Evalyn Lee is an Emmy Award-winning news producer, who worked for CBS News in New York, for twenty years, both in radio and television, including seven years at “60 Minutes.” She now writes and lives in London with her husband and two children.She completed the Faber Academy novel writing course in London studying with novelist Louise Doughty. She is currently drafting her first novel:The Rise and Fall of Jackie Bridges.
You can read "Throwing Out the Trash," her remarkably honest essay about struggling with depression, in Letting Go: An Anthology of Attempts
"What I love best about writing is the freedom and the sheer wonder and wildness of language. I always marvel at how, just by adding or changing one letter, a grave can turn into grace and a word can become a world." Evalyn Lee
Letting Go is an anthology of true stories. As a writer of fiction, did you find it harder to write a nonfiction story?
I have loved to write all my life; especially poetry and short stories and I have kept a daily diary since the age of eleven. After graduate school, I was hired by CBS News to work in radio where I learned how to listen and write for the ear. After a decade, I changed mediums and moved into television and learned to write with images. But times and life change, and so I found myself living in England and working for BBC News Online looking for the words to make audiences “click” on a story. But having earned most of my living writing in other people’s voices, I left hard news to pursue my dream of writing in my own voice.
This is my first nonfiction story, in my own voice about my own life. But the publication of this essay leaves me feeling strangely vulnerable and shy and given the continuous flow of current events in our world, it feels presumptuous to write down and share the mistakes I have made in my own life. But a lot of people, myself included, struggle to put aside their shame about depression and share what they’ve learned from their experience. My essay “Throwing Out the Trash” is the result of this struggle.
What’s the hardest part about writing for you?
Giving myself the time to succeed and that fact that each story needs its own time to grow in my heart.
Where do your ideas come from?
Oh, I so do not have a problem coming up with ideas. Ideas come to me with every breath --I can’t look out a window, talk to a stranger, read a newspaper, watch television or go to a movie--and not be assaulted by ideas. If anything, I have too many ideas. I have an endless curiosity and a mind that is prone to making odd and unexpected connections between disparate facts. I’ve spent the last decade trying to learn how to harness these connections and make them clear to the reader on the page.
How much time each week do you devote to writing?
It is a terrific week if I get twenty hours in with fingers on keyboard just on my own work.
What are you working on?
I am in the middle of the third draft of my first novel—The Rise and Fall of Jackie Bridges-- the story of a woman at war with secrets of her own.
What has been the most surprising about learning your craft?
What has taken me the longest time to really understand, all the way down, is that even though we read a book in a "linear" fashion—a writer needs to structure the story in a circular fashion. A story with a beginning and ending that expand and resonate with one another allows words to hold more meaning.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
I am still laughing at Sue Parman’s Letting Go Anthology blog answer about writer’s not taking advice.
I love advice and just wish I could more quickly figure out how to implement it in my own work. Every story I begin seems to require me to learn more about how to write.
So, although other writers might not need or take advice, one of the tricks I learned as a reporter was to listen and look for those gaps between what a person is saying and how he or she is acting—always a useful moment to describe and to look for both in writing and in life.
Do you think workshops have helped you become a better writer?
Absolutely without a doubt writing workshops have helped me to become a better writer, if simply by offering expertise, friendship and communal experience for what can be at times a lonely job.
That said, it is important to note that not all classes are equal—but the well run ones, like those run by Martha Hughes or Faber Academy under the direction of Richard Skinner—can give you the chance to understand, in real time and in your body, what works and what doesn’t work with your story as it meets a group of experienced readers.
Tell us any secret rituals you have for getting started each day.
No secrets here: getting out of bed seems to be key.
Any writers you like to read to inspire you to write (or if you're blocked?)
Five books about writing that I’ve found to be helpful are: Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them by John Yorke; The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life by Ann Pratchett; How Fiction Works by James Wood; Reality Hunger by David Shields; and Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction by Stephen Koch.
Currently I am reading a lot of poetry, War Reporter and New Life by Dan O’Brien, Erratic Facts by Kay Ryan, The Light User Scheme by Richard Skinner. I am also re-reading Shall We Gather at the River by Peter Murphy and Train Dreams by Dennis Jonson and I just finished a beautiful novel called Astrid & Veronika by Linda Olsson. The books I return to most for inspiration are A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines, The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin.
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