Thursday, June 10, 2010

7 Questions For: Author Kathleen Van Cleve

Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve has been the producer of numerous feature and cable films, among them Undefeated, Pinero, and Joe the King. Under her maiden name, Kathleen DeMarco, she has written two novels: Cranberry Queen and The Difference Between You and Me. Her newest book, the middle-grade novel Drizzle, was published under her married name, Kathleen Van Cleve. Click here to read my review of Drizzle. Kathleen Van Cleve lives with her husband and two young sons in Philadelphia. 

And now she must face the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

This changes fairly often, but…

The Canning Season by Polly Horvath

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Question Six: How much time do you spend each week writing? Reading?

This depends on the other stuff – that is, children, husband, teaching, laundry, web-surfing, checking Drizzle on Amazon, etc.. I’m hoping that this summer will see a newly-disciplined Kathleen… one who writes, say, 3000 words a day at minimum. (I should probably say that I’ve been waiting for this newly-disciplined Kathleen with every single season change. It hasn’t happened yet.)

Reading… that’s a whole other thing. Except for when I’m at my busiest, probably three books minimum per week. All genres, any free second.

Question Five: What was the path that led you to publication?

Depression. Not full-fledged, diagnosed depression - just the mid-30’s, what-am-I-doing and why-am-I-not-happier form. It was a fairly simplistic progression: I was unhappy, and I thought, “Kathy, when were you most happy?” And I realized it was when I was a child and reading a lot. This all happened in 1999 so there were a ton of “century-ending” lists available, including the “100 Best Books of the Last Century.” I printed out the list, stuck it on my door, and tried to read as many of them as I could. It wasn’t a coincidence that in March of 2000, I began what-would-end-up-being my first novel, Cranberry Queen. (This was published under my maiden name, Kathleen DeMarco.)

With respect to the “access” part of the equation, I was lucky enough to have been in a NYC book group since 1994 with a wonderful woman who was a literary agent. We were (are!) close friends, so when I started Cranberry Queen, I sent her some pages with a long qualifier saying that she needed to tell me the truth and not be shy if she thought I should stick with my day job. Instead, she told me to “keep going,” and I did. I finished it quickly – in May of 2000 – and she sold in one day to Miramax Books. It was, for me, a complete Cinderella-at-the-ball experience (with my book in the role of Prince Charming); I wish all writers could be as blessed.

Question Four: Do you believe writers are born, taught or both? Which was true for you?

I teach writing… which I love to do, and I’ve seen students literally skyrocket from clumsy prose-writing to magical, evocative fiction in the course of a semester. So, certainly, something can be taught. Often I think it’s just encouragement that does the trick – at least in terms of getting someone’s neuroses out of the way so they can just go wild on the page.

That said, I also think writers are born. How can that be? I’m a Gemini, I like to have it both ways.

For me – I always loved to read and to type. (I think the latter has proven very important for me – because I can put down my thoughts as fast as I can think them.) But learning about writing – particularly dramatic writing, which is what I now teach – has been absolutely integral to any success I’ve had. Also: I make the whole category of “teaching writing” as large as possible –meaning that I think a writer “is taught” all the time, everywhere: in the classroom, for sure, but also via writing manuals, writers’ biographies, studying classic novels/plays/movie scripts, and learning to listen. So yes, I’ve been taught and am continuing to be taught every single day.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about writing? What is your least favorite thing?

Favorite: Finishing. Starting. Those moments when I’m in that “magic writing zone” when it’s all coming together. Realizing that I can be as imaginative as I want – that there are no limits to how crazy I can be on the page. (That’s a great part of writing fantasy.) Having kids tell me they like my book – that has been a thoroughly delightful aspect of writing for children that I didn’t expect, but which is so gratifying I don’t know if I’ll ever write for adults again.

Least Favorite: Being away from my family when I’m writing. Bad reviews and mean people on Amazon. Not being able to properly speak when I’m in the middle of a story because all the characters in my head are muddling my ability to put nouns and verbs together aloud. And realizing that what ends up on the page is never as wonderful as that sublime version that I had in my head when I began writing.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Read. Write every day. Eat a lot of cupcakes. Study books that you like, trying to figure out how the writer was able to achieve his/her “magic.” Make sure to exercise/get some physical activity because you’ll be spending a lot of time just sitting in a chair. (I believe that thoughts need to be literally “shaken” up sometimes, and that it can’t be done while you’re sitting at your desk.) Listen to music: I like classical when I’m beginning, musicals when I’m in the “zone”, and workout-style pop when I’m struggling. Have confidence and take your writing seriously.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Oscar Wilde. I think he’s about as brilliant, thoughtful, and funny as any writer ever, and I’d love to know what he would think about the state of writing today – as in, e-books and Kindles and blogging and self-publishing.


  1. Great interview!! And, great advice!


  2. Very interesting interview, especially about how depression led her to her path to publication. Also I like the tip about eating lots of cupcakes =) If only I knew how to bake them well.... haha


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