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Author Applies Visual Skills to the Creation of Novel

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 All We Had

Author Applies Visual Skills to the Creation of Novel

An Authorlink interview By Columnist Ellen Birkett Morris

 


All We Had
by Annie Weatherwax

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At first glance, Annie Weatherwax, author of All We Had, seems like an unlikely prospect to be a writer. As a successful sculptor, she sculpted superheroes and cartoon characters for Nickelodeon, DC Comics, Warner Brothers, and Pixar.

But, when her brother got Parkinson’s in his 30’s, Weatherwax decided to stop sculpting and start writing fiction. Despite dyslexia and a lack of formal training in writing, Weatherwax wrote and published short stories. Her short story, The Possibility of Things, won the Robert Olen Butler Prize for Fiction. 

“I’m pretty dyslexic. It is like a musician with hearing problems or a painter with eyesight problems. “
—WEATHERWAX

“I’m pretty dyslexic. It is like a musician with hearing problems or a painter with eyesight problems. When I write, I make a lot of drawings and visual charts,” said Weatherwax. For example, if she is writing about an unequal relationship she might draw a large shape next to a small shape to provide a visual cue of what that portion of the manuscript is about. 

All We Had chronicles the struggles of Rita and Ruthie Carmichael, a homeless mother and daughter, who are struggling to survive in the midst of the great recession. The pair meets a cast of colorful characters as they try to stay afloat.

“I use all of the skills of a visual artist, contrast, color, light and tone. “
WEATHERWAX

“I use all of the skills of a visual artist, contrast, color, light and tone. All of that goes into my writing to evoke a mood,” said Weatherwax. Butler praised her“ability to render the moment to moment sensual thereness of a scene.” The fact that the novel is being made into a movie directed by Katie Holmes is a testament to its visual appeal and the strong characterization of the main characters.

“It was surprising to me how much the process of writing was like the process of finding a character in a block of clay. You work the clay from every angle. In writing, you work on individual sentences, but you also step back and look at the work as a whole,” said Weatherwax.

The result of her work is a novel that explores economic inequity, which Weatherwax considers the social justice issue of our time, through the lens of a mother and daughter looking to get by.

“I realize that poverty and economic inequity is something that no one wants to look at. I laced the story with humor and made the characters empathic so that people could really look at the issue, otherwise it is just a sad story.”

She believes art, literature and music are the best path towards social change.

“When embedded in story or music, issues reach people at a deeper level and have more emotional resonance,” said Weatherwax.

Her greatest challenge when writing the book was overcoming her own self-doubt. Weatherwax noted that America’s early childhood educational system emphasizes reading and sees reading ability falsely as a marker for intelligence.

“I never thought I could be a writer. I can’t spell at all,” she noted. She shut off her spellchecker and worked on the novel. When it was done, she shared the manuscript with trusted readers.

A friend connected Weatherwax to agent Esther Newberg, who went to her website, read her short stories, and was interested in reading the novel.
Weatherwax advises apprentice writers to take the time to observe the world around them and to write in pursuit of their authentic voice. She cited musician Bob Dylan as someone whose voice is not technically all that good, but whose authenticity drives his music and appeals to listeners.

“You have to not take the rejection personally; this is a key part of the process .”
WEATHERWAX

“You have to not take the rejection personally; this is a key part of the process of learning to keep going.”

 Weatherwax is now at work on her second novel.

About the Author

Annie Weatherwax was the 2009 winner of the Robert Olen Butler Prize for Fiction and her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. A graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, for years she earned a living sculpting superheroes and cartoon characters for Nickelodeon, DC Comics, Pixar, and others. She is currently a full time painter and writer. All We Had is her first novel.

About Regular Contributor
Ellen Birkett Morris
Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning journalist whose interviews and reviews have appeared in Authorlink, Prairie Schooner Online, The Louisville Courier-Journal, and reprinted in the reader’s guides to The Receptionist and Clever Girl. Her fiction has appeared in journals including Antioch Review, South Caroline Review and Notre Dame Review. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink.