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"Writer’s block is a given," says Linda Merlino.

Interview with Linda Merlino, Author of Belly of the Whale

Linda Merlino is the author of the riveting suspense novel, Belly of the Whale, recently published by Kunati Books, a young publisher with a liking for controversial works. Merlino's novel features a deeply sympathetic protagonist who's just lost her two breasts to cancer and who's so emotionally and physically exhausted, she decides to give up and stop treatment. That is, until destiny decides to play a trick on her. Then she must do all she can in order to survive and see her beloved husband and children once again.  

Thanks for being here today, Linda. When did you decide you wanted to become an author? Do you have another job besides writing? 

There was no deciding, I knew at a young age that writing was my passion.  Of course, I could not identify it as such but I knew about writing.  Life, however, does not always follow a linear path and my dream of becoming a journalist was sidestepped for a more practical profession.  I was raised in a blue-collar family where having a skill, being able to do something with your hands was understood.  Going to college meant attaching an education to a skill and writing was not something my family recognized as practical or financially worthwhile.  Writing became my safety net but not my day job.  With the publication of Belly of the Whale, I see that it is never too late to pursue your dream, even one that reaches back to childhood.  

Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

I was an avid reader as a child.  I read the books of the time, absorbed the classics in high school and college, struggled through Hemingway and later learned to love him the best.   

Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story. 

Belly of the Whale is my new release.  It is published by Kunati, Inc, a young publisher that is setting the industry a buzz with its provocative and controversial approach to publishing.  Belly is the story of a young woman with breast cancer.  Twenty-four hours in her life, the day she gives up hope of surviving and the day she is taken hostage in an all-night market by a killer more deadly than her disease.  The inspiration for this book came from a character in the book named Willy Wu.  He is mentally challenged, he is the young man we encounter in our community grocery store, the young man who bags our groceries and collects the cart.  We do not understand how much he processes and we do not know what he is capable of.  Could a young man like Willy be a hero?  I asked this question and wrote a story to answer it. 

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?  

I do not write with an outline, but I usually know the beginning and the end.  My writing is more stream-of-consciousness.  The characters are allowed to development on the page and often surprise me as the story unfolds from my mind through my fingers. 

From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?

The process took approximately three years.  The first year consisted of accumulating information, doing research and compiling articles in a scrapbook fashion.  The second year I wrote but not with the fixed discipline needed to finish the manuscript.  The third year I dedicated almost all my time outside of my day job to the writing of my manuscript.  I said no to almost all requests beyond family.  The message on my voicemail went something like this:  I am underground, please leave a message but do not expect to hear back from me until my manuscript is complete. 

Describe your working environment.

My working environment is a small room that I share with my dog.  I have a desk between two windows and several quotations tacked eye-level.  Example: Writing is an act of faith…  These life affirmations and snippets of wisdom are my guides.  Years ago I had no sacred space, no place designated for my writing.  My writing was portable, like my life as a mother of three children. 

Are you a disciplined writer?   

I am disciplined when I decide the manuscript needs to get done.  Otherwise I write to write with no thought of completion. 

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?

Writer’s Block is a given.  When it happens I know it is time for me to come-out-from-under-the-man-hole-cover.  I have to connect with other writers, partake in workshops and share my writing. 

Technically speaking, what do you have to struggle the most when writing? How do you tackle it?

I keep Strunk & White’s Elements of Style close by, this little book is my “bible.” 

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

It took three months for the process to be successful. There was a portal open in the universe with my name over it.  My publisher and agent came to me in that order; as with so many of my life experiences not in the traditional way… 

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?

I have one foot on the physical plane of promoting and the other out there in cyberspace.  It is too early to judge one over the other but I think that there is no measure.  Both go hand-and-hands, both are necessary.  I struggle more with the internet aspects but I am learning and I have Pump up Your Book to rocket my book into virtual space. 

What is(are) your favorite book/author(s)? Why? 

I prefer the classics, the writers that eluded me in my early years like Hemingway and Steinbeck.   

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Plain and simple:  Keep writing… 

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work? 

I have a Website and three blog sites.

Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

I do have another book in the works.  I am in the first stage, the collecting of information and research.  As for discussing this project I’d rather not at this time, it is a very sensitive topic for the people of America. 

Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?

Without sounding corny, I feel blessed to be published.  I have begun giving back to other writers, I want to share my passion with like minded individuals and if I can offer one seed, one snippet of advice that allows another writer to become a published author that will allow me to play my good fortune forward.

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here! 

About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.

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