Caroline Paul is pretty amazing: there's the writing, including her acclaimed books, Fighting Fire and East Wind, Rain; there's the community she's helped build at SF Grotto; the collaboration with partner Wendy MacNaughton; the passion she has for her family, her friends, and for adventure -- and the generosity that she shows all of us, including writers like me.
From Caroline: I’m reprinting my first book, Fighting Fire. I'm doing it through a micropublisher, because I feel that the traditional publishers can't offer me anything that I can't do myself, and they take way too much of the earnings. I'm interested in new ways of publishing, because I think it's the wave of the future, and what better way to do it than with a book that has already been out there, and has found it's audience?
I do still work with traditional publishers though. I am about to shop what we are calling a children's book for adults, illustrated by my partner Wendy MacNaughton, and written by me. It's a light, short memoir, about an incident with our cat, and how it turned our world upside down, and changed our perspective on who our cat really is. It's an animal book, but it's about the delusions of humans.
I go to lots of movies, often alone. I find that storytelling in cinema is a leaned out version of fiction, so you can really see the bones of a narrative. I'm really fascinated by what works in a narrative, so I like to analyze the movie as it's playing. Why am I interested at this moment? Why am I bored to death right now? It's lucky that mind reading hasn't happened yet, because it would be no fun to go to the movies with me.
I'm reading TC Boyle's The Women. He's such a good writer, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that sometimes he's too good a writer. His clever sentences can interfere with the story. That said, I enjoy them. But sometimes I want to tell him to walk out of the room and not look back, his presence is so obvious.
I was a huge reader as a kid. My twin and I used to come home from school, go to our separate rooms, and read for hours. I read the whole Lord of the Rings series when I was nine. We also read a lot of series by English writers, like Enid Blyton. Many of them were too sophisticated for me. I read a long novel about horses in the Australian outback without understanding what the hell they meant when they said "the bush." "The herd galloped along the bush." "The stallion stood in the bush." "The foal got clumsily up on her new legs and surveyed the bush." I imagined this one scraggly little plant in a big field. Why every horse seemed to be near this bush, was beyond me.
Reading a lot as a kid improved my vocabulary a lot. It also taught me to read very, very fast. Unfortunately, it didn't make me a good writer. I really had to struggle. I used to write long convoluted sentences that I hoped came off as beautiful and poetic. I was like one of those women who applies way too much makeup and perfume and thinks that as a result I'm one hot little number. Now I write very short sentences that I hope gets the idea across in a succinct manner. Then I gussy it up a little, once the thought itself is down. Like many new writers I thought a beautiful sentence was paramount. After wrestling with two (published) books and many many unpublished ones, I know that keeping tension throughout a good storyline is more important.
Writers go through different phases: with your first book, you think every sentence is invaluable. You have so much to say. Your second book, you realize that you don't have a lot to say at all, and you struggle with whether you should really waste people's time and say anything. I think the third book balances out. You go back to realizing that you do have something important to say, but it's just not as much as you once thought.
Photo: Future Firefighter from Caroline Paul