I am happy and proud to share a “fresh off the press” interview with one of my favorite authors. Alexandra Fuller was born in England in 1969. She then moved to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) with her family when she was two-years-old. After Rhodesia’s war of independence in 1980, her family moved first to Malawi and then Zambia where she met her husband. In 1994, she moved to the United States and now lives in Wyoming with her husband, two daughters, son, horses, cats and dogs.
Alexandra’s books include:
The Legend of Colton H. Bryant (Non-Fiction), Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier(Memoir), and Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood (Memoir).
I was thrilled when I found out that Alexandra was so very willing to participate in a Q&A session with me for several reasons: Firstly, because aspiring writers need sound advice from accomplished writers on how to be bold enough to write and attempt to be published — secondly, because in my early 20s her book “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight” helped me find the will to stare hurts from my childhood down and attempt to process them. And finally, my father Wilmer John Engevik had taken a trip to Zimbabwe a couple of years before he died in 1986…Alexandra’s words gave me an insiders view of the land in which my father adventured into and of which he shared such fascinating tales.
In my mind Alexandra embodies boldness — the willingness to place it all on the line so that others may find hope, beauty and truth…
When did you know you are a writer?
When I was five. My mother was home-schooling me for a couple of years before I went to boarding school. She loves words and books and writing and Art and she used to have me write “stories” from the adventures of our day out on the horses, or about what happened to the dogs and then illustrate my stories. I loved seeing the words make my stories both permanent and safe – once they were on the page they became exciting, as opposed to terrifying. I also loved watching her read what I wrote, her pleasure if I used a tricky, descriptive passage. Every child wants to please their mother, I think , and writing was one way to get my mother’s approval.
How can one be certain that he or she has the skills that it takes to write and be published?
That’s a hard question because I don’t think I ever take that for granted, even after a few books have been published. I guess I would say that in the past I have had the skill that it takes to write and get published, but I never know, from one morning to the next if that gift is still MINE. The more you write, the more likely it is that you will get published, but I wasn’t a good writer at university, and there are plenty of people (myself included, often) who would say that I have a long way to go before I really write well. It’s a moving target, like any art. Only very, very few people are natural at this, I would say.
Writing is a solitary act…have you ever found this to be a challenge?
Not really. I love being alone. I spent a lot of my childhood and a huge amount of my adolescence alone or with dogs/horses. In any case, I am never alone for long. I have three children, dogs, horses, cats, friends – sometimes the challenge is to find enough time to be alone. I also usually have the radio on for company, and I can’t remember the last day when I truly didn’t see another human being.
How did you first enter into writing professionally?
I wrote “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight” after writing ten novels which circled around the same subject (all the novels were veiled accounts of my childhood). All the novels were rejected. But “Don’t Let’s Go” got accepted and I was on my way.
Have you ever doubted your writing ability?
At some point every day.
Do you have any suggestions for those struggling with insecurities and fear surrounding a writing project?
Well, I would say that insecurities and fear are part of the process. The trick is working hard enough on your own self (I try to mediate, walk, dig deep and uncover why I am feeling so insecure) to rise above the fear/insecurity arise if I let my ego take over. So much of writing for me is about working on having less ego (zero ego would be best!!) which makes it easier to get out of the way of my work.
How do you select topics for your books? Do you actively search, or do they make themselves known?
Both. I look for stories all the time, but eventually, one will just insist on itself, keep me awake, wake me up, shake me to my core and then I know I have to write it.
In several of your interviews, you have mentioned speaking your truth…in doing so what has it done for you?
I think learning how to be truly “truthful” (which is quite different from brutal honesty which I am sometimes accused of, but I am not sure that’s what I am aiming for) makes us awake, aware, alive. It’s a less safe place to be socially – most of us tell tiny little lies from the moment we wake up both to ourselves and others – but it’s a great place from which to write. I think/hope it makes the work more universal. All humans recognized “truth” when they see/hear it.
Your love for Africa is so very beautiful…I read that you want to return to live one day. What does Africa represent to you?
On the front flap of your book “The Legend of Colton H. Bryant” it reads: “Colton knew there were a hundred ways to die in Wyoming. That’s why he figured there was only one way to live – with all his heart.” What does living with all of your heart mean to you?
It means being very alive to every moment. Living in the gorgeous, difficult fatness of every experience. I think most addictions – to Facebook, alcohol, relationships, texting…whatever it is we do to stop from being where we are – are ways to avoid being completely present in every moment. I have found that working on trying to be here, now, has given me a richer tapestry to live in. It doesn’t mean there isn’t huge amounts of pain sometimes – being awake is an extremely painful process (I really felt this when I was writing ‘Colton’) but I would rather fully feel the pain so that it comes out in some neurosis or on my deathbed.
Finally, I would like to close with something that Alexandra wrote to me regarding our childhoods — I think everyone can benefit from her wisdom:
“I think our childhoods swell to take up too much room in the rest of our lives unless we face them – for all their complicated, difficult, double-edged gifts!”
– Post by Jen of Project Be Bold
Don’t forget to go out and make bold decisions!