[two_third_last]Today, we’re interviewing Blythe Rippon, debut author of the best-seller Barring Complications.
Welcome to the Ylva blog, Blythe.
Let’s start with some warm-up questions:[/two_third_last]
Coffee or tea?
Water, honestly. I’m not much for caffeine. Or wine—can I say wine?
What puts you in a bad mood?
Bad drivers and judgy people.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Writing really great books super fast. Or, you know, flying. One of those two.
Where is your favorite place you’ve ever traveled to?
Barcelona. Hands down. I fell in love with Gaudi’s architecture, right along with the food and the people. I could spend weeks—months even—just examining every nook and cranny of the Sagrada Familia, then standing back and trying to absorb its whole ethos. It’s just stunning.
I don’t understand the question. Chocolate is my favorite chocolate. In any form: ice cream, brownie, raw, covering fruit. You name it.
What would you do if you won the lottery?
Pay off my student loans, buy a house in the country where I have to say things like, “I’m going to town to get the mail,” and donate the rest.
And now on to the writing-related stuff:
For how many years have you been writing now, and how did you come to it?
This is a hard question for me to answer because my first instinct is to say: all my life. I’ve been writing since I knew how, and now with social media we write all the time. And all the writing we do counts, whether or not it’s in a Word document dedicated to our newest novel. Akin to the idea that writers are always observing, we’re also always writing. But this is perhaps an answer that a writing teacher would give.
More specifically, I began fiction writing in 2011. I started Barring Complications in the fall of 2012. I came to fiction writing because I was researching some heavy topics that were giving me bad dreams and generally making me moody. At the same time, my wife was working a lot of hours and I was home alone with the cats more than I wanted to be. I chose a career in academia because I wanted to be a writer, and it occurred to me that even while I spent my days writing scholarly essays, I could spend evenings writing something lighter, softer, funnier, and with more personality.
Why do you write? What does it mean to you?
Writing (and reading) is like breathing to me, which is not to say it’s easy—just that it’s an innate impulse. Also, when I’m writing, it means I have balance in my life—that I’m able to spend time on a hobby I love.
It also means connecting with people near and far, both within the world of the story and within a community of readers.
And laughing. Hopefully writing and reading also means laughing.
How long does it take you to write a novel?
I wrote the first full draft (which, of course, includes rounds and rounds of revisions) of Barring Complications in eight months. Same with Stowe Away. Like a good wine, though, a novel needs time to mature, and I wouldn’t consider it finished until I’ve walked away from it for a few months, received feedback from multiple people with a range of tastes, and returned to it for an overhaul.
How much time per week do you spend writing?
Every week is so different. I go weeks in a row without writing fiction, and then I’ll have a week in which I’m able to write for a few hours every day. I’d prefer a more balanced schedule, but c’est la vie.
When and where do you write the most?
About half of my writing happens at home with my laptop and a glass of wine. The other half happens on my phone while I’m riding public transportation or waiting in line somewhere. It’s not easy to type this way, but I write my best (and probably my funniest) dialogue when I’m out and about, surrounded by people.
How would you describe yourself?
Eek! I wouldn’t. I’d ask someone else to do it for me. But my wife says she’s busy and I should stop avoiding the question.
I’m curious, captivated by politics, fiercely loyal, into wine, and probably too serious at times. I believe in dancing every day and eating my vegetables.
How much of yourself is in your characters?
It’s probably not possible to write characters that have nothing of the author in them, but I try to avoid writing myself into my characters. To the extent that there are real-life people embedded in them, they are composites of people I know.
What do you find the most challenging part of writing?
Finding the time to do it! But also the first few chapters. It’s hard to give readers enough background information and still make the characters and situations pop.
What are you reading right now?
I’m about to start Linda McRobbie’s Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History without the Fairytale Endings. It’s a nonfiction account of princesses, well, behaving badly. Since I haven’t started it yet, I can’t say much about it. But its section headings alone make me laugh (although I understand the book is quite serious): “Warriors,” “Usurpers,” “Schemers,” “Partiers,” “Floozies,” and “Madwomen.”
What do you think makes a good romance novel?
More than just romance. I think romance is more dynamic when it’s folded into other elements of life—career, family, neuroses, pratfalls, that sort of thing.
What advice would you give new authors?
Read. Read everything. Nonfiction isn’t your thing? Too bad—read some anyway. Not wild about fantasy? Spend some time in those worlds regardless. Don’t understand what people see in detective fiction? A) Why ever not? And B) familiarize yourself with its conventions anyway. It’s so important to continually absorb different authorial voices, themes, relationships, cultures, and so forth.
Oh, and read the newspaper.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently overhauling the first novel I wrote, Stowe Away. I very much believe in that story, although as my first piece of fiction, it was rough around the edges in its initial incarnation. As I rethink the piece, I’m adding characters and scenes, deleting entire sections, and retooling some of its core themes. I look forward to sharing it with you!
What future writing projects can we look forward to?
I have a few rough ideas for a third project. One of them is another D.C. story, and I haven’t decided yet if I want to return to the Beltway so soon after Barring Complications. One of them takes place in a cemetery and is told from the point of view of a groundskeeper. I’ve sketched out a few ideas for that one, and there’s a cemetery near my home that inspires me to write every time I walk through it. I also want to write a story about the president of a university. So, while I haven’t picked my next project, I have a lot of ideas percolating. Rest assured one will be forthcoming!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions, Blythe!