Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Tony D’Sousa (page 4)
 Talking with
Tony D’Sousa
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How did you arrive at this cover?

We went through eight or so cover ideas. To me, everything was gratuitous African images from ethnicities totally unrelated to the one I write about. On this certain one, my editor said “Everyone at Harcourt likes this, we really, really think you should like this, too.” I didn’t. It was a San cave painting. That’s what, 2500 miles away from West Africa! I called my agent. The next day my genius editor came to me with the Outtara Watts suggestion and I picked the cover art out of a dozen of his pieces.

How did you work with your editor on the book?

My editor, Tina Pohlman, really helped me smoothen out continuity between the chapters, and trim out some repetition and pendanticness, my major weakness. It really has been a crazy and emotional year, so much excitement, so much fear, so many moral questions to ask about writing about people without their consent, profiting from tragedy and horror. I did not go to Africa to write a book, and yet I was a writer the whole time I was there. I have prayed to the universe daily since I was 22 to make me a writer, just please please please send the Muse. I didn’t care about anything but the writing and being recognized for the work I’ve done. I know that’s what we all want. To actually have it, sometimes this light comes into me and I feel like I’m tripping. Other times I know this will destroy me as a writer.
     
One of the first things I did after selling Whiteman was to go on this crazy hell raising trip through Eastern Europe and Turkey. The second thing was to go on this crazy hell raising trip through Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia with my pal and RPCV Adam Huebner. They have email in all the bars of the world it seems but here. So sooner or later I’d check my email in a foreign bar and there would be an email from Tina. That she somehow didn’t get sick of the crazy emails I sent back and kept me focused on Whiteman is a wonder. She’s a great editor. She really managed me through the emotions.
     
I am lucky and grateful for what’s happened. But I don’t understand this question tons of people put to me: “What are you going to do now?”
     
Hello! I am going to write until there is nothing left. And then I am going to try again.

Explain some things about how you write. Do you write on a computer? Do you write for so many hours a day?

  

I write at night, after dark. I pace around at first, smoke, drink, settle my soul. Then I sit down before the paper with an image or a scene and try to find a true line that makes me want to look for the next one. I have always written with a pen and paper in a quiet and bare room close to a window where I can see the night. 99% of the time, I produce five to twenty pages, go to bed, look at it in the morning and throw it away. But once in a while, the Muse comes into me and I hurry to the end not to lose it. Re-reading it, I can’t remember where it came from. It’s never what I thought it would be, and that’s my main strength in writing, to let the story be what it wants to be, to go there even when I have no idea about where it’s going. It’s narcotic to be taken away like that. It keeps me going back.
     
Writing is not fun for me. It’s hard and a frightening sort of way to try to pay your way through the world. But to hold that electric current of the Muse in your hands, it’s worth the trouble. My best work comes out in a rush. It has the magic and continuity and liquidity that building and building a story can’t. I don’t think many writers write that way, but to each his own art. My best stories come out in great rushes of one or two sessions. Then there are the weeks or months it takes to get the clay of it formed up into the right shape.
     
I like to reread my best stuff. In that way I write for myself. But I am also very conscious of reaching an audience. It has to move me, and if it does, I know it will move someone else. I care about all of my characters, even the vile ones. I want to find each one’s truth. If I don’t think it is something that will last, I throw it away. I have thrown 200 page manuscripts into the fireplace. It’s a terrible and frustrating feeling to watch all that paper burn, but cathartic and reaffirming, too. If I don’t like it, why should I let it be? 

How do you go about editing yourself?

Editing for me is the easy part. The hard part is getting the good clay to work with. It’s hard to mess it up if it’s fundamentally a good story, even in rough form. I go through it and every time I hesitate, I stop at that part and ponder until I find the thing to make it right. It’s hard sometimes to force myself to admit that some line isn’t right, to not be lazy and try to slip it by someone, but I just don’t settle for it. I don’t send stories out until they are done. Until Whiteman, I haven’t had an editor change more than a word or two here and there. And even with Whiteman, there are very few differences between what I sent in and what will come out in April.

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