This week we interviewed Z Egloff about her novels: Verge and Leap. Her debut novel, Verge, was awarded the Bywater Prize for Fiction in May of 2008. Her newest novel, Leap. will be published March 15th by Bywater Books.
What makes a good story?
Ultimately, I can only speak for what works for me as a reader. Bottom line, I like a story that draws me in. If I learn something in the process – either about myself or the world in general – that’s a bonus.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
My three big passions in life are writing, music and speaking. I do a fair amount of all three. I play piano with a choir and also with my wife, Melissa, who is a singer/songwriter. I give regular talks about spiritual practice at the Center for Spiritual Living in Santa Rosa. My three passions feed each other, keeping everything interesting.
What inspired you to start writing?
I was first inspired to write by television! The TV show “ER” had a storyline with a couple of lesbian characters back in 2000. I was drawn into the fanfic universe online, and soon progressed to original fiction.
Claire Minn is a loveable but frustrating character to read about; what was she like to write?
It’s funny, because I know a lot of people have been frustrated by Claire, but I never was. Perhaps it’s like an actor who agrees to play a less-than-perfect character. She just led me into her world and I recorded what happened. In spite of her numerous flaws, I always had great affection for Claire, which helped me to stick with her and her story.
Were you worried about a religious backlash from Catholic groups because Sister Hilary is a lesbian?
I was a little worried about backlash. But more than that, I was worried about being true to the character of a modern-day woman religious. I did lots of research on the topic, including interviewing former nuns who had later come out as lesbian.
Many characters in Verge and Leap are recovering from various types of addictions or destructive behaviors. Are these situations and characters based off of real people and events?
The characters in my stories are only vaguely based on real people. In general, they are an amalgamation of people I’ve known and places I’ve been in my own life. I know that some writers take people in their lives and turn them into fiction, but that’s not the case for me. It’s a much more indirect process.
What sort of research about filmmaking did you have to do to write Verge?
I was a film minor in college, so I had that as a base. I did lots of reading about film and video for Verge, as things had changed a lot since I was in college. I also talked with people who knew a lot about video in order to understand some of the mechanics. I’m still in love with film and movies, so that was one reason it was easy to research and write about the topic.
What are your favorite films?
Oh, there are so many. Two very important films for me are “Cousin Cousine” and Truffaut’s “Small Change.” I saw these two movies as a teenager during a period when I had been depressed for months. The combination of these two films brought me out of my depression. They’re both French, which is interesting, because my depression had been brought about by studying French existentialists. I guess I needed a different perspective.
Was writing and publishing your second novel, Leap, easier than writing and publishing Verge?
Leap was the first novel I wrote, so it was actually harder to write than Verge. After finishing an early draft of Leap, I put it aside. Verge was the first book I sent out to agents and publishers. When Bywater picked up Verge, I sent them Leap and they decided to publish it as well. When I was writing Leap, I was still on a huge learning curve. It went through countless drafts, with long periods between some of them. There were several points along the way when I just figured that Leap would stay on the shelf. I was wrong.
Leap explores falling in and out of love. Are any of these experiences based on your life?
Like the previous question, the experiences of my characters only hint at things I’ve experienced. The commonality is the emotions evoked by what happens. I’ve had my heart broken, and it happened when I was young. More than once. So in that sense, there’s a link there.
What advice do you wish you could give Rowan as she starts to understand her sexuality?
I would tell her that time is amazing. Things that are so hard in one period of your life can completely turn around and become easy. Challenges can become strengths. And understanding and celebrating your sexuality is one of those strengths.
Finding a place within your family and your community are strong themes in your books. Would you like to expand on those themes?
Honestly, I’m not sure. Each book seems to emerge on its own, without me deliberately deciding what it’s going to be about. I suspect that the themes of family and community will always be there somewhere, though.
Which character from your novels would you like to go to dinner with and why?
Great question! Probably Claire. She’s such a hot mess, I’d love to see what she’s like in person.
Tell us about your upcoming projects.
I’ve got several projects in the works. There’s a novel about a woman whose love interest disappears into another dimension. And then there’s a book about a woman who falls in love with her spiritual teacher. And then another one that’s just starting to form.
Where can we buy your books?
Books are available through Bywater’s website at http://www.bywaterbooks.com/ Copies are also available through amazon.com and many bookstores. If your bookstore doesn’t have it, they can order a copy through Bywater.