Joanne Rendell Interview, part two!

September 18th, 2009

Today we’re running the second part of our interview with Crossing Washington Square author, Joanne Rendell; read the first part here.

Mama, PhD: If you weren’t a writer, what else would you do?

JR: I can’t get enough of the book world so I’d probably choose to be an editor or agent. I’m sure its hard and sometimes frustrating work, but it would be so fun to work with authors on their books and seeing the books going out into the world and into stores.

Mama, PhD: What’s your routine when you sit down to write each day?

JR: I write in the morning before my son gets up. I usually start by doing what I call the “author laundry” work, in other words answering emails, updating my blog, twittering etc. Sometimes I get so sucked in by all these things, it’s hard to shut them off and get down to writing. But I always try and force myself to write a few hundred words a day. Even if they turn out to be utter rubbish and I scrap them the next day, at least I have words and ideas on the page.

Mama, PhD: Do you have a writing group, or a particular person with whom you share your work in progress? Do you have a writing mentor?

JR: I’m not in an official writing group, but I do share my writing with a couple of author friends who give me feedback (and I give feedback on their work). I couldn’t write without them! Their feedback has been invaluable and simply having cheerleaders who say “keep going, this is great” has been wonderful. I don’t have a real-life mentor, although, through their books, wonderful writing teachers such as Carolyn See, John Gardner, and Francine Prose have proved important mentors.

Mama, PhD: What effect has publishing two successful novels had on your life or your writing routine?

JR: It’s definitely had a very motivating effect – it makes me want to keep on writing. However, there are many promotional demands put on writers these days. Book sales are dwindling, publisher’s marketing budgets are being slashed, and thus authors are expected to help get the word out about our books. We have to write blogs, connect with readers through Facebook and Twitter, and go out and do readings and talks. All of this is generally a lot of fun, but it does take away from precious writing time.

Mama, PhD: What kind of impact has motherhood had on your work, your process, or your priorities?

JR: As a grad student, it took me three and a half years to write an 80K word dissertation. Since my son was born six years ago, I have written three novels (all over 100K words). It would seem that with the demands of motherhood you’d become less productive. The opposite was clearly true for me! Once I took up the fiction writing path, and found myself loving it, I just became very organized and driven. I’ve always written when my son sleeps and the ticking clock has been wonderful for my productivity.

Mama, PhD: You wrote last year about keeping your child home, “unschooling,” instead of sending him to kindergarten; is he still spending his days out of school, and what impact has that had on your writing?

JR: So far, homeschooling Benny hasn’t impacted too much on my writing schedule. I was a stay-at-home mum before Benny was official school age (he didn’t go to pre-K or nursery) and managed to carve out the time to write three books. I’m lucky that I am still managing to find that time. Of course, it involves a lot of juggling and scheduling, but we manage it. “Homeschool” is somewhat a misnomer, of course, as we spend a relatively small amount of time schooling at “home.” We live in New York so are lucky enough to have an amazing array of fun and educational places on our doorstep. Benny and I, together with his homeschooled friends, are always out on trips to the Met, the Natural History Museum, aquariums, zoos, galleries, libraries, and parks. When we’re not out and about, Benny and I love to read – either together or separately. I’m so thankful he loves books like I do and I feel I’m learning so much as a writer through Benny’s books and his homeschool experiences in general. Inspired by another homeschool family, we recently started a loose history curriculum in which we’ve studied dinosaurs, early man, Ancient Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt followed by Ancient Greece and Rome. We’ve combined relevant story and picture books, play with history-themed toys, and trips to museums. Benny has learnt a lot, but it’s amazing how much I’ve learned too about Greek myths, ancient texts and civilizations. I feel my mind – and my writing – expanding because of these studies!

Mama, PhD: Will you share what you are working on now?

JR: I’m working on final edits for my third novel which was bought by Penguin last fall. The novel tells the story of a woman (another female professor, in fact!) who thinks she might be related to the nineteenth century writer, Mary Shelley. On her journey to seek the truth and to discover if there really is a link between her own family and the creator of Frankenstein, Clara unearths surprising facts about people much closer to home – including some shocking secrets about the ambitious scientist she is engaged to. The book is told in alternating points of view between Clara and the young Mary Shelley who is preparing to write Frankenstein.

Mama, PhD: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us, and best of luck on your next book!