It would be difficult to find an author who appeals to more diverse audiences than Gwen Florio (Missoula, MT). She has won several journalism awards and been nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize. Her fiction has won the inaugural Pinckley Prize and the High Plains Book Award and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize for her Short Fiction. She is a member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and Women Writing the West. Her books you can read in English, Italian, Turkish, Chinese and soon in Check. Enjoy! Links: https://gwenflorio.net/ JBN: What inspired you to write Silent Hearts? Gwen Florio: The time I spent in Afghanistan on two separate trips, in 2001 and in 2002. More than anything, the inspiration came from the women I met there. In the face of almost insurmountable obstacles, they were so strong. JBN: You have reported from conflict zones: how did your career as a reporter start? Gwen Florio: I started as an English and literature major, with zero interest in journalism, but my father suggested I take a journalism course so that I could get a job. With my first story in the student newspaper, I was hooked. JBN: Where was your first trip? Gwen Florio: My first reporting trip to a foreign country was to the Mexican state of Chiapas, where a group of revolutionaries known as the Zapatistas had started an uprising two years earlier. I wrote about the effects of that action. I speak some Spanish, which made the trip much easier than going to a completely strange environment. JBN: What was the toughest part? Gwen Florio: Often, it’s the logistics, especially in conflict zones how I could get to places safely, who I could trust, who could help me get access to the people I needed to talk to. And then, equally important, finding a place with electricity so that I could file my stories! I learned how to hook my laptop up to a car battery. Sometimes it was tough being the only woman, although often that was an advantage, especially in very conservative Muslim areas. I could talk to the women, but the male reporters couldn’t. JBN: Maybe you can share some stories? Gwen Florio: The bad things: On the street, men would just reach out and grab me. I hated it. And once, in the middle of the mountains in Afghanistan, our convoy stopped so that people could pee. I crouched behind the jeep so that the men wouldn’t see me, but then I realized our Afghani driver was lying flat on his stomach at the front of the jeep so he could watch me! But the kindness of the women made up for it. They were tremendously patient with my questions, and it was a privilege to share their stories. JBN: Why did you choose this genre? Gwen Florio: I’ve always read literary fiction, and it’s what I like best. My first novels were crime fiction, mainly because that’s what got published. I learned a lot writing those novels, and have benefited tremendously from the remarkably supportive crime fiction community. But I wanted to take the lessons I learned writing those books and apply them to literary fiction: Silent Hearts is the result. JBN: How to come up with a good book title? Gwen Florio: Haha! I don’t know. I’ve never seen one of my titles accepted. The publisher always changes it, which is pretty common. It’s my goal to one day see a book published with my own title, but I’m not holding my breath. JBN: How do you find or make time to write? Gwen Florio: You have to make time, and then guard that time very jealously because everything and in my case, my own desire to do fun things like hiking or spending more time with family and friends, or simply take a nap, rather than write works against it. I generally write in the morning before I go to work, and on weekends. I’ve also been lucky enough to receive some writing residencies at places that provide you a place to work and stay for (in my case) anywhere between two weeks and a month. Those have been really helpful, especially when the time comes to complete a project. JBN: Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Gwen Florio: When I’m working on a first draft, that’s mostly intuition. But when the time comes for rewriting and editing, then logic must rule. I have to turn a cold eye on the manuscript and kill anything that doesn’t work. JBN: Can you please summarize your writing process? Gwen Florio: I don’t really outline, other than in the most cursory way. I usually know how a book will begin and end, but stumble through the rest of it, sure most of the way that the whole thing is a failure. Then I go back and rewrite it, which is my favorite part. I go over it several more times, working on a different aspect plot, character, description, and the overall writing – each time. JBN: Who was your first reader? Gwen Florio: I don’t remember probably my parents. Certainly they encouraged us to read; we didn’t have a television when I was growing up because my parents believed reading was more important. As an adult, I began to write seriously as a member of the Rittenhouse Writers Group in Philadelphia, and the members of that group became hugely important to my becoming a writer. JBN: Does writing energize or exhaust you? Gwen Florio: Both! So much of it is terribly discouraging and disheartening, especially when I’m floundering around in the middle of the story. But every so often, I write something that really pleases me, and those days are magic. JBN: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would be it? Gwen Florio: Start sooner, much sooner. I spent way too many years wishing I could be a writer, rather than actually writing. I wish I’d been able to attend an MFA program; lacking that, I wish I’d gotten involved with writing workshops and had taken advantage of other resources much earlier. JBN: Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice? Gwen Florio: Very interesting question—in an odd way, yes. Certainly, a part of it feels mystical. Much (nearly all) of writing is just plain hard work. But when it goes well, it’s hard not to credit a special sort of grace.
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Gwen Florio: the voice of Silent Hearts
Interview
It would be difficult to find an author who appeals to more diverse audiences than Gwen Florio (Missoula, MT). She has won several journalism awards and been nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize. Her fiction has won the inaugural Pinckley Prize and the High Plains Book Award and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize for her Short Fiction. She is a member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and Women Writing the West. Her books you can read in English, Italian, Turkish, Chinese and soon in Check. Enjoy! Links: https://gwenflorio.net/ JBN: What inspired you to write Silent Hearts? Gwen Florio: The time I spent in Afghanistan on two separate trips, in 2001 and in 2002. More than anything, the inspiration came from the women I met there. In the face of a l m o s t i n s u r m o u n t a b l e obstacles, they were so strong. JBN: You have reported from conflict zones: how did your career as a reporter start? Gwen Florio: I started as an English and literature major, with zero interest in journalism, but my father suggested I take a journalism course so that I could get a job. With my first story in the student newspaper, I was hooked. JBN: Where was your first trip? Gwen Florio: My first reporting trip to a foreign country was to the Mexican state of Chiapas, where a group of revolutionaries known as the Zapatistas had started an uprising two years earlier. I wrote about the effects of that action. I speak some Spanish, which made the trip much easier than going to a completely strange environment. JBN: What was the toughest part? Gwen Florio: Often, it’s the logistics, especially in conflict zones how I could get to places safely, who I could trust, who could help me get access to the people I needed to talk to. And then, equally important, finding a place with electricity so that I could file my stories! I learned how to hook my laptop up to a car battery. Sometimes it was tough being the only woman, although often that was an advantage, especially in very conservative Muslim areas. I could talk to the women, but the male reporters couldn’t. JBN: Maybe you can share some stories? Gwen Florio: The bad things: On the street, men would just reach out and grab me. I hated it. And once, in the middle of the mountains in Afghanistan, our convoy stopped so that people could pee. I crouched behind the jeep so that the men wouldn’t see me, but then I realized our Afghani driver was lying flat on his stomach at the front of the jeep so he could watch me! But the kindness of the women made up for it. They were tremendously patient with my questions, and it was a privilege to share their stories. JBN: Why did you choose this genre? Gwen Florio: I’ve always read literary fiction, and it’s what I like best. My first novels were crime fiction, mainly because that’s what got published. I learned a lot writing those novels, and have benefited tremendously from the remarkably supportive crime fiction community. But I wanted to take the lessons I learned writing those books and apply them to literary fiction: Silent Hearts is the result. JBN: How to come up with a good book title? Gwen Florio: Haha! I don’t know. I’ve never seen one of my titles accepted. The publisher always changes it, which is pretty common. It’s my goal to one day see a book published with my own title, but I’m not holding my breath. JBN: How do you find or make time to write? Gwen Florio: You have to make time, and then guard that time very jealously because everything and in my case, my own desire to do fun things like hiking or spending more time with family and friends, or simply take a nap, rather than write works against it. I generally write in the morning before I go to work, and on weekends. I’ve also been lucky enough to receive some writing residencies at places that provide you a place to work and stay for (in my case) anywhere between two weeks and a month. Those have been really helpful, especially when the time comes to complete a project. JBN: Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Gwen Florio: When I’m working on a first draft, that’s mostly intuition. But when the time comes for rewriting and editing, then logic must rule. I have to turn a cold eye on the manuscript and kill anything that doesn’t work. JBN: Can you please summarize your writing process? Gwen Florio: I don’t really outline, other than in the most cursory way. I usually know how a book will begin and end, but stumble through the rest of it, sure most of the way that the whole thing is a failure. Then I go back and rewrite it, which is my favorite part. I go over it several more times, working on a different aspect plot, character, description, and the overall writing – each time. JBN: Who was your first reader? Gwen Florio: I don’t remember probably my parents. Certainly they encouraged us to read; we didn’t have a television when I was growing up because my parents believed reading was more important. As an adult, I began to write seriously as a member of the Rittenhouse Writers Group in Philadelphia, and the members of that group became hugely important to my becoming a writer. JBN: Does writing energize or exhaust you? Gwen Florio: Both! So much of it is terribly discouraging and disheartening, especially when I’m floundering around in the middle of the story. But every so often, I write something that really pleases me, and those days are magic. JBN: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would be it? Gwen Florio: Start sooner, much sooner. I spent way too many years wishing I could be a writer, rather than actually writing. I wish I’d been able to attend an MFA program; lacking that, I wish I’d gotten involved with writing workshops and had taken advantage of other resources much earlier. JBN: Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice? Gwen Florio: Very interesting question—in an odd way, yes. Certainly, a part of it feels mystical. Much (nearly all) of writing is just plain hard work. But when it goes well, it’s hard not to credit a special sort of grace.
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Gwen Florio: the voice of Silent Hearts