Sunday, September 13, 2015

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Arleen Williams


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hi, Arleen.  Welcome to The Gal.  It's a pleasure having you here today.

Arleen Williams:
Thank you for the opportunity to introduce myself and share my work with your readers.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Tell us a little bit about yourself.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
My husband and I live in a small 1940s war box in West Seattle where we raise our daughter, and I've taught English as a Second Language to refugees and immigrants at South Seattle College for the past 30 years.  I've kept a journal since I was a teen, but I didn't share my writing until I was 48.  My first book, a memoir titled The Thirty-Ninth Victim, wouldn't have been possible without those journals.  It was published in 2008, and I haven't stopped writing since.  When I'm not writing or teaching, you'll usually find me cycling or reading.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

Arleen Williams:
Because my first book was a memoir, my life is literally an open book and I'm ridiculously surprised when someone doesn't know that...
  • I'm the middle child of nine.
  • I grew up on a farm in the Issaquah Valley east of Seattle in the foot hills of the Cascades with horses and cows, chickens and pigs and parents who knew nothing about farming.
  • I've lived in three states - WA, CA, HI - and three countries - U.S.A., Venezuela, Mexico.
  • I spent six years as an ex-pat in Mexico City with no intentions of returning home until my youngest sister was murdered.
  • Despite my husband's merciless teasing, I often lose myself in sappy Hallmark movies on Friday nights when he's out with his friends.
The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

Arleen Williams:
The Black Stallion by Walter Farley (Random House, 1941) followed in quick succession by The Black Stallion Returns and Sons of the Black Stallion.  My bookcase still holds copies of the three.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

Arleen Williams:
I have an entire bookshelf full of my To Read pile (not to mention what's loaded on my Kindle), but Colm Toibin's short story collection, The Empty Family; Mary Oliver's poetry, Why I Wake Early; and Kit Bakke's memoir/biography, Miss Alcott's E-Mail are currently on my bedside table.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

Arleen Williams:
I suppose I've always wanted to write.  I remember plucking at the keys of an old manual typewriter when I was just a kid.  The journal was my way of making sense of the world.  It still plays that role in my life.
            I was in my late forties when my sister's killer was finally arrested, my father died, and my mother began showing early signs of dementia.  I was an emotional wreck.  Since writing had always been a comfort to me, when I saw a description for a year-long program at the University of Washington that mentioned turning journals into memoir, my husband pushed me to try it.  Fortunately, I listened to him.  I had amazing teachers who encouraged me to finish my memoir and pursue publication.  After The Thirty-Ninth Victim was published, I turned to fiction and The Alki Trilogy was born.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

Arleen Williams:
I adhere to the timed-writing practice I learned from Robert Ray and Jack Remick, my UW professors.  I enjoy writing my first drafts, pen to paper, in crowded coffee shops with music and conversation in the background, surrounded by other writers doing exactly the same thing.  I prefer to key in my work, rewrite, and edit at home.  I sit at my dining room table with a view of my front yard, the large redbud and magnolia blocking the neighboring houses, and my writing buddy, Pamela Hobart Carter, at my side.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Arleen Williams:
No quirks.  Processes I mentioned above.  But I do have a magic pen.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?

Arleen Williams:
I tend to read what I'm writing.  When I write science fiction, I read fiction.  When I write memoir, I read the same.  As I re-enter the memoir world for my next project, I'll go back to William Zinsser's Writing About Your Life and Inventing the Truth for inspiration, and I've just picked up copies of Robyn Davidson's Tracks and Desert Places that I'm curious to dig into.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Arleen Williams:
Time management and seat time.  They're not exactly the same.  The former is simply the challenge of finding enough time in each day to write (without the distractions of life and work).  The latter is the discipline to use that time and sit and write!

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

Arleen Williams:
For me, the characters make the story.  Whether reading or writing, I need characters I care about.  Of course, I want to know what happens to these characters and I love being taken to interesting places, but I have to care about the characters.
            When I wrote Running Secrets, I had no intention of writing a trilogy, but I loved Gemi Kemmal and the other characters.  I wasn't ready to say good bye.  Running Secrets was followed by Biking Uphill and then Walking Home.  The Alki Trilogy is a collection, but each book is a stand-alone.  And all three exit because I love the characters!

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Arleen Williams:
My characters are bits and pieces of the me I'd like to be, and of the me I never want to be, and, yes, maybe even the me I am.  Readers tell me they see a lot of Carolyn in me or vice versa, but maybe that's because we're both ESL teachers.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Why did you pick your particular genre?

Arleen Williams:
Memoir picked me.  I needed to make sense of the family dynamics behind my sister's murder.  I wrote for understanding.  I chose fiction as an alternative to memoir, a break from the intensity of memoir.  But in an odd sort of way, Walking Home, as well as the other two novels, are also memoirs in the same way much of fiction is memoir.  My characters are amalgamations of people I have known, students I've had the pleasure of working with, and villains I have avoided.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Arleen Williams:
Walking Home is contemporary women's fiction.  What makes it different, perhaps, are the insights my 30 years of working with refugees and immigrants have given me.  It is a story of cross-cultural and multi-generational friendships and relationships between African and Central American immigrants, African Americans, and European Americans.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is in your 'trunk'?  (Everyone has a book or project, which doesn't necessarily have to be book related, that they have put aside for a 'rainy day' or for when they have extra time.  Do you have one?)

Arleen Williams:
My trunk project is an un-cluttered life.  And yet, both my computer files and my paper files are a total mess!  I told myself I'd get all the sorting and shredding and whatever done before fall quarter began.  It's September now, and it looks like that project is not going to be completed before I return to the classroom.  Maybe I'll have a bonfire for Christmas.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

Arleen Williams:
The next few years will be memoir years.  Walking Home and the entire Alki Trilogy were published by Booktrope here in Seattle.  I'm very pleased they've decided to re-release The Thirty-Ninth Victim in 2016 along with a new companion memoir called Moving Mom.  In the meantime, I've begun work on a third memoir I'm calling The Ex-Mexican Wives Club.  It will be a journey into my ex-pat years in Mexico City during the post-Vietnam, pre-War on Drugs, pre 9/11 freedoms of the early 1980s.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Thanks for stopping by, Arleen.  All of these books sound fantastic, especially the memoir you have out now, and the ones coming in the future.  I'm definitely going to have to check them out :)


About the author:
Arleen Williams is a Seattle novelist, memoirist, and co-author of a dozen short books in easy English for adults.  She teaches English as a Second Language at South Seattle College and has worked with immigrants and refugees for close to three decades.  Arleen lives, cycles, and writes in Seattle.
            Walking Home (Booktrope 2015) is the third book in The Alki Trilogy - all set in Seattle.  The first book was Running Secrets (Booktrope 2013) and the second was Biking Uphill (2014).


About the book:
Walking Home is a compelling glimpse into the lives of emigres in modern day America - refugees from genocide and war.  The book journeys from loss and grief to survival and joy.  The story hits the ground running, literally, with Kidane's escape from Africa that reaches far into his future into Seattle, Washington.  Kidane battles with survivor guilt while he struggles to settle into Seattle, a new life, relationship, school and work.  He wants the American dream but is haunted by the past where he survived horrific violence in Africa, and was forced to leave everything and everyone he loved behind.
            Beautifully written, this poignant and intimate portrait of survivors is a must read for anyone seeking to understand the lives of emigrants in our evolving communities.

3 comments:

arleen said...

Thanks for the great interview, Meghan.

Jack said...

This is great news for a writer, Arleen. Congratulations: The next few years will be memoir years. Walking Home and the entire Alki Trilogy were published by Booktrope here in Seattle. I'm very pleased they've decided to re-release The Thirty-Ninth Victim in 2016 along with a new companion memoir called Moving Mom. In the meantime, I've begun work on a third memoir I'm calling The Ex-Mexican Wives Club. It will be a journey into my ex-pat years in Mexico City during the post-Vietnam, pre-War on Drugs, pre 9/11 freedoms of the early 1980s.

Meghan H said...

You're welcome, Arleen. It was great having you. :)