Linda Paul — Choose something daunting

Linda Paul

This interview is another of Idaho Writers Update’s monthly series profiling Idaho authors.

My Life With an Enigma: Unscrambling the paradoxes of an iron-willed romantic was published in November 2019. It is available at Rediscovered Books Caldwell, most likely shelved with local authors or biographies. The book can also be ordered at Rediscovered Books Boise, Bookshop.org, and is available at the Boise Public Library. The book and e-book are available from a variety of online stores and platforms at Books2Read, Barnes & Noble as paperback or Nook; and Amazon

Do you have a writing routine? Where and when to you write?

My routine depends upon what I’m writing. Business writing comes first. I like to tackle business in the morning when I’m fresh. I usually write from the desk in my home office, which has optimal light, space to spread out paperwork, and an ergonomic setup. Personal writing often doesn’t get started till mid- to late-afternoon and often finds me in my favorite chair in my bedroom with a view of the light capade over the foothills.

Do you have any patterns or rituals associated with your writing time?

No rituals here. However I prefer absolute silence—no TV, radio, or background music. BTW, I don’t technically “write,” as my penmanship is abysmal, and my hand can’t begin to keep up with my brain. I keyboard everything, right down to my grocery list.

What do you do when you hit a wall with your writing?

The best solution is to walk away from the computer. I need to set the problem aside and do other things. Out of the blue—often in the shower or in the early morning hours when I should be asleep—the solution will jump into my head. The hardest part is remembering that I need to step away. I bang my head on the wall and curse the computer too often and too long before taking that big step away.

The eternal question: Are you a “pantser”, a “plotter”, or something else entirely?

I’m in awe of fiction writers. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ve got the chops for fiction. I’ve dabbled a bit, but I prefer non-fiction and technical writing. If I were to take up fiction, I suspect I’d be a pantser. I’ve lived my life by the seat of my pants. That seems to work well for me.

What’s the last book you read that made you go “wow!”?

That’s a hard one to answer because I’ve read a number of really terrific books lately. I guess the one that took me most by surprise was The Eagles of Heart Mountain; A True Story of Football, Incarceration, and Resistance in World War II America, by Bradford Pearson. I have visited Heart Mountain with a Japanese friend who grew up in the shadow of the mountain, but there was much I didn’t know about America’s history of outright, boorish bigotry that led to the incarceration of Japanese Americans. Pearson’s research is impeccable. The book is about far more than football.

What book or author do you often find yourself recommending and why?

My reading is so diverse, I can’t say I have a favorite author or book to recommend; however, I have recommended Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto, by Anneli Rufus to several people who seemed to be struggling with being introverted and preferring solitude. I’m also a huge fan of What’s the Matter With Kansas? by Thomas Frank. Although it was written 16 years ago, it remains remarkably apropos today.

What’s on your To Be Read pile?

Food: true stories of life on the road, an anthology of travelers’ tales edited by Richard Sterling; Eugene Onegin, Alexander Pushkin; The Last Days of Socrates, Plato; The Pearl, John Steinbeck; The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson.

What advice do you have for readers?

Read what you love and every now and then crack open something that looks utterly daunting.

What author, past or present, would you wish to have a long conversation with?

Another difficult question! I think Jimmy Carter would be an endlessly fascinating conversationalist. I wouldn’t be as interested in his writing life as I would be interested in his philosophical life. The man defies categorization and embodies my idea of Christianity better than about anyone I know of.

What’s the first book you can remember reading on your own?

This is somewhat embarrassing to admit, but Elsie Dinsmore was the first book I remember reading that wasn’t assigned by my teacher, mother, or older sister. I must have been about eight years old. I think the book was given to me as a gift, and as I remember, it seemed my mother looked down on it—which is probably why I was so anxious to read it. It is an extremely religious and judgmental book about a little girl who is struggling with her place in the family and her faith in God. Since I was raised in an areligious household, the entire notion of believing in something I couldn’t see, smell, or hear was confusing to me, but I had pious friends and feared I was missing out on something. This book had a profound effect on me. Each night I would wait till I’d been tucked into bed, then when the door was closed, I’d crawl out of bed in the dark and kneel in prayer, fervently hoping that if I were diligent enough and kept at it, I’d eventually feel something. After about a year of never feeling a thing, I gave up on prayer and religion. My mother needn’t have worried.

What books and/or authors have most influenced you as an author?

  • Although I’ve read only a handful of Stephen King novels, I devoured his book On Writing. He peels back the mystery that cloaks the act of writing and provides magnificent examples of how to tighten prose. 
  • Another book that is worth coming back to is Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity & Grace, by Joseph M. Williams. Chapter 10, Elegance, is a mini-masterpiece.
  • Lucinda Franks’ memoir My Father Secret War gave me insight into how to structure the story of my mother’s life. Franks’ life is as important to her narrative as her father’s life is. The way she wove their two stories into one gave me permission to insert myself as a means of providing context to the story of my mother.

What do you enjoy most about being a writer?

I’m embarrassingly inarticulate in face-to-face speech, but I’ve always been able to express myself well in writing. (I’d have run from this interview if it were taped or recorded.) I also find that writing helps me to explore and clarify my thoughts. I enjoy the research that goes into writing an essay or editorial piece because it tests my ideas. I’ve had to change my opinion more than once.

What do you enjoy least about being a writer?

Talking about writing. I still wince when someone refers to me as a writer or an author. 

What would you tell a new writer?

You’ve had grammar drilled into your head since the first grade. Let go of that! Just write from you heart and get your story on the page. If you, like I, have trouble writing or keyboarding try recording your story. You can always find someone to transpose the recording, and grammatical details and fact checking can be addressed after you get to the end and are ready to work with an editor.

What might people be surprised to know about you?

Three things: 

  • I was slow to learn to read. I was probably in the third grade before reading clicked.
  • I am uncomfortable in the presence of other writers. It’s that lack of confidence thing.
  • I have, and have always had, a poor memory. I can’t quote literature, remember the important details of what I’ve just read, or even the protagonist’s name of the last book I read. This forces me to research everything before I write it. (And may have a lot to do with why I’m so verbally inarticulate.)

Thanks to author Linda Paul for participating in our Idaho Author Interview series. If you’re interested, contact the IWU website editor.

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