Today, I’m delighted to welcome Linn Parker to Virtual Book Club, an interview series in which I put questions to authors about the books they’d like to persuade your club to read. If you want to pose a question of your own, you’ll have the opportunity to do so at the end.
Linn Parker is a writer, editor and linguist, born in New York, raised in Connecticut and now living in Brighton, UK. She has had her share of creative pursuits from writing poetry and songs, to playing bass and singing in a band that once did a Radio 1 John Peel session, to writing stories for Thomas the Tank Engine and teen magazines. A glutton for punishment, Linn attempted to write her first novel Ameritrash while completing her first knitting project. Linn works as a freelance writer and editor, and when she gets time off she combines her passion for travel and writing in her blog: lifeslittleadventurestravelblog.wordpress.com.
Q: Linn, your day job is helping other authors polish and refine their work. Is that a distraction, or does it add another element to your own writing?
It’s helpful in that I can apply my knowledge of editing to my own writing, however, as I focus on my clients’ work, my own work always gets put to the bottom of the pile.
Q: But I wonder, have you ever found that a book you were reading was influencing your writing style?
Well … my favourite ever book is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. For years after reading that book I had visions of being able to write like Marquez and some other of my favourite literary masters like Proust and Maugham. However, when I actually put pen to paper, I was amused to discover the wayward, deviant voice inside me.
Q: How would you describe your own style?
Contemporary, edgy fiction, with a slightly sarcastic and black comic undertone.
Q: How does your home and its environment influence your writing?
My work area used to be in a dark, cold corner under the stairs. I always felt it was a struggle to write there but somehow I managed to finish the novel. Now I have a new office in the roof of my house, as far away from under the stairs as possible. It is flooded with natural light and space, and I feel productive and inspired to start on my next writing project.
Q: Where is Ameritrash set and how did you decide on its setting?
The book is set across central Europe but mainly France and Italy. A sense of place is important in my writing and sometimes has a bit of a ‘travelogue’ feel to it – aiming to conjure up the unique feelings, emotions and sensations that a place can instill, and how being somewhere new can cause characters to behave quite differently.
Q: Elizabeth Strout says, ‘You can’t write fiction and be careful. You just can’t. I’ve seen it with my students over the years, and I think actually the biggest challenge a writer has is to not be careful. So many times students would say, “Well, I can’t write that, my boyfriend would break up with me.” And I’d think, Well, OK, I’m sorry, I don’t really have much more to tell you.’ Do you plead guilty or not guilty?
There were times when I thought exactly that – ‘I can’t write that. So-and-so will know this character is based on them and they will call the police on me!’ But I just thought, what the hell – just write what you want to write, let your true voice come out and just face the music when the time comes!
In Ameritrash, drugs, sex and general debauched behaviour are quite prevalent as part of a voyage of self-discovery for the young characters trying to find their place in society.
Q: Who is the hero of your story?
I’d say that Siobhan Schreiber is more of an anti-heroine, actually. She makes bad decisions, does stupid stuff, takes risks and gets herself into dangerous situations with her careless attitude, but she is young, and human and learning the ropes of life.
Q: Does the book have a dedication? If so, to whom and (if appropriate) why?
I have dedicated Ameritrash to my sister, Krista. She died of a brain tumour before I finished writing it. She was a bit of a wild-child, not unlike the main character, Siobhan Schrieber, and my sister’s previous deviant acts provided plenty of inspiration for Siobhan’s antics.
Q: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
I actually quite love the quiet solitude of sitting in my office at night, with only the glow of my desk lamp, thinking and imagining characters and events and getting my mind into somewhere else. My least favourite aspect is ruminating over how devalued and unimportant good writing seems to have become.
Q: That’s reminded me of something George Orwell wrote: ‘Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.’ Who or what is your demon?
My demon was probably my own depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, which drove me to push myself and achieve what I wanted to achieve in writing a novel. I needed to put aside my perfectionism. I realised that I could only succeed if I wasn’t afraid to face failure, so it was quite cathartic for me.
‘Joan of Arc burned here and Madame Bovary was bored here, and this was the place that was to be my home for the rest of the year. I hoped I would be neither burned nor bored.’ writes Siobhan Schreiber.
It’s the start of the 90s; acid house and raves are all the rage, and ecstasy is the drug du jour. When Siobhan Schreiber and her fellow New England University students, Lindi, Mike, Gabriela, and Mimi, descend on France for a year to hone their language skills, they also end up getting an education in things they won’t be writing home about.
Click here to look inside or buy
Q: Who designed your book cover? And what brief did you give your cover designer?
I used a graphic designer named Emma Garbutt, who was a former colleague of mine when I worked in a publishing office. I found some images I liked and some cover designs that I liked and asked Emma to play around with them and come up with something. She had some really great ideas and it was actually difficult to choose one. I had to get several opinions.
Q: Which other professional services won’t you skimp on? As an editor yourself, I would imagine that’s a priority?
Absolutely. My editorial colleagues and I used to say that even editors need editors and we would check each other’s work. Having your work professionally edited can make a real difference to the credibility of your book and the quality of the writing. Readers are not stupid and they can see when something has not been edited. It just looks unprofessional and like the writer didn’t care enough about the book to ensure its excellence.
Q: “They really are evil bastards,” Anthony Horowitz, has said about Amazon. “I loathe them. I fear them. And I use them all the time because they’re wonderful.” Where do you stand?
I worked in publishing for 20 years and publishers absolutely hate Amazon. They have a stranglehold on the market, and they take a large cut of sales. However, customers love Amazon and publishers need to have a relationship with them if they are to succeed. Amazon is also great for independent authors, making it easy and straightforward to publish and sell both print and ebooks.
Q: Can I ask what you’re working on at the moment?
I have started planning for my next novel, which although the main protagonist will be male, it is also going to be laden in deviant experiences with drugs and sex, as well as being a commentary on youth and how expectations can affect us. There is also a nod to mental health in Ameritrash, when the main character self-harms, in my next book mental health is going to be a prominent theme.
Want to find out more about Linn and her writing?
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