Interview with Author Charlotte Rains Dixon
Charlotte Rains Dixon is a writer and writing teacher. She has published numerous articles and stories as well as three non-fiction books. Charlotte received her MFA in creative writing from Spalding University and teaches in the Loft certificate-writing program at Middle Tennessee State University. She lives in Portland, Oregon.
Her humorous novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, was published byVagabondage Press in February 2013, and is a hilarious and clever mash of chicklit, romance, contemporary women's fiction.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I spent hours as a child writing poetry and illustrating it with crayon pictures. From an early age, I wanted to be either a writer, or a fashion designer. As a young adult, I dabbled in fashion, designing and selling children's clothing, but the writing won out, simply because I find it more compelling than anything I've ever done. One of the best things about being a writer is that there's always something else to learn about it—mastery (if there is such a thing) is a lifelong pursuit.
Why do you write?
I write because I can't not write. Truly, if I'm not writing I get cranky and ill at ease. The world seems a bit off kilter and I'm not quite sure of my place in it. Conversely, when I'm writing regularly, I'm in love with the world and everything in it.
What was your inspiration for “Emma Jean”?
I had the idea to explore what it might be like to get pregnant at an age far past when most women are having babies. And then Emma Jean started talking to me and I couldn't get her to shut up. Her voice came out strong and unique from the moment I started writing and she told me a lot about herself along the way.
How, if at all, is Emma Jean like you?
Well, we both struggle with our weight. We both tend to fall in love with places and people instantly (conversely, we both easily fall in hate as well). And we both have a passion for quirky subjects that we want to learn everything about with a book-buying habit to match. Beyond that, Emma Jean is much gutsier than I am. She is the proverbial character who always has the perfect thing to say in the moment while I think of it a day later. Emma Jean lives her passions large and out loud and me? Not so much.
What do you think of having children?
Having children has been the defining event in my life. I can't imagine my life without them. I'm one of those women who have always known she would have children, and I had names picked out for my two future daughters when I was in college. (Alas, I ended up having a daughter and a son so the names had to be revised.) I had to stretch a little to imagine a character who didn't want children, but learning the secrets to Emma Jean's backstory and true motivations helped. Also, I have many good friends who are childless—it often seems to go with the territory of being creative—and so I've been able to see the issue through their eyes.
Do you consider yourself a wine coinsurer?
I am most decidedly not a wine expert. I drink hearty red wine exclusively, whether it's a hot summer day or I'm having fish or meat. I keep telling myself I need to take a class in wine appreciation so I can figure out the correct pairings and all that. And then I shrug and go back to my red wine.
What is your favorite wine?
Cabernet. I'm especially fond of the Cabs from the Walla Walla region, one of the places Emma Jean visits in the book. (This will probably earn me a few rotten tomatoes from fellow Oregonians, since we are known particularly for our Pinot Noirs.)
Have you ever experienced a scandal like your character? If so, what was it about and how did you deal with it?
Oh, thank the Lord, no! Just the thought of it makes me tremble.
How would you describe Emma Jean’s actions and motivations?
Emma Jean believes strongly in the value of creativity and the art of story and because of this, she fancies herself as presenting a unique, authentic self to the world. But in truth, the persona she's invented is anything but her true self. Much of the novel details the process of her stripping away her invented self to uncover the real jewel that lay beneath. She also has a strong, if at times misguided, drive to learn about spirituality after an epiphany she has in one of the novel's opening scenes.
Is being a writer anything like you imagined it would be?
It's better. There's just something about creating stories from thin air and putting them on the page that is magical. I always say I have the best job in the world, and it's true, I do.
What do you think makes a good story?
As far as I'm concerned, characters make a good story. If you don't have characters with strongly defined desires, you don't have a story. I tell my students this so often they don't want to hear it any longer, but I believe it's true—all great stories start with character.
What's your favorite genre to read?
I have fairly eclectic reading tastes. I read a lot of non-fiction and I'm a sucker for personal development and spiritual titles. As for fiction, I'd love to report that I'm fond of the classics and literary fiction, but alas, such is not the case. I adore women's fiction, and that's what I read most often.
Who is your favorite author?
Can I have several? I love the early novels of Barbara Kingsolver and for classic, readable women's fiction, I enjoy Jennifer Weiner and Joann Mapson.
What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?
I love Animal Dreams, an early novel by Barbara Kingsolver. I admire the sense of place and the characters in that novel. A sense of place is important to me as a writer and because I'm a child of the west, I'm drawn to novelists that utilize setting strongly in their stories. Willa Cather comes to mind, as do the mystery novels of James Lee Burke. I had the great good fortune to study with Sena Jeter Naslund and Melissa Pritchard, and it is safe to say their work has had a big influence on me.
What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
Crossing to Safety, by the late, great and highly underrated Wallace Stegner. He's brilliant and the first time I read this book I was blown away—in many ways it told a similar story to part of my own life. What also comes to mind are non-fiction titles such as The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, and anything by Marianne Williamson and Geneen Roth.
Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
Everywhere. I'm a web surfer and a huge blog reader—there's some pretty inspiring blogs out there, both on writing and creativity. I'm a sometime knitter and stitcher (wish I did more of it) so I get inspired by craft blogs. I started my writing career by writing about art, so visual imagery inspires me a lot, too.
What does your family think of your writing?
They've been fans and supporters from the outset. I'm blessed that way. Though they might cringe a bit when they actually read some of the scenes in Emma Jean.
What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
Since I teach and coach writing, much of my day is spent with those activities. But here's something I wish more would-be writers knew: you can get a lot of writing done in a relatively short amount of time if you're focused. I wrote the first draft of Emma Jean in a few months, getting up early and writing first thing in the morning for an hour or so. That's a schedule I follow to this day, getting to the page immediately when I rise. I'm a strong believer in working on the thing most dear to you first thing, if at all possible.
Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
Let's see, I always light a candle when I'm writing in my journal. But not when I'm writing fiction. And I'm superstitious about keeping my desk too clean. Or maybe just lazy. Beyond that, no. In truth, I've learned that every project has its own life and its own quirks and its own requirements. The novel I'm working on now has been written largely by hand, in a spiral notebook while sitting in a comfy chair. This is hell on keeping track of plot, but it is what the project demands. Believe me, I've resisted and tried to go directly to the computer, but over and over again, the work sends me back to writing by hand. So mostly I've learned to just go with the flow.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Balancing my desire to write fiction all the time with the demands of making a living.
What are your current projects?
I'm about two-thirds of the way through a story about a woman of privilege who loses everything—house, marriage, money, business. And I'm planning to resuscitate the novel I wrote while earning my MFA, either starting the submission process again or publishing it myself, though it needs some work first. I'm an inveterate blogger, and I update my blog (on writing, creativity and spirituality) two or three times a week. I'm the Portland correspondent for a Nashville based literary journal called 2nd and Church.
What are you planning for future projects?
I've got an idea for a mystery series set in a unique location that I'm quite excited about.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Yes, I do. Write and read. Write as much and as often as you can and don't worry about quality at first. Just write. Write in a journal, write short stories, play around with a novel or a memoir, start a blog, just put words on the page. The more you write, the easier it gets. And read! I once had a client, who after we worked together for a year on a book, confessed that she never read. I was shocked. How can you hope to be a writer if you don't read? Why would you even want to try? Reading and paying attention to how other authors do it is a great way to educate yourself to become a writer.
Where else can we find your work?
You'll find tons of articles—five years worth—on my blog, www.charlotterainsdixon.com. Also check out www.2ndandchurch.com. I've written for magazines such as Vogue Knitting, Interweave Knits and the online publications Pology.com and Santa Fe Writer's Project.
Emma Jean's Bad Behavior is available in paperback from Powell's, B&N, and Amazon, as well as for Kindle and Nook for eReaders.
Best-selling novelist Emma Jean Sullivan longed for a baby for years, but after she and her husband Peter were unable to conceive, she staunchly vowed to become the standard bearer for all childless couples.
And she succeeds spectacularly.
At age 48 (43 according to her blog, Life, Full Tilt) Emma Jean enjoys a rabid anti-baby fan base and her novels have sold millions. But now she confronts a dilemma larger than any that her heroines have faced: she’s pregnant. And the baby’s father is not her husband.
Through no fault of her own (he was just so damned adorable), Emma Jean had begun a passionate affair with Riley, a fetching airplane mechanic she met at a book signing in L.A.
Terrified of losing both her fan base and her identity, she struggles to maintain her sham brand and her marriage. But Peter is busy embezzling Emma Jean’s money and completely uninterested in fatherhood, and Riley has his hands full with problems of his own. Not only that, her latest novel is a miserable failure, and a Vanity Fair reporter, who plans to out Emma Jean’s pregnancy to her fans, is stalking her.
What’s a suddenly broke, failing, middle-aged, pregnant novelist to do?
Why, flee to a glamorous resort town, of course.
There, Emma Jean plots her next move.