself of all the great books other people liked that I wasn’t so crazy about.

How do you handle positive reviews?

I’m pleased that someone enjoyed the book.

What is the usual response when you tell a new acquaintance that you’re an author?

When I was first starting to say I was an author, I would love it if I was in a taxi or somewhere new and people would be impressed. But now, most of the people I know are writers so it’s not extraordinary at all.

What do you do on those days you don’t feel like writing? Do you force it or take a break?

You’re catching me at a time when I’m much too easy on myself. If I don’t feel like writing or the writing isn’t going well, I take a break. I try to read some really good books.

Any writing quirks?

I don’t think so. I tend to hear a rhythm when I’m writing and I like that. But I’ve learned that sometimes that rhythm doesn’t translate to the reader, so there are times when I have to let it go.

What would you do if people around you didn’t take your writing seriously or see it as a hobby?

It’s funny. A lot of these things were much more important when I was first starting out. Now, I’ve been writing so long that it doesn’t matter what the people around me think. Of course, I’d like them to like my work but if they don’t take me seriously, it doesn’t change how I approach writing.

Some authors seem to have a love-hate relationship to writing. Can you relate?

Yes. Definitely. But again, a lot depends on where you are in your writing career. I think when I was younger and I had such extravagant dreams about what it would mean to be published, I had a lot more mixed feelings about writing. Now, I do it because it’s what I want to do.

Do you think success as an author must be linked to money?

Not at all. Most writers don’t make a lot of money. Success comes from writing a good book or a good story or even a great sentence - no matter how much money you make or how many readers you have.

What has writing taught you?

Writing teaches me to pay attention. What is it about this person that makes her attractive?
How would I describe that man behind the counter at the drug store who always looks sad?
It also teaches me to be more careful with words. Sometimes I put too many down on paper and later I’ll see there’s a better way to say something.

Leave us with some words of wisdom.

Practice, practice, practice. When I used to run writing workshops, I was always surprised at how impatient people were to be great, published writers, right away. With any of the other arts, take music for example - no one would expect to sit down at the piano and be a concert pianist. It takes practice. So does writing. Keep learning the craft. Keep trying. 

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