My first introduction to Cecelia Frey was through Lilah Cellini, the fascinating main character of her novel, A Raw Mix of Carelessness and Longing. I enjoyed this book so much that I took the time to review it. I also invited her to join us here on The Dabbler, and to my joy, she agreed.
I hope you’ll enjoy this interview and find Cecelia’s story as inspiring as I have.
1. Can you tell us a bit about what inspired you to write A Raw Mix of Carelessness and Longing?
This novel was in my mind for about twenty years. When I first knew I wanted to be a writer, this was the first story I wanted to tell. A group of beloved friends I hung out with when I was young was the inspiration. As usually happens we all went our separate ways, but I wanted to pay homage to them. However, they are not the characters in the novel; the things that happen in the novel are fictional. What I wanted to do was capture in the tone and style that time of energy and exuberance, that time when your whole life is ahead of you. What better way to do that than to use my own experience as a pattern. Still, I don’t see the novel as being YA any more so than, for instance, Catcher in the Rye. It’s about a stage in all our lives, about having to leave so much behind. Then it took me about ten years to write it, off and on, going through several drafts and many changes.
2. When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?
I was old, late twenties. I might have had some vague thoughts about it before then. But I got a degree, got married, started raising a family, the usual life stuff kept me busy. Finally, when my babies were napping in the afternoon, I had an hour here and there. That was the start. Looking back, I would say that life itself told me what to do. I didn’t have much of a plan until later.
3. What was the first story you remember writing about?
Two, actually. I blush to think of them now. They were grossly sentimental short stories. I sent them to a CBC radio program that read short stories over the air and they were accepted. I was ecstatic.
4. How much planning do you do before starting a novel?
Not much. I jot down some notes but I don’t follow them much. Typically, for poems, stories, plays, as well as novels, I start with an image that for some reason intrigues me, I don’t always know why. Once I get that image clear in my mind, I’m away. For me, writing comes out of writing. As I write, ideas pop into my head. And I never know the end so I have to keep writing until I find out what happens. You might say curiosity keeps me going.
5. How long does it take for you to write a first draft?
It varies, but I’d give it a year anyway. Sometimes, I’ll go back and start the second draft before finishing the first. That happens if I get confused or don’t yet know the ending. I don’t let myself get bogged down for months because I run into a snag. I just start over, polishing up the beginning.
6. What is the hardest part of the writing process for you and how do you make it easier for yourself?
Sometimes, you know you need a particular scene but you don’t feel inspired to write it. It may be because you don’t know a character very well or you don’t like him/her but you have to make him/her central in a scene. It may be a situation you don’t feel comfortable with or don’t know much about. When that happens you just have to hunker down. Crank up your discipline, make yourself write for 2-4 hours a day, don’t worry if you don’t like what you’re writing. Be nice to yourself and it will come. You may have to do several drafts of this scene to get it the way you want it, but it will work out.
7. A Raw Mix of Carelessness and Longing is filled with great dialogue. How do you make your dialogue better?
Listen, listen, listen. And watch. Everything you need for your writing is there in front of you. Watch and listen and get it down as honestly as you can. Of course, you adjust to your own story, characters and situation. As for dialogue, you have to tidy it up and take out the ‘y’knows’ and ‘likes’ and hums and haws. Stephen King, in his book about writing, stresses honesty. I agree with him one hundred per cent.
8. What was the submission process like for you?
I was relatively successful fairly early and don’t know if that was a good or bad thing
because then came a period of constant rejection. Good advice from a fellow (successful) writer: always have about eight things out in the mail. When you get something back send it right out again (to another journal or publisher of course). This way you always have something to look forward to. You have to remind yourself that the process is more about the needs of a publisher than it is about your writing. At the same time, have an open mind. Have another look at your manuscript. Maybe you could make it better.
9. If you can give one piece of advice to inspiring writers what would it be?
Writing is a lonely slog. Be prepared for that. Find ways of dealing with it – socialize with other writers, get out to literary events, spend time with family and friends, schedule recreation and fun time, try to have a normal life. Don’t let your writing devour you. Destructive geniuses are all very well, but the trick is to survive to write another day.
If I may be permitted two pieces of advice, the other is, write every day, even if it’s just a half hour of free fall. That way you keep the warm-up to a minimum. You don’t lose the thread of what you’re doing. You keep in touch with your writing and yourself.
10. What are you working on next that readers can look forward to?
Travelling Nude, a crime detection novel, just finished. The title refers especially to the female characters and their vulnerability when exposed to a world of greed, corruption and violence. What I’m attempting in this one is to interweave the fast pace, tough attitude, and mean streets atmosphere of the noir style with a focus on character and theme of a literary interpretation.
Cecelia Frey lives and works in Calgary, Alberta. She is the author of three previous novels as well as several volumes of poetry and short fiction. Her work has been published in dozens of literary journals and anthologies as well as being broadcast on CBC Radio and performed on the Women’s Television Network. She has worked as editor, teacher and freelance writer. A Raw Mix of Carelessness and Longing was short listed for the Writers Guild of Alberta Georges Bugnet award for fiction.
Cecelia’s method of working off the frustrations of writing is to go out into the back yard and dig up some good black dirt. In the winter, it’s the kitchen where, like Marie Antoinette, she whips up meringues.
To purchase a copy of Carelessness and Longing, click here.