Perspectives in writing with Charles Stern
Are there any occupational hazards to being a writer?
Getting too caught up in it and over stressing yourself so you can’t see the overall picture, the details or the connections in the story. You can get caught up in the detailed descriptions of the story per se and forget the richness of the internal life of the characters or vice versa.
How do you begin a new project? Are you a plotter (outliner) or a pantser (free-writer)?
I begin with an idea and start writing. I write the basic story as it develops and this becomes my flexible outline for embellishing the story with richer descriptions of the internal and external lives of the characters.
Do you write every day? What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?
I write every day in the morning and at other times during the day when I can (I don’t write full time) and at least one evening a week at a restaurant with dinner. I stick to this as best I can.
What are your favorite writing and research tools?
Computer and internet, but observation and personal experience are best.
Are the names of the characters in your writing important? What about the titles? How do you choose them?
Some character’s names are from family members (usually who have passed on), mythological or historical figures and some are just what I think up at random. Chapter titles relate to the theme of the chapter or the names of characters in them.
Has a child, the family pet or another animal ever “eaten” your manuscript? If so, please, tell us that story!
Who are your favorite authors? Please list a few and their titles, so we can go look for them at our local library!
Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore, 1Q84 and others. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera and others.
I’m a school teacher. What can you offer to help me prepare 6th graders to appreciate writing, now and for the rest of their lives?
Get them to write about something they enjoy and don’t push them. Encourage them to tell a story in whatever manner or media, including spoken word that they want to. Simply listening is best ad encouraging them to read or listen to stories and imaging how they would write or tell one.
Do you ever write naked?
No, but I have written while sitting in bed.
What was your favorite scene or poem to write, and why was it so enjoyable?
One about a wife’s angry tirade toward her husband. It is funny and fun to write.
Print books versus e-books; do you have a preference, and why?
Print. I like to hold them and it’s easier to flip back and forth if I want to. I also like to listen to audio books while driving or doing things around the house or in the office.
What’s the hardest scene or poem you have ever written and why was it so hard to write?
The endings because it all had to come together just right and connect the important elements.
Do you ever use your writing as therapy, to either work out an issue, punish a perpetrator from your real life, or fantasize about what you could have done differently? If so, give us one example of how this manifested in your manuscript.
It’s therapeutic for me to write as a creative outlet. I did start out writing for my own benefit not thinking of publication. My first book was awful and I knew it, but it was partly to learn how to write fiction and it had a lot of autobiographical content and, as such, it was cathartic and I believe it helped me to write better. I may revisit it someday for a rewrite.
Do you have any writing rituals? If so, what are they?
I set aside at least an hour every morning at the coffee shop for writing whether or not I actually write or just think, make notes, do research/look things up.
What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?
Relax, focus on the writing and have other things to do when the writing is difficult. Let yourself stop thinking about it for a while. Inspiration will come. Do what Alan Watts called “Randomize your intellect.” He’d play, meditate or do nothing after an intense session of study, research or preparation for a presentation, etc. to let the information settle, connections emerge and inspiration seep in.
Describe your Muse. How does she/he/it influence your writing process?
I get inspiration from the works of the best author’s. Not the “what” their stories, but the structure of “how” they write them.
Do you write long-hand with pen/pencil and paper or do you write on a computer?
I make notes throughout the day when not at the computer, but do the writing with the computer.
Have you ever tried writing outside of your “comfort zone”? If so, what were the results?
I write what I feel like writing, but there are things I know little about because of the fact that I have no experience in it or in anything that would help me empathize with the characters. Research helps, but it is difficult gets too far from my experience to understand a culture that is completely foreign to my language and experience.
How many drafts does it usually take to bring your manuscript to “The End” and ready to submit to your editor?
To what extent is your fiction or poetry autobiographical? Have you ever seen yourself as a character in one of your stories or poems and, has that been a help or a hindrance?
Not strictly autobiographical, but life experiences contribute to the understanding of the characters and their experiences. I do try to put myself in the place of my characters to determine how they would feel, act and experience the scene.
What is your best advice for beginning writers?
Examine how the best writers structure their stories, the story itself. Is secondary. Set aside time as your writing time whether you actually write anything or not (Even if you think, meditate, research, or play) during that time. Often the harder you try, the worse it gets. Let the creativity flow. “You can’t push the river. It flows by itself.” Also include a lot of the character’s internal experiences especially their emotions. Finally, to be creative you have to break some rules.
Which three authors (alive or dead) would you most like invite to a dinner party and what would you like to talk about?
Haruki Murakami. I would discuss his approach to magic realism. Isabel Allende. I would ask her about the female perspective on magic realism. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I would ask him about the use of history in magic realism. Robert Heinlein. I’d ask him about his transition from Admiral in the Navy to a science fiction writer and his approach to science fiction.
How do you react to a negative review of one of your manuscripts?
I take it into consideration and evaluate whether I can see their point. If I think it’s valid, I’ll change things, if not, I ignore it. I write for my own need to be creative, communicate a concept and only later, when necessary, edit for the publication.
Name a topic that you refuse to write about, and tell us, why won’t you write about that topic? Anything that is so far outside my experience that I couldn’t relate to it. I won’t write raunchy or sensational stuff that has no purpose, no substantial story.
What’s the worst advice you ever received from another writer?
To follow their rules.