Alicia Rasley is a RITA Award-winning novelist and a nationally known writing workshop leader. She teaches writing at a state university and conducts online writing courses for writers’ groups, so much of her typical day is spent reading and grading and lecturing and tutoring. Toward the end of her evening she sets aside time to write and I tries to generate at least a page a day. “I do wish I could say, ‘And I go to the gym and work out for two hours,’ but alas, that would be fiction,” she jokes.
Here, Alicia talks about her new book The Power of Point of View, and some of the most important lessons she’s learned as a writer.
What inspired you to write The Power of Point of View?
Point of view is one fictional element that has definitely altered and expanded through the centuries, and now, with all the traditional approaches and a few new ones, POV has become one of the essential tools for fiction writers. I wanted to explore how readers and writers and the characters all intersect at point of view.
How long did it take you to complete?
Drafting took about five months. Rewriting took nearly as long—a lesson to us all. Rewriting is an essential part of writing!
What’s your favorite part of the book?
I was kind of proud of chapter two, where I explore the thematic meaning of each of the major POV approaches—what the approach says about the apprehension of reality.
What was the hardest part to create?
The second-person chapter was hardest because there are so few models of that POV approach, and because using "you" as the narrator creates so many difficult philosophical questions! There’s a reason I majored in English and not philosophy. 🙂
If you could encapsulate what you hope writers will take away from the book in a sentence or two, what would it be?
POV is a powerful tool to help you individualize your story and increase reader involvement—by drawing the reader into your characters.
What piece of advice have you received over the course of your career that has had the biggest impact on your success?
"Every scene should have a single irrevocable event that changes the course of the plot." I regret to say it was the editor of my second book who had to tell me that … no wonder the first book’s pacing was too slow!
What message do you find yourself repeating over and over to writers?
I never get tired of quoting Twain: "Of course truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense." Make your fiction make sense!
What’s the worst kind of mistake that new writers can make?
Resisting suggestions for improvement. New writers love their writing, and that’s great, but later in your career you’ll realize that you didn’t get it right the first time, and you probably never will get it right the first time, and if you do, it’s only because your standards are too low. Expect as much from your writing as you can, and respect and thank anyone who cares enough to suggest improvements, even if he/she isn’t as tactful as can be in posing the suggestion.
What’s the one thing you can’t live without in your writing life?
My critique group. They know that we don’t have time to be tactful, that we all want to make our writing better, and right now. They’ve taught me a lot, and the first thing is—you can always do better, and you ought to always do better.
If you could change one thing about publishing, what would it be?
Well, I would sure like it if the publishing industry would learn from the mistakes of the recording industry and regard new technology as an opportunity for advancement, and not a threat. We have to learn how the Internet can improve the connection between reader and writer (and still make it possible for writers to make a living, of course).
In what way (if any) has your writing/publishing life changed in the past 5 years?
My sons have both gone off to college, so I theoretically have a lot more free time. Theoretically.
I’m also editing/acquiring fiction now for a small but established press. I have a new perspective, along with a blog about editing, so I feel like I’m living every day with the finer points of prose analysis.
And I’ve become involved in the academic field of popular culture, which, far from scorning what most people like, analyzes it. It’s really an affirmation to me, that what so many of us genuinely like—popular fiction, TV, and film—is worthy of study and respect. I like to think Shakespeare and Dickens would agree.
Do you have any advice for new writers on fostering a strong author/editor relationship?
Always wait a day before responding—whether it’s to the initial offer of a contract or revision suggestions. Say, "Thanks! I’ll get back to you tomorrow." Never respond in the heat of emotion, negative or positive. And don’t take it as an insult when the editor wants revisions. An editor who thinks your book is perfect as it is probably isn’t doing you any favors. In my experience, editors are usually right when they suggest revisions. 🙂
What do you see as your biggest publishing accomplishment?
Sticking with writing, actually, through many vicissitudes and misfortunes, is my biggest accomplishment. It’s always fun to meet people who say, "Oh, are you STILL writing?" I’m sure they don’t mean that to sound insulting.
What are you working on now?
I’m outlining a couple more writing books (on deep plotting and scenes), and revising a very long multiple-first-person women’s fiction novel. I’m also considering a historical espionage trilogy set in the Napoleonic era. I just love spies.
Any final thoughts?
The more we learn, the better we write!