Prof. Delury's Debut Novel Earns Strong Reviews
April 2, 2018
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Jane Delury, chair of and associate professor in the University of Baltimore's Klein Family School of Communications Design, is earning highly positive reviews for her debut novel, The Balcony. After years of writing short fiction, and earning accolades such as a Pen/O.Henry Prize and an F. Scott Fitzgerald Story Award, Prof. Delury has written a book that takes place over a century in a French estate.
"Delury's book unfolds in 10 separate stories, each with its own title," says a review in The Washington Post. "While they work as compact, remarkable tales in themselves, they connect through characters and events—and the manor and its environs—to create a riveting free-form novel."
Delury will read from her work as part of the school's M.F.A. Spring Reading Series on April 9. She recently responded to a series of questions about her writing process and The Balcony:
What about writing this book surprised you? Why?
I'd say that the biggest surprise was the form of the book: a novel-in-stories. When I laid out the stories I'd written over many years, I was thinking of a linked collection. But the minute that the estate emerged—very early in the process—it became clear that I was to listen to its history, that it had a story to tell. You have to let go and believe that your characters will lead the way when you start any story or novel, and with this one, I trusted in the estate. Then in each chapter, there were many surprises. Why did he do that? Why did she say that? It was especially important that I let my characters surprise me when starting with material already in story form. I rewrote almost every word of those original pieces.
Obviously you've thought a lot about where the novel takes place. How would you describe the process of deciding where it would unfold?
I love to be in new places and I love to think about the people who once lived there. Anything I write shows that sensibility. The forest of Chateauroux started to give me stories when I was a young writer and it never stopped working its magic on me, even when I visited it rarely. The real forest birthed my fictional forest and characters kept coming out of the woods, so to speak. But there was no estate in those stories, although one of them did include an abandoned manor house. To shape the stories into a book, I knew that I needed a centrifugal force. That force was the estate.
How do you encourage writers to "get it out"? What works for you? Do you come from the school of "write 500 words a day and eventually something good will start to happen"? Do you let everything out when it's ready to come out?
I tell my students that to be a writer, you need to write, and you need to read. Then it's up to them to figure out what this means for their own lives. We all have different constraints and different obligations, and what works for me might not work for someone else. During the academic year, I scribble notes in one of my many notebooks. I try to carve out a morning a week to write, although that doesn't always work. Stories are much easier for me to complete during the academic year, because I can descend deeply and fully in one of those mornings. During the summer, though, I write almost every day, for at least four hours. And I do trust that if I keep at it, something good will start to happen at some point. Although sometimes you have to write a lot to get there!
What happens when you get stuck? On a scene, a character, or even that one word?
I keep going. My process is to draft as quickly as I can, to see what I have, and then to revise and revise and revise. Although I do have many days when everything I write seems like dust, I don't really get stuck when drafting. I move on to the next word, sentence, scene. I draft directly on the computer, without an outline or much in the way of notes, so sometimes I'll just give the draft some white space and hope that the story will fill in that space later.
It seems early to ask, but where do you go from this book?
I have one of those messy drafts of a book that I wrote last summer. Come May, I will print it out and start to think about everything that needs to change!