Erika Dreifus is the author of the short story collection, Quiet Americans (Last Light Studio).
1. What are you reading at the moment?
First, thank you very much for welcoming me to The First Line, Lori!
Now, to your question: I’m a regular participant in the Jewish Book Council’s Twitter Book Club (http://jewishbookcouncil.org/news.php?item.49), and I’m just about to begin reading the club’s current selection, a novel by Elizabeth Rosner titled BLUE NUDE.
2. What made you decide to be a writer?
I’m not certain that I ever “decided” to be a writer. I’m one of those people who began writing poems and stories as a child, kept a diary at an early age (and cried when my nosy little sister read it), and so on. It’s hard to remember a time when writing wasn’t a conscious part of my life.
3. If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be?
This is a tough one. I am a writer, but I am a writer who holds another, full-time, non-teaching, bills-paying job. Is it OK if I say that in an ideal world, I could focus on writing full-time? Occasionally, I wonder what might have happened if I had pursued a career in journalism or publishing. Sometimes, I think I might have been a good literary agent, too. Again, it is hard to imagine myself doing something completely disconnected from words and books. (Stunt double, for instance, has never been an option.)
4. Describe your work habits. When do you write? Where?
I am very lucky to have “a room of my own” that is entirely dedicated to books and writing. That said, as I mentioned, I have a full-time job apart from my writing. So I start each morning with a cup of coffee (or two) and time at my home computer in that treasured room before I head out to my job. Evenings and weekends find me spending a lot of time at the home computer, too. Sometimes, I’m able to cram in some writing over my lunch hour as well.
5. What book do you think every writer should read?
Writing is so individualized that I’m not entirely comfortable being prescriptive on this. For me, returning regularly to a favorite book from childhood helps remind me about an essential aspect to the whole enterprise: engaging and inspiring readers. So I’d say that every writer should read—or reread—an old favorite from time to time.
6. What inspires you?
So much of what I write—and certainly the inspiration behind much of my new story collection, QUIET AMERICANS is connected to memory, family, or history (or combinations thereof). At times, I’ve also found that outrage can provide some inspiration. For instance, I once wrote a short story inspired by a friend’s experiences trying to advocate for her food-allergic child and the petty behaviors that she encountered along the way. I became furious about everything that my friend was going through, and that helped fuel the work.
7. Has having a book published affected your writing in any way?
It has been wonderfully affirming and added a dose of confidence.
8. What was the best advice you received as a writer?
Great question! I think that one piece of advice I appreciated right from the moment I heard it came from one of my MFA thesis readers. The thesis was a story collection, a very early iteration of what became QUIET AMERICANS. This reader assured me that I shouldn’t worry about another set of comments I had received that had suggested the manuscript contained “too much Holocaust” in it. “That’s what this book is about,” the reader said, encouraging me to trust in and respect the work’s essential nature.
9. What advice do you give other writers?
As I suggested earlier, I’m so mindful of individual variation and exceptions to every rule that I try to avoid being overly prescriptive. Over time, it has become so clear to me that each writer has unique interests, goals, strengths, and, of course, areas where improvement is particularly needed. So if I have advice for writers, it’s this: Do whatever works for YOU. If writing longhand works better than typing at a computer, then write longhand. If writing every morning from 4-7 a.m. works for you, great (I’m envious!). If you need a prompt or exercise to get a piece started, help yourself! There is no single, magic formula or approach.
On a similar note, I try to supply other writers—primarily writers of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction—with an array of tools and resources, hoping that at some point, something that I’m offering will prove to be useful to each writer. That’s part of the purpose behind my free newsletter, THE PRACTICING WRITER. (I know that you are quite familiar with the newsletter, Lori, but others can learn more about it and read the latest issue online at my website [www.erikadreifus.com].)
10. If you could have dinner with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?
As it happens, I recently had an opportunity to have dinner with Elie Wiesel, the author of NIGHT and so many other books.(Admittedly, hundreds of other people were present, but that’s a detail!) In complete seriousness: It was a benefit dinner, and Professor Wiesel was one of the event’s honorees. But I didn’t need to share a table or even speak with him. Just catching a glimpse of him from a few tables away, and listening as he addressed the room (everyone was spellbound, I can assure you), was profoundly moving and memorable.
11. Do you have any other creative talents? Do you paint? Play a musical instrument?
Oh, how I wish I had other creative talents! Not that I haven’t tried to develop them. But it has been years since I’ve played the piano, and, truth be told, my art teachers at school and summer camp always “intervened” to help make my paintings or ceramics projects gift-worthy. I did once manage to create a set of bookends in woodshop all by myself. Does that count?
12. What are you working on now?
In addition to all of the activities surrounding the release of QUIET AMERICANS, my usual blogging, and the monthly newsletter, I’m working on a few freelance projects and my still-nascent poetry practice.
Thanks so much for featuring QUIET AMERICANS and me here on The First Line, Lori, and best wishes to all of your readers.
Thank you, Erika!