Reviewer Spotlight: Lisa Abellera

Anatomy of an Uncustomary Writer

Reviewer Spotlight: Lisa Abellera

What’s the oddest thing you own?

Nothing odd here. Nothing in the oddest. Except for the odd sock. I’ve started a collection of them. The romantic in me still hopes one day they’ll be reunited with their sole mate.

Any writing rituals?

Plenty. Some I actually do. My favorite involves lots of coffee at a café without wi-fi. Actually, I write all the time because of my commercial work, but when it comes to my more literary pursuits, I typically read and write in bed at night. I then go to sleep thinking about what I’m going to write about. In the morning, when I wake up, I quickly jot down my thoughts, as random and disjointed as they are. Then when I’m ready to look at them, usually later that day, I’ll pull out what looks like promising prose and try to create something out of it.

What substance (prescribed, illegal or from the freezer section) most inspires your writing?

A good café macchiato and the right music, which is a substance of a different nature, and of course, there is pistachio ice cream for those sudden 3am bursts of inspiration.

What’s the biggest advantage of your greatest disadvantage?

Freedom and accomplishing more with less.

Which language do you wish you could speak to ask what question to whom?

After all the cds, classes and books, I still haven’t been able to learn French. I’d love to go the Hemmingway route and spend a year in France to write. In this fantasy, I’m a young Audrey Hepburn in her famous classic black dress, ordering lunch at some outdoor café. I’m able to ask the French waiter to explain the menu without getting that subtle, sly sneer. But then, maybe I still get that sneer after he hears me mangle his beautiful language.

Describe your relationship with inspiration.

It’s one of those love-hate relationships. She hates me when I pull her out of hiding, kicking and screaming. I love her when she comes up with something I never expected.

The formula for the perfect day is:

Celebrate the things you were able to accomplish and let go of the things you weren’t. That and winning the lottery.

Anatomy of the Book

Do you prefer…

…chapter titles or chapter numbers? I like them equally, as long as the stuff written after is interesting. However, I do view a chapter title as a kind of “contract” and expect the author to have it pay off by the end of the chapter.

…short stories, a series, or a collection of poems? I can’t resist a collection of short stories, partly because of my short attention span, but mostly because the short story works on multiple levels that are not necessarily apparent on the page. In novels, there’s so much “real estate” that a writer can play with, while short fiction necessitates economy and efficiency because of its limited space. When I’m curious about writers I haven’t read yet, I prefer to read their short fiction first, even if their novels are more well-known. In a collection, it’s the disparity as well as the similarity in the stories that’s interesting. It can also tell you a lot about the writer’s skills, especially if it’s the first time they were published. You can see them stretching and pushing boundaries of the limited narrative form. I like to see how they are able to do more with less real estate available.

There’s a different kind of satisfaction the reader feels at the end of a short story as opposed to a novel. With a novel, at the end, there’s a sense of completeness, because the author has been able to tell you everything; you’ve seen it all and all that’s left is to close the book. With a short story, the reader has to work a little harder; the information isn’t always explicit. In fact, so much is dependent upon how well the figurative (what’s implied) is translated through the literal (what’s on the page). Since part of that translation process is done on the reader’s level, if the short story is written well, the ending can create a feeling of satisfaction that lingers for days after reading the story.

…footnotes, maps or indices? Sure, bring it on, although I can easily grow tired of them if they’re too gimmicky, or take away the pleasure of my reading experience.

…hardcover, softcover or digital cover? I like hardcovers but I tend to handle them with more care. They seem more formal, their stiff spines and slick, artsy book jackets. I tend to go with softcovers, because I don’t feel so guilty when I mark them up and throw them haphazardly in my bag. I haven’t gone fully digital with my reading. Magazines and newspapers: yes. Books: no. I guess I’m still old school that way. I love the tactile relationship too much.

Anatomy of the Reading List

What does your reading list look like? Is it a pile of books, a list of titles or a mental medley of thoughts?

I don’t do very well with reading lists. They remind me of what I’m not reading, like the stack of partially unread books scattered around my bed or in my office.

Which book do you feel obligated to read next?

My commercial work right now involves writing about cancer, which is not exactly my most favorite topic to write about, but it certainly has been educational. The next book I need to read is “Gilda’s Disease” by M. Steven Piver, M.D. The one plus to the book is that it includes a little creative non-fiction, with reflections by Gene Wilder, Gilda Radner’s husband and caretaker.

Which do you actually wish you were reading right now?

There’s so many. Just looking at a stack by my bed, I can see some books I keep intending to finish: Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad”; Jason Brown’s “Why the Devil Chose New England for His Work”; Sarah Vowell’s “Unfamiliar Fishes”; Stephen King’s “A Memoir of the Craft”

Uncustomary Book Reviews Written by Lisa Abellera: Here’s the list.

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