September 14th, 2012

With this post, we inaugurate our new series, the Writer’s Questionnaire!  We culled questions from a wide variety of sources, including our own heads.  First up (full disclosure):  one of our very own, Ms. Lizzie K. Foley, who (sadly) no longer lives close enough to commune with us on Fridays, but who shall always be a member of the group in our hearts.

Lizzie  has just had her successful debut in publishing with her children’s book, Remarkable.   Remarkable tells the story of Jane (Doe, of course), who believes herself to be the sparrow among swans in the town of Remarkable where everyone is a prodigy of something.  Pirates and natural-born but gifted (of course) evil twins create havoc, which only plain, ordinary Jane can resolve.  One of the things I love about the book is how Lizzie juggles crazy plot lines and yet it all makes sense — or maybe it’s just such great, funny writing that I would go along with anything she wrote.  Read it, if you haven’t yet!


On to the questions:

Oliver Stone once said the secret to completing a script was “ass-meets-chair.” How do you get your um, b-t-m, in a chair?

I think Oliver Stone is grossly oversimplifying here.  I’m not saying it’s not important to sit down and write – because it is, obviously, and books can’t get finished without a lot of butt-meets-chair.  But that’s not all there is to it.

First of all, no matter how determined I am to write, sometimes sitting down to work isn’t in the cards.  Like a lot of writers, I have a family.  I have responsibilities and obligations that are sometimes more pressing than writing.  And on those days—when I have to run around doing errands and chores that keeps life functioning—I’ve had to learn to keep the story in my head.  Even if you aren’t sitting, you can be mulling.

And we all know that the most brilliant ideas for a story almost invariably happen when we don’t have anything to write with, like when we are in the shower, or when we are half-asleep, or when we are driving.  I think sometimes our minds need time away from the pressure of actually putting words down on a page. So, not sitting can be as important as sitting.

Then there is the fact that some days sitting at the desk trying to write is about as productive and enjoyable as hitting myself with a hammer.  And when I am having one of these days, it’s important to know when to put the hammer down, get up out of the chair and go do something else.  Otherwise, writing turns into something that I hate.  And it is hard to write well when I am hating writing.

 Is there a food you write by?

Not so much food as drink.  I love black tea – very strong black tea – with milk.  And coca-cola.  I love having coke when I write.  I probably love this too much (I drink a lot of coke).

 Do you have a favorite writing spot?

Yes.  Home.  I am a total homebody when it comes to writing.  I love to be able to write, then get up and do the laundry or the dishes while I think about a scene.  I love having my dogs for company because it keeps writing from being lonely.  And although the idea of working at a coffee shop seems really appealing to me, I’m always much too distracted by the other people to get much done.

 People say there are two kinds of writers, those who outline and those who wing it.  What’s your process?

I try to outline.  I really do.  But as soon as I start writing, the story usually veers off into a different direction and renders my outline useless.  So basically I’m always winging it.

 The best thing you can do for any writing project is…

Remember what excited you about the idea, so you can recapture the enthusiasm when you start feeling burned out about your work.

And give your characters the chance to surprise you.  Don’t get so hung up on your early vision of what they are like and what they have to accomplish in the story that you can’t allow them to be more interesting if you’re hit with inspiration

 What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I would love to be a librarian.  Seriously.   Librarians are awesome.  They know everything.  And if they don’t know something, they know how to find out about it.  And the fact that librarians are being cut from schools and municipalities is just insanely wrong.

 What is your favorite word? (Yes, this is stolen from James Lipton, who adapted it from Bernard Pivot, who started with Proust’s Questionnaire) 

Aluminum—but when it is pronounced in the British way al-U-minium. Oh, and “diegesis,’ which is a great, under-utilized word that refers to the world that a story creates for the characters.

What is your least favorite word? (Ditto, see above)

Compliment/Complement.  I am incapable of remembering which word means “goes with” and which one means “to praise”.

 My favorite thrill is….

I love watching someone get really good news.  It chokes me up every time.

 What’s your favorite shower song?

My shower songs are usually a compilation of whatever song is on the radio too much and is stuck in my head.  But I can never remember the actual lyrics, and so I mostly make up my own the lyrics.  And my lyrics are always deeply stupid and enjoyable only to me (or at least that’s what people who hear me sing tell me).

I wish I understood why…

It is not possible to summon, at will, that beautiful voice in my head that does the best writing.  You know the one – the one that write those beautiful paragraphs that never need changing.  The one, which sadly for me, only shows up about once every other year…

I need to learn how to…

Text.  Seriously.  How great would it be to be able to jot down notes for a story on my phone.  Or, I don’t know, successfully send a text message.  But I am the s.l.o.w.e.s.t texter in the world.  I could mail a message via the post office to someone faster than I can send a text.  It’s pitiful.

I’m often puzzled by…

So many things.  Seriously, you don’t even have time or space on this blog…

But the one thing I’ve been feeling deeply puzzled about lately is the relationship between reading and writing.  I love to read—absolutely love it, but I’ve noticed that I have a very difficult time reading fiction when I’m deep into writing one of my own stories.  I have a complete inability to stay focused no matter how interested I am in the book.  I would love to hear an explanation of why this happens…or better yet, I’d love a cure.


Thanks, Lizzie, for the perfect inauguration of our writer’s questionnaire!  Can’t wait for your next book…

Next up:  Jill Koenigsberg.  If you want to suggest a writer for us to torture with the questionnaire, please do so via the comments or you can email us.


2 Responses to “Lizzie K. Foley: The Writer’s Questionnaire”

  1. A great inauguration! Deb, you capture Remarkable perfectly, and Lizzie, you answered the questions so thoughtfully. I also have trouble focusing on fiction while deep into writing. The words blur and I go off into my own ‘diegesis’!

  2. Melanie Faithful says:

    I’ve recently found myself here in Santa Fe with more time on my hands than I’m used to. But instead of writing I’m doing everything but. Then I recently came across this article. Now I’m doubting my own passion to write…. Sigh.