The Lit Hub Author Questionnaire: What craft elements do you think are your strong suit? Why should anyone have any interest in what you have to say?

From a post on by Teddy Wayne headlined “LitHub Asks: 5 Authors, 7 Questions, No Wrong Answers”:

The Lit Hub Author Questionnaire is a monthly interview featuring seven questions for five authors with new books. This month we talk to:

Evan Hughes (The Hard Sell: Crime and Punishment at an Opioid Startup)

Andrew Lipstein (Last Resort)

Nikki May (Wahala)

Sequoia Nagamatsu (How High We Go in the Dark)

Weike Wang (Joan Is Okay) 

What craft elements do you think are your strong suit, and what would you like to be better at?

Evan Hughes: I think I’m good at telling an engrossing true story while also being scrupulous with fairness, facts, and sourcing—those two goals can be at odds. I think I could be better with scenic description that isn’t essential to the narrative but can be useful; sometimes in my reporting I forget to ask what the sky looked like that day.

Nikki May: I’m good at characterization—I work hard at it, when I printed out my character excel spreadsheet, I needed 40 pages of A4). And I’m pretty strong on dialogue. But I’m terrible at structure—I start off with a plan, write myself out of it and end up terribly confused. Unfortunately, this happens pretty much daily.

Andrew Lipstein: I find first person thrilling, because, as my protagonist Caleb Horowitz says, it allows “flaws to show, if not unintentionally.” I think writing is a lot like acting, in that once you really believe what the character believes, you can convey their truth in ways that transcend your own abilities. In my third book (my second, forthcoming, is also first person), I want to write in third person, because I find it terrifying.

Weike Wang: I can hone a sentence down to the bone. I can be subtle, nuanced but sometimes too much so. I don’t think I could ever be long-winded, though I deeply wish to be.

Sequoia Nagamatsu: I think I’m pretty good at drawing out emotion in a moment and finding the poetry in darker experiences without dragging a reader into the depths too much. Like a lot of writers who have been through MFA programs, I’d say that I still need to work on plot in a way that doesn’t feel like a schematic. I’ve gotten better with this, but I still need to allow myself to roam and not be so methodical. One day I’d like to write a legitimately happy and/or laugh-out loud story.

How do you contend with the hubris of thinking anyone has or should have any interest in what you have to say about anything?

Weike Wang: Ha. Question I’ve been asked a lot and also what I ask myself each time I sit down to write. This is probably why I’m not long-winded. Fear of having nothing to say. Fear of wasting your time.

Sequoia Nagamatsu: I don’t. My work is just another looking glass, funneling the world and dreaming other worlds and experiences with a dash of my own personal baggage. And maybe if other people find some point of connection, some enjoyment or catharsis from my realist or fantastical interpretations of how we are the way we are then that’s great (and I’ll totally celebrate that).

Andrew Lipstein: I like to occasionally inure myself by thinking of the worst response to my work. I imagine what the exact wrong reader might think of it (often someone I know personally).

Evan Hughes: This is usually a tough one that I wrestle with a lot, but in this case I covered an important criminal trial, with lasting implications, that cracked open the way opioid makers do business. There was significant media attention from national outlets, but I was the only member of the media who was there every day, and the only one producing a written account of this depth.

Nikki May: I read a very badly written book and realize I’m not the worst writer in the world.


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