Wednesday, September 26, 2018

7 Questions For: Author T.R. Simon

T. R. Simon is the co-author, with Victoria Bond, of the 2011 John Steptoe New Talent Author Award winner Zora and Me. She is also the co-author, with Richard Simon, of Oskar and the Eight Blessings, illustrated by Mark Siegel and winner of the National Jewish Book Award for Children’s Literature.

T. R. Simon lives in Westchester County, New York.

And now T.R. Simon faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

Song Yet Sung by  James McBride

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

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

I spend a great deal of time reading and some time writing, unless I'm in the middle of a project. Then I generally write at least 6 hours a day 6 days a week.

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

I wanted to write books for my daughter, ones she could read while she was young as well as share later when she has her own children. I always wanted to be the child of writers (I am not) and in the spirit of giving our children what we ourselves want, I became a writer for my daughter. To this end I wrote with publication in mind. I'm lucky to know publishing professionals, so the actual process of finding an agent was probably easier for me than for most aspiring writers.

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

Writers are taught. Some people have a great ear for language, a great eye for detail, and/or an innate sense of story timing. But even with these gifts, the structure of story must be learned and the craft of writing must be honed, refined, and continually tested, retested, and improved upon. If nothing else, you're constantly learning as a person and that learning, that experience, and wisdom you are accruing is something you must continually bring to bear in your writing.

My students love to start the semester by telling me that some folks are just naturally gifted writers. By the end of the semester their writing and storytelling has generally improved and they are usually less wedded to the idea that writing is a gift from the heavens. Becoming a writer requires hard work and practice, just like becoming a professional athlete, a lawyer, doctor, or an astronaut. And the real truth about writing is  that there is always room for improvement. Your mind is the classroom and the canvas, and the world is your teacher, so class is always in session and the chance of getting better is always there!

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

My favorite thing about writing is closing my laptop at the end of a writing shift. Seriously. Writing is hard-- it requires absolute concentration, a keen psychological eye, patience, and a willingness to sit with difficult feelings and ideas. My husband (also a writer) calls writing a zen cauldron, and I agree with him. The process is rarely comfortable, but what you gain from the practice is life changing and makes life worth living.

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)

Every book you read is a teacher. Every story you hear is a teacher. Every experience and feeling you have is a teacher. The great beauty of being a writer is that you are also a lifelong learner. You are a student of anything and everything in the world. It also gives you the courage, as well as a good excuse, to chat with random strangers and ask deeply probing questions. Zora Neale Hurston said, "No, I do not weep at the world-- I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife." I love that quote because it bears testimony to the fact that life is hard, but that the creation of art is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal to deal with that hardship productively, to survive. And not just survive, but to make whatever life gives you a glorious journey of intellectual discovery.

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

Toni Morrison. Her fiction is beyond compare, but so is her non-fiction. She is probably the most brilliant thinker living on race and meaning. Everything she writes comes from a place of deep understanding and profound insight. Her books are bottomless, her interviews are bottomless, I can only imagine what it's like to actually be able to ask her questions, to have her explain how she came to certain conclusions, how she found the seed for characters like Pilot, Son, Sethe.

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