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A coffee with ... Austin writer Amanda Eyre Ward

Alice Shukalo

You would think that a writer who has four books behind her, numerous short stories and another book coming out in July would allow herself a little attitude. "Here we go again another interview."

But Austin's Amanda Eyre Ward could not have that sort of an attitude if she put all her energy into trying. She is vibrant, down-to-earth and enthusiastic about being interviewed at Dominican Joe's.

Ward made her decision to be a writer early in life. As an undergraduate at Williams College in Massachusetts, Ward majored in English and in American Studies, which she now believes was an excellent pairing for writing fiction. But not every student writes short stories and thinks about creating novels just because they like to read literature. So what prompted her to register for a course in creative writing?

"I had always read to make sense of the world," she said. "For example, Updike and Cheever write about their worlds from the position of being an outsider. It's a way to be in the world and also be an observer of your world. In college, I realized that I could be taught to understand and express my world through fiction. It's something you can learn to do, like you can learn to do many other things."

In an interview published at the end of "Love Stories in This Town," a collection of short stories, she said that there are times that she thinks that her reading and writing life are truer than her real life, "the one I have to brush my teeth for," as she put it. The question is, with a husband and two children, for what is she more present: her fictional characters and plot lines or her everyday life?

"Well, when I'm actually writing, definitely, I'm in the world of the story," she said. "When I'm writing, I'm free to be my novelist self. The stories are always present themselves in some way, though. I can be playing with my sons, watching and interacting with them, and what's going on in my mind is the story along with them. But I try to let go of the work when I'm with family. I know that soon enough my children will be off and in their own worlds, and that I'll have plenty of time later to go off to a cabin in the woods and write."

Ward's living in the world of the story is fueled by her love of travel as well as by her connectedness to her family and friends. When she was an undergraduate, she attended Williams College and the School for International Training, in Bennington, Vt. She went to Lamu, an island in Kenya, in order to study the school system. "Unfortunately," she said, "the school was on spring break."

"The year after college, I went to Greece, and during that time, I also traveled to Italy and Egypt. I first went to Egypt in 1995, and went back to visit friends there in 1997 and 1998. I then went to the University of Montana to go to graduate school to study creative writing. That's where I met my husband, in the library at the university. We moved around because of his work — he's a geologist. We lived in New Orleans and in Waterville, Maine; and we spent two years at Woods Hole, Mass. Then we moved to Austin for his teaching job at the University of Texas."

So, the standard question for a writer: How do you get your initial idea for a story? Ward says that stories begin for her with scenes rather than a character developing in her imagination or with a plot outline. She has said that scenes lead her to the heart of the book. "I sometimes see a scene that impresses me and I'll write it and save it, not knowing what it's for but knowing that at some point, I'll use it. Sometimes the scene comes to me through my imagination. For instance, I may see a woman getting on a plane, or sitting on a plane, and I know that she has to be going somewhere in my book. I may not know where yet, but I write the scene and trust that I'll know its place later. I may see a woman on a beach who is seeing a pregnant teenager who is shivering with cold. I don't know who they are yet, but I know they'll be in my story somewhere."

Ward says that she doesn't overlap novels. If scenes come to her that she knows are not in the novel she's working on, she writes the scene and files it away. "I work on one novel at a time. And I'm always working on something. When I finish a novel, I put it behind me and start the next one. Plus, I'm doing some teaching. I'm currently teaching an online writing course through East Kentucky University. People told me I wouldn't like the online teaching, but I love it."

Ward uses a low-tech system for ordering her material and prompting her writing. "I make a lot of note cards," she says. Usually they have notes about various scenes that I think are coming up. I spread them all out at night so that I have something to come back to in the morning, a way to get started. It makes it seem as if I have a plan, which feels much better than staring at the blank computer screen. I'll pick a card and just start writing from it."

Where does she write best? In her study? In that cabin in the woods that she thinks about?

Ward's answer might surprise you. "I love to write in hotel rooms. Sometimes I rent a room here in Austin to work for a day. When I lived in Massachusetts, I rented a room for the winter just to go work in, an attic that was filled with books. After the book came out, I went back to show they guys who'd been around that winter. They said, 'Oh, so you really were writing a book. We thought maybe you were just some kind of a loony going up to that room.' "

Well, no, not a loony. Just a completely committed writer who decided long ago that writing is something you can learn to do, just like you can do many other things. She says she's always had the complete faith of her family in her ability to have this career. It also helps that she loves to write. "I even love the typing. I love the feel and the sound of the keys," Ward says. For her, it's the perfect work.

Amanda Eyre Ward has written "Sleeping Toward Heaven," "How to Be Lost," "Forgive Me" and "Love Stories in This Town." Her fourth novel, "Close Your Eyes," will be out in July.