20 Writerly Questions from Random House

20 Writerly Questions for Roberta Rich

1. How would you summarize your book in one sentence?
The Midwife of Venice is the story a 16th century woman with poor impulse
control who risks her life and the lives of the entire Jewish ghetto to save
the man she loves.

2. How long did it take you to write this book?
The first draft  no time at all  maybe seven months. The 15th, 16th, 17th
and 18th drafts quite a bit longer.

3. Where is your favourite place to write?
In my estudio in Colima, Mexico with the hummingbirds dive-bombing the wild
hibiscus outside the window and the vanilla vines doing lascivious things to
the white stucco walls.

4. How do you choose your characters names?
I love names and collect them as I hear them. I slot them  into a file
called  wait for it  Good Names. When I develop a new character this is the
first place I go.

5. How many drafts do you go through?
This depends on how you define the word draft. If you mean hack and slash
and cut the manuscript to within an foot of the ground like an overgrown
blackberry bush, then about five. If you mean, more dainty revisions  just
gentling nipping here and there  about ten.

6. If there was one book you wish you had written what would it be?
Good question. I would have to say anything by Elmore Leonard. His is the
most economical dialogue ever written. He can establish character in two
lines. And at 80 he is still going strong. His latest, Djibouti is a
terrific read.

7. If your book were to become a movie, who would you like to see star in
it?

Natalie Portman as Hannah and Jude Law as Isaac.

8. Whats your favourite city in the world?
I have many favourites. Venice, of course because everyone is always lost.
It is impossible to navigate the city. Even Venetians are always wandering
gormlessly around looking for their apartments or their favourite restaurant
or friends they were supposed to meet at a caf somewhere for a correcto.

Ian McEwen described this perfectly in The Comfort of Strangers, a very
sinister book which I wish I could forget.

In the time period I am interested in  the 16th century, there were gangs of
young boys with pine torches to lead you to your destination. I have a
dreadful sense of direction so the fact that everyone is always lost in
Venice makes me feel better about myself.

Next on the list would be Istanbul. My characters, Hannah and Isaac are, in
Book #2,  running a silk worm workshop in Constantinople and I must say,
after three visits to Istanbul for research, I am enraptured by the city for
its overwhelming architecture, sense of design and colour, and relentless
carpet salesmen.

If I had to choose a city to live permanently? Probably New York. Book # 3
will be set in Lower East Side.

9. If you could talk to any writer living or dead who would it be, and what
would you ask?

Only one? Tolstoy. I would ask him how he got so smart and insightful about
women. If I had another pick, it would be Flaubert. Madame Bovary is one of
the few book I read and re-read every couple of years.

I would ask Flaubert how he could live with himself, (if this story is true)
, spending a whole week thinking about putting in a comma, another week
putting it in and then the third week taking it out.

10. Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what kind?
No, I am too distractible to listen to anything other the ambient noises of
my life, which at the moment as I sit here in my study are: roosters
crowing, the street cleaners sweeping, the passing gas truck in the street
out front blaring out an ad, the bells of our local church, La Salad,
clanging madly, and the guy with a pushcart yelling out the prices of his
pork tacos and goat stew. (60 pesos and 55 pesos respectively)

On the basis of an article I read recently in the Journal of Recent Studies,
I have diagnosed myself with Adult ADD. I think that is why I cant listen to
music and write. Oh, wait, here is something bright and shiny on my desk.
What is it? My new pen. I hope it doesnt run out of ink before I finish
these questions. Listen  is that a cardinal outside the window or a
woodpecker? That noise from the kitchen?  Could be the blender. Oh! It is!
My husband must be making me a margarita. Limes are the principle product of
this state. I hope he doesnt add too much sugar. Tomorrow, I  must prune the
lime tree. Wait, is that a ….. And on and on it goes. Its exhausting
to be me.

11. Who is the first person who gets to you read your manuscript?
I belong to a writers group which meets every three weeks. We have been
writing pals for 15 years. They are my first and the best critics.

12. Do you have a guilty pleasure read?
Dont judge me. I am a sucker for shelter magazines. And peanuts. The
red-skinned, heavily salted greasy kind that are so fattening and make your
skin break out. Sometimes, I eat peanuts and read Canadian Homes. Thats when
I am really happy.

13. Whats on your nightstand right now?
Ann De Grace, Treading Water, I am Red by Orphan Pamuk and Conceit by Mary
Novik.

14. What is the first book you remember reading?
Dick and Jane, I think. Maybe thats why it took me so long to learn to read.

15. Did you always want to be a writer?
I wanted to be a writer in high school. My preoccupation  then was to write
what I considered very witty plays about two dimensional young girls with
lots of kohl eye make-up having sex with pharaohs, who sometimes turned out
to be their brothers.

16. What do you drink or eat while you write?
Anything I can get my hands on that wont drip or spill too much onto the
keyboard. Trail mix, mostly. Instant coffee with skim milk.

17. Typewriter, laptop, or pen & paper?
I often write in long hand, which has the advantage of being indecipherable.
Then, when I try to transcribe it to the laptop, I end up painlessly writing
a whole new draft.

18. What did you do immediately after hearing that you were being published
for the very first time?

I wanted to tell my husband but he was away on a business trip to Dallas so
I ran next door to tell my neighbours whom I hardly knew because they had
just moved in. They were startled because I was not wearing any make-up and
was still in my pyjamas.

19. How do you decide which narrative point of view to write from?
My first two novels (yet to see the light of day) were in 1st person because
I found it intimate and fun. Also with 1st person, it is almost impossible
to veer off course and slip into 3rd person. Now, I write in limited third
person because I find it gives me more freedom. also, I like to write from
multiple points of view.

20. What is the best gift someone could give a writer?
At first I was going to say time, but now I think a German Shepherd. Our
dog, Maggie, died in August and now I just sit at the computer trying to
write, remembering what a patient, steady buddy she was. I used to read
aloud to her. If she continued snoozing, I knew revisions were in order. If
she looked up, wriggled her eyebrows and thumped her tail, I knew I was on
the right track.

From the Trade Paperback edition.