Peelle and Pollero Provide Contrasting Perspectives on Writing

February 15, 2011

Photo by Cary Hall

Rhonda Pollero and Lydia Peelle sign their books after a reading on Thursday, February 10.

At first glance, one wouldn’t initially link Lydia Peelle with Rhonda Pollero. Peelle has recently published her first collection of short stories; Pollero has written more than 30 romance and mystery novels. Peelle is a bit romantic and superstitious; Pollero is no nonsense and bit sarcastic. Peelle approaches writing as an explorer; Pollero as a factory worker.

These differences—as well as a few similarities—shined through on Thursday, February 3 at the concluding event of the 2011 Winter With the Writers: A Festival of the Literary Arts series.

Carol Frost, director of the Festival, said she was experimenting when she decided to pair the two together in a single evening. “Because Pollero had recently started a new series in a genre she hadn’t written in before, I could think of her, a bit whimsically, as an early writer, and I paired her with Lydia, who had published only one book. I thought of the pairing as an opportunity to measure audience interest in areas of writing that were new to the Festival and as a way to gauge interest in possible readings in the future.”

During the event, Peelle read from her book, Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing, which has received an O. Henry Prize, two Pushcart Prizes and an honorable mention for the 2010 PEN/Hemingway Award. The book centers around relationships and regret while creating a masterfully woven tale. Pollero read from her upcoming mystery novel, Slightly Irregular, which features the character Sydney Tanner.

After both readings, Peelle and Pollero joined Frost on the stage for a series of questions submitted by the audience. The session showcased how the two seemingly divergent authors share a need for structured writing periods—though their commitment to that structure varied.

A self-proclaimed overachiever, Pollero takes a dedication to the writing process very seriously. “I don’t believe in writer’s block,” she said. “I’m a huge believer that if you put in your time every day, treat it like a job, go where you’re supposed to be, stop answering the phone, don’t go play with your friends when they ask, get rid of the distractions—then you can do your job. If you’re going to wait for the muse to hit you, I hate to tell you, but there is no such thing.”

Peelle also sees the need to sit a desk and go through “that excruciating process” alone; however, she’s a bit more open to work-related distractions. For example, in preparation for her upcoming novel, which is set in 1916 and 1917, she has been doing a good deal of research. “I get to spend a lot of time in the library reading old newspapers on microfiche, which is incredibly fun and a great procrastination mechanism,” she said. “However, it might be years before that book comes out.”

Frost sees the slight differences as indicative of the type of writing they do. “The differences between Peelle’s and Pollero’s approaches to writing are probably largely reflective of the realities of publishing. Deadlines from genre publishers come faster,” Frost explains.

Audience expectations, likewise, are different. “For mystery novels, the satisfactions for the reader are when the killer is found out. The writing, with twists and turns in the plot, is directed toward that conclusion,” said Frost. “For readers of literary fiction, the creation of plausible characters in a plausible, often complex world is the chief expectation, so the writer has more reason to dream a character into existence.”

These expectations, of their audiences and themselves, prove to be the tie that binds. Their dedication to writing and reading inspires readers—both long-time fans and hopeful newbies—to explore their work.

By Laura J. Cole

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