Last week we published the e-book version of Fervent Charity by Paulette Callen. On this occasion, we interviewed Paulette. So, here is the chance for all her readers to get to know her a bit better.
Welcome, Paulette, and thank you for answering our questions.
Let’s start with something easy – some warm-up questions:
Coffee or tea?
What puts you in a bad mood?
So many things. I’d need an Excel spreadsheet.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Oh, you mean besides being able to bring world peace and universal compassion? Hmmmm… I wish I could beam myself anywhere in the world. I would like to go to other places sometimes, but I am a rotten traveler. I like the destination, not the journey.
Where is your favorite place you’ve ever traveled to?
The area around Lake Champlain in Vermont.
And now off to the writing-related stuff:
How many years have you been writing now and how did you come to it?
I started my first novel when I was twelve. A science fiction story about three boys and a dog who build a ship to go to Venus and then their adventures on Venus. Before Star Trek and many decades before the TV show Bones, I had created a character named Bones.
But then I didn’t write until 1978-9 when I wrote a play. I went to an off off-Broadway play that was well attended but not very good. I thought, I could write something better than this. So I wrote a play. It took me a couple years, and it got a staged reading and an agent. The agent asked me to turn it into a novel, which I did. No one bought it. It wasn’t very good. About that time I got involved in the animal rights movement and wrote poems and articles for journals and magazines in that niche area.
Because those things were well received, I gained confidence and went back to working on a novel. Writing the first bad novel showed me I could write something that long and time-consuming, so I started Charity.
Why do you write? What does it mean to you?
I write because I can’t sing. I wanted more than anything to be a singer. I took voice lessons from the best teachers around, but it’s a matter of turning a poor little piglet’s ear into a silk purse. The vocal instrument just isn’t there. I realized you have to love pigs for themselves and not for what you wish them to be.
Then I turned to acting. That was good for a while, but then I discovered I was not consistent enough to act professionally. Sometimes I was good, inspired even, and sometimes I was just unspeakably awful.
I began writing. That seemed to click. But really, had I been able to sing, I would never have gotten here. Oddly enough, when I am writing, it means everything to me. It is life and breath and blood and therapy and God and the devil. I have a great respect for and love of words and metaphor. I love metaphor.
How long does it take you to write a novel?
That depends. Command of Silence took very little time to write and so did Death Can Be Murder. Charity took years because I did a lot of research for it. Fervent Charity took a couple years to write initially, then I did a lot of re-writing, so I can’t say exactly how long that took.
How much time per week do you spend writing?
It varies greatly. Impossible to answer.
When and where do you write the most?
No one place or time. I’m not organized that way.
Where do you get your ideas for stories?
I wish I knew, so I could go get some more. I’m in a bit of a dry patch now.
How would you describe yourself?
Oy! A student of Buddhism and a wannabe vegetarian. It’s hard to be a strict vegetarian where I live now, so I eat fish. I haven’t eaten red meat since about 1982. I tried to be vegan for a period in my life and just couldn’t manage it, but I believe that would be the best way to live.
I’m eccentric and eclectic in tastes. I love both Peter O’Toole and John Wayne. I detest country western music, but love Johnny Cash. I have found that most of the things people have assumed about me have been wrong (and I‘m irritated when people assume anything at all about me). I have found myself to be both strong and weak, courageous and cowardly, equanimous and so stressed and agitated I think my head will explode.
The good thing about Buddhist practice is that you do not have to identify with any of these changing moods or feelings or even behaviors, because everything is changing all the time, and the practice provides tools to detangle all these things with compassion and friendliness, so one can gain some clarity if one wishes to. It’s a process, and I am only at the beginning of it. The other thing that has attracted me to Buddhism is that it includes animals and the earth in its circle of compassion.
I am a respecter of animals. I object to the term animal lover because it trivializes the people who spend their lives working for the welfare of animals and because I have heard people in climates far south of the Arctic Circle wearing fur coats describe themselves as animal lovers. Sometimes I even describe myself as a writer. And you will find an animal somewhere in all of my work except one poem I wrote for a Holocaust collection.
How much of yourself is in your characters?
All of me is in all of them. We are all comprised of every thought and emotion a human being is capable of. We are just in different conditions at different times, so my characters are each the result of different conditions and are placed in different situations to which they must react. That’s one answer.
However, I wrote a book called Command of Silence, in which I don’t think there is anything of me in it at all. And yet, I wrote the book, so where did any of it come from? Sometimes, and I have read that other writers and actors often feel this way, it seems like I’m channeling a character. It’s not me, but it’s coming through me. I know that sounds like magic (I think writing is sometimes just magic when it’s going well), but that is how it feels at the time. And I’ve gone back and read things I wrote years ago and thought, I wrote that? Where did that come from?
What do you find the most challenging part of writing?
The story or plotline. So many so-called modern novels seem to have no real plot, which according to one article I read in the Times a while back, is why many readers have been turning to young adult novels, because they still have cracking good plots. Books about a famous young wizard come to mind.
What are you reading right now?
I’m always reading many books at the same time. I’m reading The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon (talk about brilliant and copious metaphors). For pure pleasure and escape I always have a mystery by either David Rosenfelt or Craig Johnson open (I hope those gentlemen keep writing), and I’m always reading books on Buddhism.
Don’t you like romance novels?
No. I never read them.
What do you think makes a good novel?
A good story and good writing and at least one character who is likeable.
What advice would you give new authors?
Get advice (both in your writing endeavors and later in marketing/publishing) from people who are better than you are and keep working and keep trying. Get into a good writers’ workshop. It has taken me almost 20 years to get Fervent Charity published. It has been revised three times from top to bottom. Persevere. I am the poster kid for perseverance.
What are you working on right now?
A bunch of short stories about the characters I created in the Charity books. They are sort of connected, but not in the way of chapters of a novel. More like the collections of, say..Sherman Alexie. I’m not comparing myself to him as a writer, just the form of his collections that I have read.
What future writing projects can we look forward to?
I wish I knew. Maybe I’ll finish that book about the three boys and their dog on Venus.
Thank you for your interesting answers. It was great having you here.
Charity and Fervent Charity by Paulette Callen are available from Bella Books, Smashwords and amazon; Charity as e-book and paperback and Fervent Charity at the moment only as e-book. However, the paperback will be out later this month.
Fascinating interview. Thanks. I read “Charity” when it was first published and loved it. I’ve just started reading “Fervent Charity” and I’m looking forward to the experience.
I first read “Command of Silence” and have read it three times, about once a year.. And then I found “Death Can Be Murder” and read it, twice. Needless to say, I have read “Charity” more than once already and am really looking forward to “Fervent Charity”. Whatever it is, it’s your writing that I truly like and have to say that the characters you created in “Charity” have stayed with me (it helps that I’m a history nut) and I am really looking forward to the next book. You may not sing, but you certainly can write. Thanks for these books…and I’ll be happy to read the boys and their dogs on Venus.
Thanks Paulette for giving us a glimpse at you as a writer … just finished Fervent Charity and it was – as Charity – an amazing experience to fall through the rabbit hole and find myself in the middle of the Old West.