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Member Spotlight: Alicia J Rouverol

author Alicia J Rouverol and an image of her book Dry River

Why is writing important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world? Writing for me has always been both a “way in” and a “way out.” As a child I lived for a time on the island of Corsica; I didn’t know the language, I was outside the culture. Then my aunt (a Guild member) sent me a box of books featuring some of my grandmother’s plays (also a Guild member!). That was the beginning. Writing was a refuge—a sacred space in which I could build and inhabit an imagined world. I write now for nearly opposite reasons. We live in a time of unprecedented complexity; I think we’re all feeling the effects still of the pandemic, Brexit, Black Lives Matter, the cost-of-living crisis, the Russian war in Ukraine. It’s also a time of simplified, even falsified, narratives. Writing is a way to reach above the noise and amplify stories that need telling. Inspired by Stegner’s Angle of Repose, my novel, Dry River, exposes how economic shifts (2008 global crisis) shape people’s lives. My first co-authored book, “I Was Content and Not Content”: The Story of Linda Lord and the Closing of Penobscot Poultry, showed the human costs of deindustrialisation. But that work was nonfiction. With Dry River, I could get inside my characters’ heads and show what that meant on a granular level. The novel charts the slow collapse of a marriage alongside a declining American economy. Set against the landscape of California, Dry River draws on a sense of place. Aridity became a central metaphor in the work.

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer’s block? Personally, I’m a fan #100daysofwriting—or #50daysofwriting in busier periods—where you ‘show up on the page’ in whatever way you can. A cousin of mine (also a writer) once said to me, “You’re not a writer if you’re not actually writing….” I do give myself latitude when writing daily; I get to ‘count’ whatever writing project I’m on! Writers’ groups help. I belong to two: one global (The Fiction Forge), one local (Sixers, which I co-founded a decade ago). Writers need solidarity. We spend a lot of time in the trenches and our fellow writers get what many others don’t: how hard it is to be steadfast and not yield to discouragement.

What is your favorite time to write? My favourite time to write is whenever I’m moved to write. It is more a state of mind than it is, say, a clock-driven moment. At the same time, I feel I don’t have the privilege to wait for the muse; I tend to “go after it with a club,” to quote Jack London.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers? An editor I worked with once told me that you have to be willing to fail in order to succeed at writing. I believe this to be utterly true. In fact, I have all sorts of good things to say about failure. I’ve had some colossal losses—contracts, grants, awards—yet so often on the backside of this has been some luscious opportunity I never imagined possible. You have to be willing to let go. In fiction writing, my tutor at Manchester told me, you have to be willing not to control your characters on the page. Let them be the boss of you, and see what happens! It’s all about risks. We have to be willing to take them, my co-author on “I Was Content and Not Content” reminded me: that’s the kind of ‘willing’ you don’t let go of.

What excites you most about being a writer in today’s age? I’d have to say the wide-open opportunity. Some writers bemoan not being able to tell other people’s stories. I spent a few decades in the twin fields of oral history and folklore where I only told other people’s stories (often collaborating with them, so I wasn’t appropriating their narratives). At the time, it felt like good, important work. What excites me now is the capacity to get inside my characters’ heads—which I couldn’t do in nonfiction writing. But mostly, I’m excited at the ways we can, through writing, imagine the world differently. We need more narratives that counter, disrupt, question—and we need more humane narratives. In this sense, we need to write the world that we’d want to live in.

Alicia J Rouverol’s Dry River is out now with Bridge House Books.