The Three Rs: Alix Ohlin

September 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Alix Ohlin’s novel Inside (recently longlisted for the Giller Prize) and her story collection Signs and Wonders were both published in June.  Her work has appeared in Best American Short Stories, Best New American Voices, and on public radio’s “Selected Shorts” program.  Born and raised in Montreal, she currently lives in Easton, PA and teaches at Lafayette College and in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

I wrote a lot as a child.  The girl-writer characters in books were big heroes of mine–Jo in Little Women, Emily of New Moon.  Later, in high school and college, I began to feel that trying to be a writer was both intimidating and impractical, so I set it aside.  I started writing again in my twenties.

What does your day look like while you’re writing a book?

I get up early, drink a little too much coffee, walk the dog, read every single thing on the internet, scold myself internally for not getting down to work sooner, read every other thing available on the internet, ask myself, “Do you really want to do this or not?” over and over again until the internal dialogue becomes exhausting, at which point I turn off the wi-fi on my laptop and write for around 3 hours.  Then I do other things–read, teach, cook.

Do you type or write?

Both.  If I’m outlining or brainstorming I’ll usually make notes by hand on a yellow legal pad.  (It must be a yellow legal pad!  I don’t know why.)  Then for a first draft I’ll type.  I type quickly and enjoy the fluency of it, how readily sentences arrive on the screen.  Later, in revision, I’ll usually print the draft out and go over it by hand.  At that point, when I’m looking at the work sentence by sentence, I want to go slower, and working on paper helps me with that.

What do you read while you’re writing?

For a project that requires research I’ll often be reading non-fiction that helps me to understand, say, a given character’s profession or circumstances.  Otherwise I read fiction: I like to be reminded, while I’m struggling, of what success and beauty look like, feel like.

What have you read recently that you really loved?

The Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn.  The Idiot by Dostoevsky.

What are your all-time favourites?

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.  The stories of Alice Munro.  The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark.

You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?

Reading, without a doubt.

What’s your third R, and why?

Family.  I would be lost without mine.


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