Garth Stein rose to fame with The Art of Racing in the Rain, a moving, humorous work which has been translated into twenty three languages. Garth graduated from Columbia University with an MFA in film. After nearly a decade of creating award-winning documentaries, Garth turned to writing books. His other works include How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets, Raven Stole the Moon and Brother Jones. Garth resides in Seattle.
Some authors believe they gain their voice when they write their first book, whether it's published or not. How did you get your distinctive voice?
I don't think voice is like an on or off switch. Voice is something that evolves and develops. I believe more in spectrums, that the voice grows and changes from book to book as the writer grows. The thing that drives a writer should be something in their heart and from there comes the voice.
You've said that you could teach anyone the craft of writing such as point of view, pacing, arc, character development, and so forth; but you could not teach the art of writing. Tell me about the art of writing.
Take an athlete like Michael Jordan. You could say he often got lucky. He obviously has a gift, in addition to working hard. One might say that "hard work makes lucky." As one struggles, as one works diligently, as one writes from the heart, one can find their inspiration. In that sense, through their inspiration, they can develop their artistic self.
You produced films, then switched to writing books. At what point did you quit your day job?
I have always freelanced. After my nine years of documentary film making, I moved into writing, but I never actually had a "day job."
I notice that many male writers, when asked their favorite author, name other men. Is there a difference between male and female authors? Could, for example, a woman write and sell a philosophical book like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?
Most of us grew up studying in depth white, male authors. Today, though, women authors can be found on The New York Times best seller lists and the list of 100 Notable Books of 2010. So, women are being taken seriously. But, it's difficult. When a woman writes a work of fiction, publishers and bookstores are quick to categorize it as "women's fiction." Once a woman is pigeon-holed into a category, it's hard to escape. There are many strong, thoughtful women writers, who write the serious or tragic-comic, who are frustrated because the thoughtfulness of their work seems to be undercut or unappreciated.
You've said in past interviews that acting, and specifically improvisation, is helpful for writers. Do you have any other tips for aspiring writers?
Acting helps writers understand a characters's motivation within a complex context. Writers have an obligation to the character they've set in motion, to show the dramatic truth that is greater than themselves as individuals. The reason acting is helpful is it helps writers see that their characters and stories are part of a larger process.
My other tips for writers are practice and patience. It's important to be disciplined - to let the story gel, steep, and germinate in a maturing process. Your writing and characters give answers to the story, but not right away. Therefore, patience is important.
Thank you, Garth.
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