“Maybe we’ll create something magical.” That’s the reason novelist Marie Manilla risks all when she writes. She’ll spread her magic and share her expertise in getting work published when she speaks at the upcoming reading and panel discussion Thursday evening at the Lazy Lion bookstore on Broad Street.
Manilla has much to offer to wannabee novelists. Her recent work “Shrapnel” won the Fred Bonnie Award for best first novel, and her short stories have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, as well as Prairie Schooner, Mississippi Review, and many other journals—a list long enough to make beginning authors drool.
She’s also surprisingly articulate and entertaining off the cuff, unlike some writers who stick to bland boilerplate in interviews. She’s candid about the struggles of her writing process.
“Most writers have a starter novel in a drawer,” she confesses. She does—one that will never see daylight. And she admits that the published work is the product of a drawn-out process.
Her latest novel, “The Patron Saint of Ugly,” is a quirky family saga due out in 2014. Manilla began the work in Nov. 2005, writing half of it before stopping. She realized it wasn’t “magical enough.” After taking a year to earn money (she teaches English at Marshall in West Virginia), she returned to the keyboard and revised, accumulating at least ten drafts before her agent and editor stepped in.
“I’m a recursive writer,” Manilla states.
She’ll write five pages, then put the draft away and rework it the next morning, so the number of drafts she actually produces is far greater than first appears. It’s all part of the process. But she never reads through her work after it’s printed.
“Once it’s published, I have to let it go. I’m afraid if I read it, I’ll find something I want to change.”
She also stresses the value of a good editor. Trusting a manuscript to an editor is like handing your baby over to a seasoned pediatrician. Manilla waxes poetic about the “fabulous” Robin Miura, who edited “Shrapnel,” a novel whose theme is we are more alike than we are different.
Miura will join the panel discussion after the reading.
Fear is the great enemy of writing. Knowing this, Manilla has adopted Julia Child’s mantra: “Don’t be afraid.” And there’s much to fear.
“We don’t often stay in the work,” Manilla explains. “As we’re writing, we’re worried about what other people are going to think about it—our mother, an editor.” That’s self-defeating.
“Writers need to push the envelope,” Manilla adds. Editors can rein them in later. Budding authors can’t let fear of family reaction and the “snotty literati” stifle creativity.
And publication is the finishing line. In order to garner the attention of a national press, Manilla says, writers need a list of published work and something more—quality. Her vitae lists nine awards so far. That extensive polishing process helps.
The process reboots even before a work is published. Manilla is already shaping a new novel, although “The Patron Saint of Ugly” hasn’t hit shelves yet. Her completed literary novel concerns a woman born with port wine birthmarks tattooed across her body, mirroring a map of the world.
The anomaly echoes similar marks on the body of a fifteenth century saint, convincing the child’s family and community that she, too, is saintly. Despite her protests, townspeople line up for miracles and the Vatican investigates.
The story unfolds as a transcript of cassette interview tapes, alternating voices of the reluctant saint, the skeptic, and the passionate grandmother. And it’s magic.
“With a name like Marie Manilla, how can you go wrong? I am very excited for this esteemed author to visit our open mic,” says Laura Towne, a cohost for the event. “Not only do we get a sample of some of her work, but her insights into the editing and publishing process at the panel should prove highly informative for any aspiring author.”
Manilla will read from this and other works Jan. 17 at the Lazy Lion from 6 - 8 p.m. An open mic will follow the panel discussion.