** Interview excerpt from Writer’s Digest**
HAVE YOU BEEN WRITING FICTION FOR VERY LONG?
I started writing fiction six years ago. I got laid off from my job as a technical writer and was moping around and getting my résumé together. I didn’t want to work in a cubicle again. My husband and I decided we’d take a risk: two years and two books. If I didn’t replace my salary by then I’d go back to writing software manuals.
HOW DID YOU PICK UP THE SKILLS OF THE CRAFT SO QUICKLY?
My degree is in literature, but I didn’t have a chance to practice it. Instead I managed to parlay that into technical writing, which I enjoyed. It’s something that most people say “eww” to but I found it interesting. My husband and I had talked about my retiring early to try writing a novel. But when two-thirds of my division got laid off, we held hands and jumped off the bridge together.
AND THE RISK PAID OFF.
Yes, though there were some hairy years. I had to give up daycare and work in my apartment office with a baby gate.
DID YOU REALLY, AS RUMOR HAS IT, LOCK YOURSELF IN A CLOSET TO FINISH WATER FOR ELEPHANTS?
I did. I needed an Internet-deprivation pod because I’m very good at writing-avoidance techniques.
WHEN YOU WRITE A BOOK, WHAT’S YOUR PROCESS LIKE?
I don’t like outlining, because books are organic things. Sometimes a book doesn’t want to be written in a certain way. I structure my time. I get up and put in a full day’s work. Sometimes I get almost nothing done, and sometimes I get a lot of work done. It’s just being there at my desk even if I do nothing but look at my file all day.
DO YOU UNDERTAKE MUCH REVISION OF YOUR BOOKS?
I edit things until they’re ripped from my clawed fingers. I usually write from word one all the way through—my sloppy spaghetti first draft. Then I do a couple of passes on screen until I’ve got the major surgery out of the way. Once I’m sure everything is where it’s going to be, I print out 50 pages at a time. I’m kind of OCD about it. I sit there with a pen and put in changes and print out those same 50 pages again until I have only one change per page left. Sometimes it’s 17 drafts, or if I’m really lucky it’s only four. In this day and age you have to be print ready.
LET ME GUESS—YOU BRING A PEN WITH YOU TO READINGS?
I can’t look at my books after they’re published because I want to change them. [The book I bring to readings] is all marked up with pencil, because what I read isn’t exactly what’s on the page anymore. I can’t help it.
DO YOU HAVE ADVICE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?
I think the hardest part is getting a draft finished. It’s important to stop thinking about writing and just write. It’s something I grapple with every day—stop thinking, start writing.
Sara Gruen (Vancouver, 1969) is an author with dual Canadian and American citizenship. Her books deal greatly with animals and she is a supporter of numerous charitable organizations that support animals and wildlife.
Gruen moved to the United States from Ottawa in 1999 in order to take a technical writing job. When she was laid off two years later, she decided to try writing fiction. Gruen is an animal lover; both her first novel, Riding Lessons, and her second novel, Flying Changes, involve horses. Gruen’s third book, the 1930s circus drama Water for Elephants, was initially turned down by her publisher at the time, Avon Books, forcing Gruen to find another publisher. It went on to become a New York Times bestseller and is now available in 44 languages and as a 2011 film adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz, and Robert Pattinson. Her fourth novel, Ape House, centers around the Bonobo apeand was sold to Spiegel & Grau on the basis of a 12-page summary.Water for Elephants and Ape House are published by Two Roads Books.
Gruen’s awards include the 2007 Book Sense Book of the Year Award, the Cosmo Fun Fearless Fiction Award, the Bookbrowse Diamond Award for Most Popular Book, the Friends of American Literature Adult Fiction Award and the ALA/Alex Award 2007.