When I discover powerful writers who are also teachers, I’ll admit that I always get a bit excited and my questions jump out of my mouth rapid fire. Being a talented wordsmith doesn’t always mean an individual can explain the process of writing to another, and that’s why I’m excited to present the following interview with Solveig Eggerz, which is full of bite-sized takeaways for writers across any genre.
Solveig Eggerz, a native of Iceland, is the author of Seal Woman, an award-winning novel informed by the selkie legend. For many years she told folk and fairy tales in schools in Alexandria, Virginia. Using a blend of told and written story, she teaches writing at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland, as well as “Sharing our Stories,” a writing program for individuals emerging from difficult circumstances. She holds a PhD in comparative literature from Catholic University. Her writing has appeared in such places as The Northern Virginia Review, Delmarva Review, and Palo Alto Review.
Q & A with Novelist and Teacher Solveig Eggerz
Kris: Is revision something you look forward to, something you dread, or something in the middle?
Solveig: I enjoy revision because it is often the stage at which I begin to grasp what I am trying to say and how to say it.
Kris: At what point in your writing process do you begin editing?
Solveig: I never do the nit-picky copy editing until I am finished writing.
Kris: What about revision on deeper levels? Do you revise in stages with different focuses?
Solveig: I revise a million times, sometimes focusing on a particular character, at other times on an event that needs to be fleshed out. Sometimes I revise in direct response to what my 8 person writers group recommends.
Kris: Oh, there’s so much power in a trusty writers group or critique partnership. That’s a great note to mention. Now, a sense of place is so important in Seal Woman. How do you revise your writing, ensuring that you properly capture a true sense of the setting in your story?
Solveig: I go back to the place where I first introduced the setting and make sure I have provided enough detail for the reader to be able to envision the place. Advice: ground your character early in a particular, easy to envision place.
Kris: What about your characters? How do you ensure that your characters are truly alive?
Solveig: I keep asking them this question: given who you are (i.e., considering all your character traits), how are you most likely to respond to this particular situation?
Kris: It’s fascinating to me that you phrase this as a question to your character rather than a question to yourself. Characters can absolutely lead the way so often if we only let them. And speaking of what drives your story, when you’re weaving folklore into your own tale, what are you thinking about as you revise your telling of these old stories?
Solveig: What I am thinking about is–does this fairy tale really have any relationship to the story I am writing? If it does, what part of it? If I choose the sameness between my story and the old tale carefully, I do not have to revise the fairy tale.
Kris: What is your favorite editing tool or trick?
Solveig: Reading aloud. Wherever I stumble, I know I can discard something.
Kris: When you want to make sure every sentence shines, what do you look for?
Solveig: Extra verbiage, the use of “very.” Passive voice is usually a no, no. I try to replace all kinds of helping verbs and wimp verbs with verbs that actually show the action. For example, change “he drew a conclusion” to “he concluded”; “he engaged in cutting his steak” to “he cut his steak.”
Kris: When do you know that your book is actually “done”?
Solveig: When I have resolved what I set out to resolve.
Kris: What is something about revision that you think more writers should know?
Solveig: That revision is where the real writing takes place. The first draft is just a prologue to writing.
We talk of pre-writing, but this idea of the first draft of a book being merely a prologue to the writing process is both true and intimidating beyond belief. If we can hold that idea in our minds, though, it alleviates so much of the pressure of that initial storytelling. The revision can come later, the fine-tuning, the cajoling of words into art, the tightening of lines like a rope to tug at a reader’s emotions, and everything else we do to bring out the best in a story.
Thank you so much, Solveig Eggerz, for joining me for this interview, and happy writing, everyone!
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