A Candid Interview with a Successful Writer

Luis Alberto Urrea

Lisa See

Joyce Carol Oates

Elizabeth Hay photo by Mark Raynes Roberts

By Jesús Aguado

Do you use a computer for writing? Do you write by hand? When do you write? In the morning; at night? These are very common questions to writers, but you never know what you can learn from the most outstanding and prolific writers that meet yearly in San Miguel for the San Miguel Writers’ Conference. The conference will take place from Wednesday, February 10, to Sunday, February 14, at the Hotel Real de Minas.

Atención interviewed author Susan Page, founder and director of the event, who, besides giving guidelines on what to ask the authors, also talked about what is coming for this year’s conference. The interview took place at the beautiful Bellas Artes gardens.

Jesús Aguado: What did you write today?

Susan Page: What did I write today? Right now I write articles for Atención and promotional articles for the San Miguel Writers’ Conference. Your question is interesting because I have written six books. My last came out in 2004. My books are all about relationships, and this very week I received information that my book entitled If I Am So Wonderful Why Am I Still Single has become a best seller in China, and they are featuring it for Valentine’s Day. I wrote that book in 1998! I am not actively doing my own writing. I hope someday to get back to it, but it won’t be at the same time that I am running the Writers’ Conference because that is full-time.

JA: How would you recommend this book to people who have not read it yet?

SP: The book is written to people who would love to be in a relationship, whatever age they are, and who do not have a partner right now. I believe that often people who are looking for a relationship have some fears about getting back into a relationship, and that is what the book is about: How do you work with these fears and get results.?

JA: Why should people write?

SP: People who want to write should write as an author of self-expression. You write to discover what is inside of you, to discover what you want to say. Some people have a misconception about writing, that you are just writing to record what you already know, and that is not what writing is about. You write to discover what your characters are going to be like, how your story is going to end. This year we have a whole series of classes on writing for personal transformation, writing for personal growth, writing for personal expression. We have classes for people who want to write but not necessarily to get published; we are very happy for it. Writing is one of the greatest creative activities.

JA: For whom is this Festival?

SP: It is an event for everybody. We encourage millennials and all of the generations to come to the conference because it is not at all for the elderly; the event is for people of all ages. The Writers’ Conference is for writers who want to develop their skills, but it is also a literary festival for readers. We encourage readers to hear the keynote speeches. We have a whole series of workshops like “The Pleasures of Reading.” Those are not about writing skills, but about delving into great literature; everybody who loves to read would love to come to those workshops.

JA: How will the Festival use technology? And electronic books or printed books?

SP: We have classes for writers who want to publish e-books. We have a lot of instruction on how to become an author of an e-book. This year we are going to be very active in social media. People can twitter, Instagram, pictogram, Facebook, and use all of these social media during the conference. We will be running contests on best picture of the day, best quote from the keynote speaker; the thing you learned the most; the most interesting person you met; and we have prizes for these contests, and that’s all happening in social media.

JA: This is the 11th edition. How do you visualize the Festival as a Quinceañero? What would be the best dress for it?

SP: It is always a tension for us between keeping the festival small and intimate and boutique versus bringing the finest names in literature to San Miguel. Four years from now, I do not know. I think we will be the same size, but we will try to get very spectacular speakers for that event. We may go back and try to invite many of our previous distinguished speakers. That would be the perfect dress.

JA: Tell us about the keynote speakers

SP: On Wednesday, February 10, this year we have two keynote speakers returning by popular demand: one is Luis Urrea and the other is Juan Villoro. Both of them are such wonderful presenters we invited them back. Juan Villoro is a great storyteller, a very charismatic personality, and he is just much beloved by his audiences. He talks about life where he grew up on the border of Tijuana and San Diego, and many of his stories are about immigration. Joyce Carol Oates, a legendary American writer, has written more than one hundred books. We had two programs to help San Miguel readers become better acquainted with her work before she arrives here. We showed a movie called Smooth Talk, based on her most famous short story “Where are you going, where have you been,” among other events. Scott Simon is very popular in the United States as the host of a radio show. He is a prolific writer, and his most recent book is a memoir about his mother, called Unforgettable.

On Thursday we will bring Gail Sheehy to the stage; her book Passages came out in the ’80s and is one of the ten most influential books of the twentieth century. She has written other books about life transitions.

On Friday we are very excited to bring John Perkins. He is the first speaker in our new series called Writing for Change. He will be speaking about Transforming Our World, Corporate Greed Meets Indigenous Spirituality. It is a very appropriate topic for Mexico. He is a dynamic and charismatic speaker. He tries to help us see how we can combat the greed. Lisa See writes about the Chinese-American experience. She has many bestselling books.

On Saturday we have Kirk Ellis who wrote the screen play for the HBO series John Adams. There was also a series he wrote about Anne Frank. He is a prolific and well-known screen writer in the United States and also a wonderful speaker. He is a captivating, imaginative, enthusiastic, and entertaining. We will have eight keynote speakers in total.

JA: What will be the co-cultural panel this year?

SP: We love these sessions. We have Chicano Luis Urrea, Mexican Juan Villoro, Chinese-American Lisa See, and Canadian Elizabeth Hay. Their topic this year is Global Migration, people, and their stories, and I know this will be fascinating. Also, the panel is moderated by a wonderful Mexican writer, C.M. Mayo. She organized the discussion. She has written amazing books about Mexico, including one about Maximillian and Carlota.

JA: As an author, what do you think are the questions that attendees should not ask the speakers?

SP: I cannot really think about it because you never know what you can get from the author. Very common questions are: What are your writing habits? When do you write? Do you write in the morning; do you write at night? Do you use a computer or do you write by hand? What inspires you? Those are common questions, but they could be meaningful depending on the author. People may get a very interesting answer. Questions like: How did you find your agent, who is your agent? would not be appropriate. My guideline is: for questions that you are asking in the auditorium with everybody listening in a public situation, be sure that your question is something that will be of general interest to other people. It is very inappropriate to ask a question that is only about your own work, life, or writing style.

 

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