SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: KAROLINA WACLAWIAK
Karolina Waclawiak is the author of the critically-acclaimed novel How to Get Into the Twin Palms and, recently, The Invaders, as well as the film adaptation of Sam Lipsyte’s Venus Drive and articles for The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Rumpus and others. She is a writer and editor at The Believer. Waclawiak will appear with Michelle Tea to discuss the invaders at Green Apple Books on the park in san Francisco on Friday, July 24.
Karolina Waclawiak! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?
Sure. Sometimes I just want to work with an editor, and I know they don't have money (or maybe just a little). I would love to always get paid for my work, but I also know that isn't always possible. Maybe soon I'll get more choosey. I feel lucky to be published so I often don’t even ask if there's pay, and sometimes I get a pleasant surprise.
Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?
Absolutely not. That's maybe why I'm okay with publishing without pay. Honestly, I'm surprised when anyone wants to pay me for anything creative. Which is a "me" problem, I realize. And will probably keep me working a day job forever.
If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, do you feel you have as much time as you need to write?
I'm finding it harder and harder to carve out time for myself each year. I have a full-time job, and on top of that I also edit essays for The Believer. I don't feel like I have enough time to do anything, to be honest. But I was not blessed with a trust fund, so I have to do what I have to do. I would love to have more time...I eye residencies dreamily. Maybe one day. I try to make time to write, but I definitely don't do it every day, and I wish I could. I have to be ruthless about how I spend my time, so there's not a lot of socializing. I partied in my late twenties and my writing suffered, so now, I work and write.
How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?
I usually read my work to myself a few times — always printed out and taken out of the house and away from the computer. I'm always marking up the pages. In fact, I don't think revising is ever finished. You can always sharpen lines, dialogue, descriptions. All of it.
When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?
I usually hand something over as "finished" when I'm tired of looking at it. But, I often feel a sense of panic that I could have tweaked it a tad more to make it perfect. You just have to let it go, though.
Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?
I definitely don't think I could be doing anything else. I'm proficient in my office jobs, but they're not very fulfilling, as you can imagine. I've written since I was about twelve, and it's always been a constant in my life and a way to process what's going on. Usually, I start a novel with a question I'm looking for an answer to. For The Invaders, my question was: As a woman, who are you when your sexual currency is gone? The next book I'm working on, about miracles, looks at why we believe what we believe. They're usually large, unanswerable questions, but I try to tackle them anyway. My first book, How To Get Into the Twin Palms, was really about cultural identity, and whether it's possible to change who you are and who you were born to be. Of course, these questions are humming in the background of the book, but don't always force themselves into the forefront in an aha! way.
BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?
Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews! Isn't that what all good pre-pubescent girls read? I was just talking to my older sister, who I stole the book from, about how I hadn't really understood that incest was going on, but I'd been too afraid to ask her. So I'd just read it over and over again to try to understand. Then I read the rest of the series, and everything was illuminated.