I was born and raised near Boston and got a journalism degree from Boston University in 1990. A couple of years later I landed a job as an editorial assistant at the Boston Phoenix, and as much as I liked working there, I decided I needed a change of both scene and direction. I’d read in a capsule biography of the writer Mavis Gallant that she gave up her job at a newspaper “to devote herself to fiction,” and I liked that phrase so much that I imitated it. I moved from Boston to San Francisco in 1993 and have been working on my fiction ever since.
What was your first book and how long did it take to get it published?
The Love Thing” is my first and only published novel so far. I started it in the year 2000 and worked on it off and on over the ensuing years until at last I worked up the courage to start posting it in weekly installments on a fiction-writing website, where the reactions were so positive that I decided to self-publish it.
When did you start writing Literature & Fiction, Gay & Lesbian? What about this genre interested you the most?
When I started writing “The Love Thing,” it didn’t occur to me that I was writing in any particular genre. I wrote the story I wanted to write and only afterwards figured out who might be interested in reading it.
Do you write full time?
My day job prevents me from writing forty hours a week, but that’s not a bad thing, and not just because the job pays the bills. Over the years I’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of great people who have given me a healthy perspective, a reminder that there’s more to life than finishing a chapter or hearing back from an agent or an editor. That said, I get up at five o’clock in the morning to write before getting ready for work. If I don’t, I consider it a wasted day. So it’s a symbiotic relationship—my writing helps put the day job into perspective, and the day job puts the writing into perspective. It works.
Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?
I think I knew I was a writer even before I knew I was gay. That’s how far back it goes.
On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
When I don’t procrastinate, you mean? Well, let’s see: after I’ve eaten a banana and read one or two articles in the newspaper, I sit in front of the computer at around 5:30 a.m. and open my latest chapter. If I’m lucky I’ve already started it—a blank screen is my worst enemy—and I try to pick up where I left off. (I usually do a little line-editing to get my brain warmed up.) ON blank-screen days I might free write by hand in a notebook, trying to figure out what I’d like to write about. Eventually something comes. I consider 300 words an average day, 500 words a good day, 1,000 words truly exceptional. I used to check my e-mail before starting to write, but I’m weaning myself off that habit—too many precious minutes wasted.
When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?
I try to take advantage of the virtues that both approaches have to offer. Planning in advance helps me stave off writer’s block, since I find it easier to write if I know what I want to write about. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to plan every last thing in advance, because I love surprising myself when I write. And I’ve found no better way to surprise myself, no better way to come up with a fun detail or an interesting plot twist, than when I’m letting the pen rush across the page, without really thinking about what I want to say. So I do both.
What kind of research do you do before and during a new book?
At a writing seminar I attended last year, a moderator warned against what she called “research rapture”: that is, spending hours doing research on your novel instead of spending hours actually writing your novel. I fell into this trap writing “The Love Thing” on more than one occasion. I’m a little embarrassed to admit the amount of time I spent researching the ancient Chinese system of feng shui—even bought a book on the subject—and ended up using my newfound knowledge for a single piece of dialogue I probably could have come up without wasting all that time. Of course that’s not to say I think research is useless—for example, I learned that people who follow the principles of feng shui often keep an aquarium near the front door, which gave me the idea of having an aquarium in “The Love Thing.” Nowadays I usually start researching only after I’ve written a scene; that way, I know what kinds of details I should be looking for before I research, in order to enrich the scene.
How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? How do you approach development of your characters? Where do you draw the line?
I like to think I lend a little of myself, both good and bad, in all the characters I create. I might borrow an actual physical trait for a certain character, or put a line of dialogue that I’ve actually heard into a character’s mouth, but I never consciously try to model a character after someone I know. But that’s just to start—eventually, after several drafts, the character becomes his or her own person, starts doing and saying things exclusive to that character. Getting there was one of my primary pleasures of writing—and rewriting—“The Love Thing.”
How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write straight through, or do you revise as you go along?
As I said earlier, I revise as I go along as a way to warm up my brain before writing new material. From there I try to write straight through, but more than once, while writing “The Love Thing,” I realized I’d gotten seriously off track and that I needed to start over again. I usually don’t let other people read my work until I honestly think I can’t make it any better—even though I know that my readers will provide feedback that will involve more changes.
Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it, and what measures do you take to get past it?
Sometimes it feels as if my entire life is a struggle against writer’s block. I never used to call it writer’s block, though—the urge to read and respond e-mail, check on my sales, pay my bills, use the bathroom, check on the cat, find anything to do besides write. After all, how could I call myself a writer if all I did was talk about writing, instead of sitting down and writing?
But what I’ve learned is that just as there are myriad ways to avoid writing, there are myriad ways to keep on writing. If I’m sick of writing in front of the computer, I might take a notebook to the local coffee shop and write there. Or write in front of the television. Or with music playing. Or I might try a fiction-writing exercise involving my characters, or I might skip ahead (or behind) to a scene I feel like writing (or rewriting). Most of all I’ve grown to appreciate that having writer’s block is part of my writing process. Sometimes I’ve got to put the pen down and still my brain so that I can figure out what I want to say, and how I want to say it. That’s why I like to keep pen and paper wherever I go, in case the idea pops into my head at some odd time.
When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?
All I want is for someone to enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Does the title of a book you’re writing come to you as you’re writing it, or does it come before you even begin the first sentence?
For years I didn’t have a title for my book. The title didn’t come until one of the characters makes a reference to “the love thing” towards the end of the book. As soon as I wrote that line of dialogue, I knew what the title would be.
How would you describe your sense of humor? Who and what makes you laugh?
I like all types of humor so long as it’s genial—I can take only so much of black humor. The hardest I’ve laughed in recent memory was watching “Borat” in the theater. I love Stephen Colbert, too. How I would love to tell a joke with a straight face.
What are you working on now?
A new novel, another gay love triangle set in San Francisco. I hesitate to call it a “gay novel” because I write in the hope that anyone, straight or gay, will enjoy it. I hope to have it out by late 2011 or early 2012.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve received with respect to the art of writing? How did you implement it into your work?
I’ve gotten lots of good advice over the years. One of my favorites is from a teacher of mine, Pamela Painter, who collaborated with Anne Bernays on a book of fiction-writing exercises entitled “What If?” And indeed, whenever I get stuck in a story, I ask myself “what if?” What if this character isn’t the nice guy I think he is? What if that character caves in and sleeps with that character even if he knows it’ll only be trouble? Those are two very liberating words—what if.
When it comes to promotion, what lengths have you gone to in order to increase reader-awareness of your work?
At around the time the book came out I did the things that it seems all new writers must do in order to sell their books on line: set up a Facebook page, set up a website, recorded a book trailer to place on YouTube. I only recently set up a profile on Goodreads—a step I should have taken months ago.
What pros and cons surround the e-publishing industry, and how do you envision the future of e-publishing?
With e-readers proliferating and the cost of print books rising, e-publishing is, I think, definitely here to stay. Many people who bought my book via Kindle probably wouldn’t have bought it as a paperback. I honestly don’t see any cons.
What kind of books do you like to read?
I enjoy reading classic literature, the occasional mystery and fantasy novel, biographies, history. So long as it’s engaging and well-written I can pretty much hang with anything.
If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
English teacher. Maybe a history teacher. I love history.
I recently read your novel The Love Thing. Where did you get the idea for that story?
I started it with the vague idea that I’d write a story loosely based on Jane Austen’s “Pride & Prejudice”, since anything Austen seems to have a better chance of getting published. From that base I kept adding ideas, letting one thing lead to another and not worrying if what I came up with deviated from the original.When it comes to the covers of your books, what do you like or dislike about them?
The designers at BookSurge, which published my novel, asked me to fill out a questionnaire in which I had to (1) describe the book cover that I envisioned, and (2) describe the book and the book’s themes. From this second answer the designers would design an alternate cover from the one I described. I had a gut feeling the designers would come up with something that would better capture the feel of my book, and sure enough, I was right.
Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing?
Cooking, traveling, yoga, movies, crossword and KenKen puzzles.
Any special projects coming out soon we should watch for?
Not this year, I’m afraid.New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience.
Can you please tell us where we can find you and your books on the Internet?
Website is http://www.chrisdelyani.com/. Books are available in print and on Kindle on Amazon.