GB: My parents read to me constantly when I was little; I taught myself to read when I was 3 and started writing poems when I was 4. Since my memories start at 4, I can’t remember ever not writing! Words have always been central to my life.
LH: What was your first success?
GB: I don’t know if this is a quantifiable “success”, but when I was 8, I wrote what I considered my first novel (it was about a 20 page thinly veiled knock off of The Secret Garden.) My teacher had a copy laminated and bound and put in the school library. Seeing my name in the card catalog gave me my first real taste of being a published author.
LH: That’s cool! I loved the card catalog, and can imagine what a thrill it was to see yourself in there. What kind of things do you most enjoy writing?
GB: Whether I’m writing poetry, fiction, or non-fiction, I enjoy writing the most when it surprises me, when a startling image comes out of nowhere, or a couple of unexpected words find their way next to each other and force me to see language in a fresh way. I love when my characters take me down unexpected paths, when the writing drops into a dark place I may have been trying to avoid.
LH: Do you have an agent? Tell us about your experiences with/without agents.
GB: I do indeed have an agent, and am so grateful for her. It’s wonderful to have someone who knows the ropes of the business and who can advocate on your behalf. I certainly would never be able to navigate the maze of a book contract on my own! My current agent is actually my third agent; I am still dear friends with the first two, and love all three women. I met my first at a poetry workshop; I found my second by reading the acknowledgements section of a book similar to my own, and the third one semi-recruited me (after the second one left agenting when her sock company took off like gangbusters.)
LH: Sock company? It’s pretty amazing that she left agenting because of that. What are your thoughts about marketing? Do you have any great tips on how to do it well?
GB: I used to really cringe at the idea of marketing—I used to be painfully shy, and very private, and wanted to only focus on the writing, not anything beyond that. I’ve since learned that a writer needs to be proactive if she wants to get her work out into the world. The best advice I have is to try to find creative ways to market that can utilize your writerly self—blog book tours, etc. And have fun with marketing—make a YouTube video, for instance, or turn your readings into performances. And always remember that connecting with readers is a joy and a gift, and marketing is one way to reach more potential beloved readers.
LH: If you could go back in time and start over, tell us one thing you have learned that would help you to succeed better/faster/with less struggle.
GB: If I could go back, I hope I would be less afraid, of both failure and success. I’d be more bold, more willing to put myself out there, less worried about what people might think. All things I still need to work on, but I’ve definitely made strides!
LH: Any other thoughts to share?
GB: Be true to yourself and your writing; write what you want to write, what you need to write, not what you think the market will embrace. The market is constantly shifting, but there is always room for passionate writing, writing that comes from the heart, the gut, that rings off the page with emotional truth. And don’t forget to bring your body into the process—it’s easy to get trapped in our heads as writers, but when we drop down into the senses and the sinews, we find such rich, vibrant, deeply lived material.
LH notes: Gayle Brandeis won the Bellwether Prize; her novel The Book of Dead Birds was chosen by Barbara Kingsolver for this award which recognizes literature in support of social change. Her new novel is Self Storage, and her book to stimulate writers is Fruitflesh. She teaches writing, most recently the master class in novel at UCLA Extension. See her blog at: http://www.gaylebrandeis.com/