Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Interview with Author Jack Remick (Poet & Novelist)

Jack Remick is a poet, short story writer and novelist. In 2012, Coffeetown Press published the first two volumes of Jack’s California Quartet series, The Deification and Valley Boy. The final two volumes will be released in 2013: The Book of Changes and Trio of Lost Souls. Blood, A Novel was published by Camel Press, an imprint of Coffeetown Press, in 2011.   

Tell us about your current book. Give a short summary. (You can follow this up with any points you hope readers will take away with them)
With Gabriela and The Widow I set out to write a novel about two women. One an immigrant, Gabriela, on a journey to the North, the other a dying old woman, a Widow who lives in the desert. I was drawn to the subject of the collision of cultures that is ripping America apart right now, but I also wished to examine how women relate without men. It is the story of how The Widow makes Gabriela in her own image and sets her free from her bloody past. It is a book about mothers and daughters, it is a novel about women for women, but it is also a mythic recasting of the story of women before men.

Can you tell us about your publisher and how the process worked in getting published? 
Gabriela and The Widow is my new novel from Coffeetown Press. My current publisher is Catherine Treadgold at Coffeetown Press. Coffeetown has three imprints: Coffeetown, Camel Press, and Fanny Press. A couple of years ago, Catherine put out call for manuscripts. My agent is Anne Sweet who connected me with Coffeetown and a year later, Blood appeared. That’s my first literary novel. Catherine is a writer’s dream editor. Working with her isn’t a clash of egos, but she doesn’t hesitate to say what she thinks will work on the page. She tries to get the writer to find the best possible novel without superimposing her own values—beyond good writing which means good story-telling. Since Blood, Coffeetown has brought out The Deification  and Valley Boy. These are volumes One and Two of the California Quartet.

How did you get the idea for this book?
The springboard into Gabriela and The Widow was my mother’s 95th birthday. I saw that she had a special relationship with her long-term caregiver. I wanted to write a story about two women—almost as close as mother and daughter—and how the failing health of the older woman changed the life of the younger. It was a challenge to wrench the caregiver of the novel away from the real, day to day person who held my mother’s hand, fed her, bathed her, and listened to her endless questions. To do that, I had to give Gabriela a new life, so the Gabriela of the novel came into being. I didn’t want to write a memoir, rather I wanted to make both women immortal by fitting them into a fictional universe.

What is a typical writing day like for you?
At one time I thought, as do a lot of writers, that I could read myself into becoming a novelist. But I found out, thanks to Robert J Ray and a number of other very fine writers including Natalie Goldberg and Stewart Stern, that you become a writer by writing. Learning to write novels by reading them is like asking yourself to write a screenplay by watching movies. It’s not going to happen. From these powerful writing contacts, I learned that you can kid yourself just so long then you have to sit down and write. And not just sit down and write, but write with discipline. So, I listened to these geniuses and developed my own process. I get up early, 5 or 6 AM. Wake up with very strong coffee, then head to the writing room. I write all my work longhand. Early mornings find me poking around in the previous day’s work. I edit at the keyboard, but when I run into a snag, I leave the prison of desire and find a coffeehouse where I rewrite the troubling passages or scenes. That done, back to the machine. I break the day into parts—typing up the handwork, editing at the computer, working up the next day’s scenes. I spend six hours a day or more in this process. The result has been pretty good for me and my publisher.

What do you enjoy most about writing?
Writing for me is a very physical act. Almost an athletic event. I love the feel of the fountain pen on paper, I love the process of discovery as I pull a character out of nowhere, build a backstory, invent trouble for them, then see how they work their way out of it. I taught writing at the University of Washington writers’ program. One of my students asked me “Why do you write?” It didn’t take a second for me to answer: “So I have something to rewrite.” For me, the art is in the rewrite. The first flood of words always comes in a chaotic, sometimes wild and crazy splurge. I call this “riding the mythic wave.” You ride it and you take dictation and you don’t question the gift the unconscious is giving you. But then, you come out of the fury and you have to find the order in the gift you pulled out of the mythic wave. I enjoy rewriting. Rewriting to me isn’t “editing” or “polishing.” Rewriting is a process in two parts—finding the order in the flow of words, and then “recreating” the emotional charge that lives in the flow. In the end, if I don’t get excited by the words and the emotion, I know I have to rewrite and rewrite again.

What is the most difficult part of writing?
I often joke with other writers that we have just three problems: 1. How to Start. 2. How to keep going. 3. How to finish. Solve those three problems and you’ve got it licked. For me, however, the most difficult part of writing is knowing when to let go. If you let go too soon you are left to discover, when the work is in print, all the mistakes you made. I call that the Squirm Factor. The book is out, you buy a copy of your own work and upon opening you discover stuff you know the gnomes put in there. You didn’t do it and so you squirm a lot.  If you hang onto the novel too long, you get tired of the characters, the story and you realize that there isn’t a single sentence in it that can’t be rewritten or reworked. That’s deadly. That’s the Dead Zone. I have a few of those on my shelf. Books I’ll never let go.

How has publishing a book changed your life?
It hasn’t changed it much. I still get up in the morning, drink my coffee, write, go to my writing groups and work on scenes. One thing that is a little bit different is the transition from Writer to Published Author. Writers write, while Published Authors spend a lot of time trying to get readers to buy their books. It’s a mixed bag—if you don’t have any books out there, no problem. But if you have books out there you have to promote. Promoting takes time away from writing. It’s another Moebius strip.

If your book is based on true events, how has that affected those around you or why made you choose to use historical events?
Let me put it this way—my sisters, mother, daughter, and wife still talk to me.

What are your plans now?
I’m working on the next two novels in The California Quartet—The Book Changes, and Trio of Lost Souls. A new novel with the working title The Prisons of Desire is taking shape in my daily timed writing sessions. At this point, I have forty-nine pages of backstory and character development but nary a scene written. It’s too early to write scenes.

What is your best tip for aspiring authors?
Best tip: Write past what you know.
Second best tip: Work with writers who know more than you do.
Third best tip: Read outside the world of fiction. As writers, we’re not merely keepers of the language and guardians of the literary past, we also have an obligation to push out the frontiers of writing to the same extent our scientists and mathematical thinkers push out the boundaries of the known. So don’t settle for the known. Wander into the unknown where the real stuff is really good.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readership? (Here you can share about characters, historical facts, setting or whatever else you would like our readers to know about your book.)
Gabriela and The Widow is a novel about women, but it’s also a novel about writing.  It has always struck me that writing was invented only three times—that we know of—The Fertile Crescent, China, and Mesoamerica.  The way I see it, writing is what makes us human. We have built into our brains a time machine that lets us think in the present, puzzle on the past, and project into the future. We write stories because we have to write them. That’s amazing.

Do you have a website? If so, please give the URL. If not, where can readers go online to learn more about your book(s) and to order?
I keep three websites or blogs: which is my “author site”; and which is the warehouse for everything I know about writing and the art and craft of fiction. My publisher maintains where I post, now and then, articles about writing. On that site, I have a series called “Writing Tips for the Committed Novelist.” That six part series first appeared on the Solo Novo Magazine Facebook page. I think it’s still there.

You can find out more about Jack Remick, his books and World of Ink Author/Book Tour at 

About the Book:
Through the intimate bond of a companion and benefactor, Gabriela reconciles the painful experiences of her youth as she is reshaped by the Widow, La Viuda. Together, day after day, night after night, La Viuda immerses Gabriela in lists, boxes, places, times, objects, photos, and stories, captivating and life-changing stories.  It seems Gabriela is not just hired to cook and clean; she has been chosen to curate La Viuda’s mementos while taking care of the old woman’s failing health. “As you grow thick, I grow thin,” says the widow, portending the secret of immortality that will overtake both women. 

ISBN: 978-1-60381-147-7
Publication Date: January 15, 2013

Places available for sale:
Gabriela and The Widow is currently available for pre-order on After January 15, 2013, it will also be available in multiple eBook and 6x9 trade paperback editions on, the European Amazons and Amazon Japan.

Wholesale orders can be placed through  Baker & Taylor or Ingram. Libraries can also purchase books through Follett Library Resources or Midwest Library Service.


  1. After reading this Q and A, I got several questions from writers about "voice" in their writing. This comment is my answer:
    What is Voice? Voice lives in the verbs, the dialogue, the elements of style, images, action sequences. Voice is an MFA concept that doesn't mean anything to a serious writer. There are many "voices.” In an ideal world, you’ll develop a different "voice" for every book. If you stick with a "voice" your writing will all be the same and it will all be flat.
    You write what you need to write when you need to write it. No prescription here, but as long as you write at a distance, that safe distance with the goddess "voice" it will always be stuff anyone could have written. Is that what you want? The farther away you are from the characters and their pain, the flatter the emotion will be. You get no mileage out of writing flat. You have to take chances and take risks.
    A lot of writers say they write the kinds of books they prefer to read..." Writing novels isn’t some high school mantra you chant to get into a club. So what if "Voice?" Cormac McCarthy writes Blood Meridian, then All the Pretty Horses, then No country for Old Men, then The Road. Every one of them different, every one of them strong, powerful and very unsafe. Each one in a different “voice.” Where do you want to come down as a writer? Do you take risks? At some time you're going to have to get inside and quit writing from the outside where it's safe. You have to take the dare, walk the edge, fear of falling all the time.
    I have no goals for any of the writers I work with. You write what you write. You ask me what I think, and I tell you what I think.
    I won't give up on you if you won't give up on yourself. But you have to go to the edge sometime and look down. Keep that Fear of Falling off the edge. If you're not at the edge, you're writing safe no matter what you say. Do you want to write safe,or do you want to take risks?

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