DEBRA DEAN’s bestselling debut novel, The Madonnas of Leningrad was a New York Times Editors’ Choice, a #1 Booksense Pick, a Booklist Top Ten Novel, and an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year. It has been published in twenty languages. Her collection of short stories, Confessions of a Falling Woman, won the Paterson Fiction Prize and a Florida Book Award. Her recent novel, The Mirrored World, is a tale of love, madness, and devotion set against the extravagance and artifice of the royal court in eighteenth-century St. Petersburg. A native of Seattle, she lives in Miami and teaches at Florida International University. Follow her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/debradeanauthor
1) Which writers influenced you the most?
Here’s an incomplete list of the writers whom I read obsessively when I was starting out: John Updike, Richard Ford, Lorrie Moore, John Cheever, Susan Minot, Raymond Carver, Kazuo Ishiguro, Grace Paley. I expect they all influenced me.
2) What is your favourite short story?
I love stories too much to have a single favourite, but the one I read most recently that made me want to be a better writer and a better person was George Saunders’ “December Tenth.” It’s brilliant and generous.
3) What is your favourite short story collection?
With the above proviso, I’ll say Raymond Carver’s Where I’m Calling From.
4) Which contemporary writers are exciting you?
In short fiction, Joan Silber and, again, George Saunders come to mind.
CONFESSIONS OF A FALLING WOMAN
A surprised Southern matriarch is confronted by her family at an intervention. . . . A life-altering break-in triggers insomniac introspection in a desperate actor. . . . Streetwise New York City neighbours let down their guard for a naïve puppeteer and must suffer the consequences. . . .Replete with seamless storytelling and captivating lyrical voices, Confessions of a Falling Woman is a haunting, satisfying, and unforgettable reading experience.
5) What are you currently working on?
I’m writing a biography – the lives of a Belgian-American artist, Jan Yoors, and his two concurrent wives. I couldn’t write this as fiction: no one would believe it.
6) Describe your own writing habits?
They are still more haphazard than I’d like. During the school year my students take precedence, and I write as I can. I try to get at least a few sentences in every day, just to keep it alive; otherwise it gets increasingly hard to go back. In the summers, I become a monk holed up in my cell, completely and happily obsessive.
7) Which of your short stories are you most proud of?
This is probably something I shouldn’t admit, but the published ones all make me happy when I read them, even at the same time as I can see their flaws. It’s so hard to get short stories between covers, that this fact alone makes me proud. I am not even remotely objective about their quality.
8) What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Revise. Sure, this can be overdone, but it seldom is.
THE MADONNAS OF LENINGRAD
The ravages of age erode Marina’s grip on the everyday. And while the elderly Russian woman cannot hold on to fresh memories—the details of her grown children’s lives, the approaching wedding of her grandchild—her distant past is preserved: vivid images that rise unbidden of her youth in war-torn Leningrad.
9) Best advice you have ever received?
My old acting teacher, Jack Friemann, had a saying posted on the backstage door of the theatre: “Don’t worry about being different; being good is different enough.”
10) Top tip for writing a story?
Something has to happen. As a group, writers are not impressively active; we tend to stand in corners, observing and musing and commenting upon the passing scene. Too often, we pass that trait on to our characters, but really stories are about people who do things, even if it’s not so dramatic as defusing the bomb that saves New York City.
11) Top tip for editing a story?
Read it aloud, the whole thing but especially the dialogue.
12) Top tip for submitting a story?
Recognize that there is a human being on the other end who is giving of their time to read your story. Practice humility and gratitude.
THE MIRRORED WORLD
A breath-taking novel of love, madness, and devotion set against
the extravagant royal court of eighteenth-century St. Petersburg.
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