I’m starting the week with an exciting new feature: writer interviews. In this series I will conduct interviews with writers across the spectrum, from poets to fiction authors, self-published writers to the traditionally-published. I will ask them about their writing and publishing experiences, their advice to fellow writers, and their opinions on hot-button issues. For the first interview, author Rich Marcello has graciously taken time from his busy schedule to answer some questions via e-mail.
You may remember Marcello from my review of his novel The Beauty of the Fall. In addition to The Beauty of the Fall, Marcello has penned two other novels (The Big Wide Calm and The Color of Home), writes poetry, teaches creative writing at Seven Bridges’ Writer Collaborative, and is an accomplished songwriter and musician. With a history in the technology industry, Rich Marcello is the perfect example of how you don’t need a literary or humanities background to write and tackle today’s biggest issues.
Let’s start with a question about your career background. The biography on your website says that you’re a poet, songwriter/musician, author, and creative writing teacher. However, you were also previously a technology executive who managed several businesses for Fortune 500 companies. Why and how did you make the leap from technology and management to writing and teaching?
When I was in college, my humanities professor told me I wrote well and offered to teach me how to write novels. I was broke at the time, and though I loved writing, I decided to make money instead. That’s why I went into hi-tech. It turned out that I loved technology as well, and I thrived in that environment for a time. During my technology career, I wrote songs and poems and dabbled every now and again with writing stories, but there wasn’t enough time to do a full novel. Finally, I reached a point where I had to make a choice: either finish out my career in technology or return to my first love ––writing. I chose writing, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Many aspiring writers come from a variety of educational and career backgrounds, from journalism and a Bachelor’s in English to marketing and a Bachelor’s in Economics. What advice do you have for writers coming from non-literary backgrounds?
Probably to accept the 10,000-hour rule. When you are accomplished in one field and, as part of that field or because of some innate ability, you write well, you believe the transition to writing fiction will be easy. But it’s actually like any profession ( well, okay, maybe harder). You need to learn your craft and it takes a good ten thousand hours to get to a place where you can write a competent novel. Along the way, be kind to yourself. Writing a novel is the most difficult thing you will ever do and it will change you for the better if you are patience and stick with it.
What advice do you have for writers overall?
Write the first draft of any scene quickly so you get all of the core emotion in it. Then edit the scene at least five times to flesh it out. I even use this Five Time Rule with my students and all agree it works well.
Which writers have influenced you the most? Which books/poems?
I love Milan Kundera, Walker Percy, Thomas Pynchon, Mary Oliver, Audre Lorde, Kay Ryan, and Alice Walker. I’ve read all of their books and would say they’ve influenced me the most. I particularly like The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
Your prose strikes me as very poetic. Would you say that writing as a poet has affected your novel writing? How?
Poetry has had a huge impact on my novels mostly at the sentence level. There are times when I will spend hours on a sentence (really) just to make sure that it is poetic enough. I don’t do that all of the time, but there are places in novels where poetic language feels right, and when it does, I use it either as part of the prose or by adding an explicit piece of poetry or a song lyric.
Dan in The Beauty of the Fall seems to be partially based on your past as a technology executive, at least in regards to his career. You also reference many real Fortune 500 companies and several are clearly influenced by real companies (Peach and PhotoPhotobook come to mind). How did you handle the delicate balance between the “reality” in your novel and the fiction?
I rarely use real life incidents in my books, but I do draw on my expertise or the expertise of my friends or colleagues. I find that my best writing comes when I develop characters who in one way of another cross boundaries that I haven’t crossed in my own life. In The Beauty of the Fall, it was important for Dan to have a lot of technology and management expertise, so I did draw on my time in tech to shape that aspect of his character. Also, with Willow, I spent a year on the Board of Directors of a Domestic Violence non-profit so I could accurately develop her character.
Conversationworks involves many technological and societal leaps in order to thrive. Do you think that such feats are achievable in today’s world?
Well, the technology isn’t available today to build Conversationworks, but it will be in say twenty or thirty years. With that said, the world we live in is so polarized that we certainly could use Conversationworks today. One of the reasons I chose to end the book on a hopeful note is because I’m firmly convinced we need something like Conversationworks to help move the human race forward.
The Beauty of the Fall deals with many controversial issues, including violence against women, self-harm, and ethics in business and technology. Was it difficult to write about these subjects? How did you navigate the tricky obstacle of depicting the heavy truth of these issues while still making the novel palatable for readers?
I’ve always been drawn to the big questions in life, so no, writing about these things was not difficult. In many ways, I feel one of my roles as a writer is to shed light on difficult topics and to do it in a way that resonates with readers. With that said, it is tricky to get the balance right. Because Conversationworks was designed to facilitate difficult conversations, I was able to use it as the primary vehicle for some of the more difficult conversations in the book. In that sense, The Beauty of the Fall provided me with a unique opportunity to go a little more into heavy truth.
Finally, what do you think is the biggest issue facing the writing/publishing industry today? Should we be more concerned about the business issues, such as profitability of books and the e-book versus paper book debate, or social worries, such as representation in the writers and topics we print?
Well, the short answer is both. In general, it’s harder and harder for a writer to make a living as a writer. Most of the writers I know have other jobs because they don’t make enough to support themselves or their families. So what happens is they look for ways to get their book sales up and that often means compromising their art. In general, much like Conversationworks revolutionized technology, there’s a need for a revolution in the publishing business, one that helps empower writers to create more art during a difficult time in the history of the human race and compensates them appropriately for doing so.
I want to thank Marcello once again for taking time for this interview. You can learn more about Rich Marcello on his website and buy his novels through Amazon.
Also remember that the first $25,000 in profits from The Beauty of the Fall will be donated to the domestic violence organization Bridges. For more information and to donate, please visit the donation page.
What are your thoughts on Marcello’s advice? Do you know of any writers I should interview or books I should review? Drop a line in the comments or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.