An Interview with writer Caissie St. Onge (Part 2 of 2)
If you haven't yet, read part 1 of our interview with author and humorist Caissie St. Onge.
How does the experience of writing a novel differ from writing for television?
My experience in television has been mostly writing for daily, sometimes live comedy/variety shows. You're trying to write things that are funny, but that are also topical, and you have to move your buns, because when the clock strikes whatever hour your show goes to air, it is happening with or without your work on it. Hopefully with. Writing for that type of television has taught me how to quickly size up a situation, figure out what I want to say about it in the funniest way possible then pound away like a mad woman at my keyboard while everyone else is running around behind me doing their jobs like their hair is on fire. Besides teaching you to be speedy, the benefit of TV is that you get instant feedback. You can know sometimes within minutes if you've done something well because an audience is hearing it and either laughing or groaning or applauding. Added up over time, those reactions help you hone your instincts about what will work versus what will fall flat.
When you're writing a book, I think the point is not to rush. Not as much, anyway, though I confess, I do like to crank out a lot of work in really big batches. You do have the luxury of being more thoughtful, though. And you're not just trying to tell one joke, you're trying to tell a story through characters you've created. It's nice to be able to follow some flight of fancy without having to get an entire TV staff to agree on it first before you proceed.
They're both writing, but in my experience, the commonality ends there. If I did episodic, dramatic or sitcom writing (which I would love to try) I think that would be more similar.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
My advice for aspiring writers is to read a lot (or watch a lot of the type of thing you want to write) and to write a lot. Learn early on that the only thing that makes you a writer is writing. Don't waste a lot of time talking or thinking about how you would like to try writing one day. What day? Pick up a pen or open your laptop and start doing it. It couldn't be simpler. Then, once you've written a couple things, maybe you'll figure out what kinds of writing you like best. Pursue it. Nobody will ever knock on your door and offer you an amazing writing opportunity out of the blue. Make your own opportunities and do what you love to do, the best you can do it.
You will get discouraged. People will shut you down. Try to keep your heart and your mind open when that happens. One thing that bums me out with young writers, or even writers who have been at it a while and are trying to take their career to another level, is hearing them lament the fact that nobody will give them a chance. I've been there many times and I know what that feels like, but I'd encourage anyone who keeps getting that message to try to hear the reasons why. Maybe it's a minor reason that's totally tweakable. Maybe it's a technical skill that you need to work on and improve. Maybe it's that you completely missed the mark as far as that person is concerned. Ultimately, you'll have to decide what pieces of feedback you will apply and which you will ignore when trying to grow and improve as a writer, but you should always have the goal of growing and improving in mind. If you're telling yourself, "They just don't get it," you're not doing yourself any favors. I want people to get my writing. If they don't get it, maybe it's me who needs to give it another try.
Who is your favorite author?
I have a thousand favorite authors. I have a crush on Charles Dickens even though he's so dead. I adore George Saunders. Judy Blume and S.E. Hinton are two of my heroes. I'm inspired by Olive Ann Burns, who wrote her first book at age 66. She died before she could complete her second novel, but I love that first book, Cold Sassy Tree. Zora Neale Hurston kills me. I am always knocked out by Stephen King. Thomas Hardy. E.B. White. Arnold Lobel. My favorite could change from hour to hour.
What was the last book you read?
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Spoiler alert: whoa.
What do you appreciate most about libraries?
What DON'T I appreciate about libraries? Not only can you go there to read magazines and borrow books and DVDs, you can probably take a computer class or see an arts demonstration or hear an author speak there. Libraries have all these amazing things going on inside them and it's all just there for the taking. When I was a kid, I loved to spend hours at the library after school. I would pretend that it was a mansion I lived in. To tell you the truth, I still do that. If you have a library in your town, you are so lucky. Take advantage of it. You should be wearing out your library card from overuse. If you don't have a library card, stop reading this and go get one this very second. GO!
Apply for a library card now!
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Brighid Gonzales is a library student and Brisbane Library intern. She enjoys reading, writing and listening to people talk about reading and writing.