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September 3, 2010

Cate Tiernan: On the Act of Writing

Posted by jordana
Cate Tiernan's latest novel IMMORTAL BELOVED hits all the right notes: undying love (literally), mystery, and the transformation of Nastasya, a girl who chooses to confront not only the secrets in her past, but also the truth about herself. In this blog post, Cate talks about writing and how the creation of worlds and people comes about.
I can do blog posts. I can do blog posts out the wazoo. Need a blog post? I’m your woman. If, however, you for some reason need me to speak to strangers in public . . . you’ll find me under the nearest bed, trying to self-medicate with chocolate.

I understand that this is part of who I am, part of what makes me me. This is partly why I’m a writer, working alone at home in my bathrobe, and not, say, pursuing a career in customer service, where as soon as someone was mean to me, I would cry.

I’m a writer. To me, being a writer is basically trying to decipher yourself and others with a whole bunch of words--in the way that being a painter can be trying to decipher yourself and others with a whole bunch of paint. Or whatever your chosen medium is. But the point of the whole bunch of words is that ultimately, I’m trying to make a connection with other people.

I know: the irony.

But that’s what my writing is about. I’m trying to interpret the world around me (and the world inside me), and I’m trying to express that in a way that others will understand, and perhaps come to see themselves in, at least a little bit. For that reader, and for me, that’s a connection, and it means that we’re not alone: Someone understands us. 

The trick is to do all this without someone really noticing. 

People often tell me they’d like to be writers. They ask how I do it, and how they can do it too. I wish there was an answer like, You go to a certain website, and there’s a game there, and once you get to level sixty-five, boom! You’re a writer. 

But no.

What I do is: I try to create worlds I’d like to live in. I try to create plots that are exciting, that I can live vicariously through. I create people I’d like to meet, or be, or love. Everything I see in the real world, everything I hear, everything I learn, taste, smell, feel--all of it is the raw material for my work. I take it all in and then I smush it together into a story, into characters, and I write it all down. And afterward, when I read it, I can see myself in the words. I can see my feelings and my heart and even things I keep hidden in the real world. And I put it out there in the hopes that my words will mean something to someone else--that someone else, shaped by entirely different experiences, immersed in a different real world--will somehow, as if by magick, see themselves in my writing.

The beauty is, everyone can do this. It is within every person to be able to connect with others this way. But--you need to know and understand yourself (at least mostly). You need to be able to understand others, put yourself in their sneakers. You need to love and value yourself and your uniqueness. You need to love and value others and their uniqueness. You need to pay attention to everything around you. And when you write, understand what you’re trying to say. Understand who you’re trying to say it to.

For me, writing is more than putting feelings on paper and showing the paper to the world, like, Here! It’s putting feelings on paper, showing the paper to the world, and saying, Do you feel this too? Does this help you understand? Can you see me? I’m trying to see you.

ImmortalBeloved_0.JPGIn my book IMMORTAL BELOVED, the main character, Nastasya, is someone who doesn’t understand herself, and truly does not want to understand herself --- the more she digs down into her feelings, the more painful stuff she finds. The story is about her determination to keep going, to wade through the memories of her horrible past and pointless future, because she realizes how crucial it is to really know herself, really understand herself. Until she does, she won’t be able to know or understand or love anyone else.


Nastasya is a little part of me. Can you see me? I’m trying to see you.