Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Q&A with Author Margot Berwin

Margot Berwin's recent release "Scent of Darkness" is a delicious young-adult-esque novel with exactly the gothy undertones I love (reference: "The Elementals" by Francesca Lia Block). 

Two sentence summary: A young woman named Evangeline is given a scent (from her departed aromata grandmother) that makes her completely irresistible to other human beings. Set in both upstate New York and New Orleans' French Quarter, the story is a magically surreal look at the motivations behind desire, and the extreme means people will go to for something they covet.

Thank you so much to TLC Book Tours for the chance to chat with Margot! And now, I give you, the author herself...

First I want to give a Big thanks to Karen for having me on her blog!

My name is Margot Berwin and "Scent of Darkness" is my second novel. At the top level it's about perfume, and loving two men at the same time. But underneath it's also about portrait painting and shaving.

KB: The dual cities in which "Scent of Darkness" is set are such a vibrant, engaging part of the book. What is your relationship to these places? What informed your vivid writing?

MB: I'm a New York City girl who's always dreamed of a country house and that may be why I set the first few chapters in upstate New York. That way I could live up there...if only in my mind.
The second half of the book takes place in New Orleans-and that happened purely by accident. I was at work, writing websites for an ad agency, bitching about how I couldn't find a quiet place to write in the city, when a co-worker and friend, offered me his apartment in the French Quarter. He was swamped with work and couldn't get out of NYC. He handed me the keys and just like that I was living in New Orleans--I'd never been there before and I fell completely and forever in love!

I was so influenced by the city, the music, the food and especially the twin scents of jasmine and magnolia that I immediately got one of my characters into medical school at Tulane and placed the whole second half of the book in the French Quarter.

I can't wait to go back down there on my book tour and read in the beautiful Garden District Book Shop!

KB: How do genre classifications affect your work? Are you cognizant when writing of classifications like "young adult" and does this change your intentions? Or do these things only come into play after the novel is complete?

MB: This is a very interesting question. I don't write with a genre in mind. I write what I write. But with this book I was aware that since my protagonist is 18 years old that it might fall into the YA category or maybe New Adult fiction, which is a new and quickly growing category. These thoughts were in the back of my mind but they did not influence the writing. I just have to do what I do and let the chips fall, genre wise.

KB: I recently read Francesca Lia Block's "The Elementals," which I also very much enjoyed. She has a similar balance of gothic darkness with rich, realistic plot. Has work like hers, or others, inspired you? If so, who would you cite as an influence in these directions? Who are you currently reading? What books would you recommend to your readers?

MB: I haven't read The Elementals but now I'm looking forward to it!! Thanks! For this book I think my major influence was the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. In my mind he is one of the greatest living writers. He works with magical realism that is blended with a realistic storyline. He's a master of that. Some books that he's written are: The Windup Bird Chronicle, A Wild Sheep Chase, Kafka on the Shore.

KB: What is your writing process like? I'd love to hear about this more in the over-arching, long-term sense and in the immediate sense (as in, do you write in public? alone? do you listen to music? what is revising like?)

MB: My process goes something like this: Think, think, think all day for days and months. Then write and write for 5-10 hours a day after the story is figured out in my mind. I think of the entire story first, I can visualize it, I'm very visual, and then when I sit down to write the world goes away for a while and I become totally immersed. Thank God for my friends who tell me when it's time to eat and shower.

I write alone. I cannot write in public. I'm a very social person so I tend to go out a lot with friends and then come home and isolate in order to write. My life is split between being completely surrounded by people, and then totally alone.

Music is a big part of my writing. I was recently asked to compose a playlist of stuff that I listened to while writing Scent of Darkness. It can be found here.

I really love revising-it's one of my favorite parts of the process. Also, I tend to do a big brain dump in the beginning so revising is very important. It's a lot of fun because I've gotten the hard part, the story itself, done. I like to go back in and deepen and deepen a little more each time. Of course when a book is sold to a publisher, there will be many more revisions..heh, heh...
Margot's first release

KB: As a recent MFA program graduate, I'm curious to know more about your experience at the New School. Additionally, how did you transition from a writing program into being outside of an academic community? What advice would you have for others going through this process?

MB: I wrote two books before going into an MFA program, neither of which was published. My agent suggested that I get an MFA because she felt that publishers use that degree as a sort of weeding out process.

I did use one of my early novels for the application and it won me a scholarship, one of two given that year, so it validated that book for me even though no one wanted to publish it.
I did my MFA at night, they let you do that at the New School and that's part of the reason I chose to go there. It's a great program, but you can also keep your day job!

MFA programs are interesting. You get to hear what other writer's of your space and time are doing and thinking about, but ultimately you are the writer and what other students or teachers say about your work should be taken with a grain of salt.
Always stay true to what you want to say and don't be easily swayed.

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Thanks so much, Margot, for doing a feature post on my blog today! I am definitely a new fan-girl :)


Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

Thanks for featuring Margot for the tour! I had the chance to (briefly) meet her a few years ago at the Baltimore Book Festival for her HOT HOUSE FLOWER tour and she was a pleasure to chat with.

Meg @ write meg! said...

Really enjoyed this interview! I read Hot House Flower entirely on a plane ride back from the UK years ago and didn't realize Berwin has a new novel out. Will have to look for it!