Moira Crone, whose works have appeared in The New Yorker, Oxford American, and Fiction, is the award-winning author of six books, including her newest novel The Ice Garden. Her previous book, The Not Yet, was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award for best science fiction paperback of the year in 2013. In 2009, she received the Robert Penn Warren Award from the Southern Fellowship of Writers for the body of her work. Her website is www.moiracrone.com.
At the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference, Moira will lead a fiction workshop titled, "World-Building." World-Building, a term from speculative and science fiction, means creating an imaginary, alternative setting for a story, which can include history, customs, beliefs, ecology—and conditions contrary to what we encounter in “reality.” An author who switched from realism to speculative fiction with distinguished results talks about developing such an invented world—either slightly divergent from our own, or made up from whole cloth—and writing stories within it. She gives exercises to jumpstart the process.
If you could be a different author, living or dead, who would you be?
In terms of breadth of vision and the stakes in life, Tennessee Williams, or Flannery O’Connor. For language, Truman Capote or Carson McCullers.
Give us three adjectives you hope critics use to describe your next book.
Riveting, vivid, wise.
What’s one piece of advice no one gave you when you were starting out, that you wish they had?
That the most important thing to develop as a writer is an understanding of the difference between kinds of negativity. There is a negative view of one’s work that is needed—you must be critical and look for all things that are lacking when you revise and edit. But there is a negative view of one’s work that is destructive—what this feels like is, you see so many flaws you don’t see what the worth of the entire enterprise could be. But an artist can’t be nihilistic. She’s making something—however flawed. Being a writer, or anyone who does creative work, means believing in the invisible, the imaginary, and then make it manifest. Great faith and small faith should always be cultivated, even when rejection comes from others, or hard criticism is needed, or you don’t know what to do next. All creative people have a sense of a vacuum, which propels them to go forth and make something to fill it. This sense of absence shouldn’t be a cause for despair—that’s the mistake. It should be energizing, but not taken too seriously.
In 2013, Forbes named Charlotte among its list of Best Places for Business and Careers. What makes Charlotte such a vibrant place to visit and live?
I have never been to Charlotte. So I am looking forward to finding out the answer.
Why do you feel it's important for writers to attend conferences such as the NCWN Fall Conference?
Writers conferences give everyone a sense of both the art of writing and of reading. Writing is a lonely pursuit. And meeting other writers and editors is a way to stay connected. Listening to writers talk about their works is energizing for readers and for everyone involved.
Saturday's "Brilliant at Breakfast" panel discussion is titled, "Words in Civic Life." Does creative writing have a role to play outside the covers of a book?
Novels and stories make worlds. These worlds have an impact upon everyone. They give us a community, and they make us see things about ourselves that, otherwise, we would not see. Reading broadens us, and really, teaches empathy. The teaching of “creative writing,” shows students who otherwise wouldn’t have imagined it, that they can have a voice, a point of view—they have the right to be the “author” or the “authority.” Creative writing classes can lend power and confidence to people, and this is good for everyday discourse in the community—not just in the world of letters. In New Orleans, we have a series of books called The Neighborhood Story Project. Poor young people in a variety of neighborhoods in the city have told their own stories, described their lives from the inside, not as seen by more privileged people who are at a distance. This sort of exploration makes this world a better place. Writing, reading, and the teaching of writing is the very soul of civilized society. In my home in New Orleans I have a salon. Once a month people come and share their art—storytelling, poetry, history, architecture, music, painting—creative life and social life merge. This is, in part, a way for the artists young and old in the city, to bond. This is a civic function, also. It gives artists fellowship.
What do you hope attendees takeaway from the conference, especially if they sign up for your workshop?
I hope that attendees will come away with greater knowledge of approaches to speculative fiction, if they come to my workshop. Also, in general, I hope people will learn more about the practice of writing, and find out things they can share with others.
What does it mean for writers to "Network?" Any tips?
Real networking is the same as having a lot of genuine friends with whom you share a common interest and a common love. Writing is a form of communication, and if you communicate with other writers you are spending time with people who are really serious about saying what they mean. What better people to communicate with? It is a blessing to know writers and others in writing and publishing—this knowledge supports you. A “network,” is the group you are thinking about when you sit down to write—those you know will react, respond, understand, and help you with your writing. And, in turn, you will read and respond and help those who are part of your circle. The writers I know who have “burned out,” and stopped writing, are those who have isolated themselves from the community of writers, or somehow did not see the importance of the social context of their enterprise.
If you could mandate that everyone in the world read one book, which one would you choose?
Works of Shakespeare. Works of Jorge Luis Borges; works of Flannery O’Connor.
Do you read literary journals? What are some of your favorites?
Yes, I read literary journals. I read Callaloo. I read The New Orleans Review. I read Image Journal, and Parabola. In the past I have read Hunger Mountain, and Creative Nonfiction. I read the Oxford American.
Can writing be taught?
Many aspects of writing can be taught—technique, how to pace or organize a novel or short story, form and voice, grammar. This cannot be taught: desire to write, ambition to do as well as one can, yearning to do or say something on the page that is really worth saying, and saying well. These things come from the inside of a person and they cannot be taught. And they shouldn’t be. Nobody should become a writer unless she has a strong desire to lead the life. You can teach someone to write good sentences with no errors. You can’t teach them to write unique sentences, or to want to say something unique.
Who has influenced your writing style the most?
I love Grace Paley and Carson McCullers.
Have you ever had writer’s block? What is one thing that helped you overcome it?
Yes, I have had writer’s block. Writer’s block says, nothing is worth saying, or what I have to say will never be good enough—this trips up a person before she even begins. Something else: endless revising of a single piece of writing is an advanced, and severe, form of writer’s block. If you know someone who has been writing the same novel for years and years and years, and not producing anything else—she has writer’s block. This has helped me with writer’s block: Working for a time in another art, such as painting where I am an amateur. Something that frees my brain and helps me drop my internal critic. What is nourishing is recovering the feeling of the naturalness of creative endeavor. Lucinda Williams has a song with the line, “You took my joy, I want it back.” That’s writer’s block. That’s the thing—you need the joy or it’s not worth doing, no matter the other rewards. Once you have your joy back, you can see your writing with fresh eyes.
Someone writes an un-authorized biography about your life. What would the title be?
She Meant It.
Registration for the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference is now open.