Visiting Author Explores How ‘Normal’ People Live

By Meaghan Menzel
Lit House Beat Reporter

She didn’t start out as a fictional writer, but now she has become the author of the novel of short stories, “Normal People Don’t Live Like This.” Dylan Landis paid a visit to our Rose O’Neil Literature House Oct. 9 for a reading to officially start the “Jewish Voices” events.

Landis read “Rana Fegrina” from her collection of short stories, “Normal People Don’t Live Like This.” After the reading, Landis kicked off the question and answer segment of her visit. One of the first questions was about what she thinks of the themes she uses in her writings. Landis said she doesn’t pick her themes. They come to her subconsciously. While reading books by one of her favorite authors, Flannery O’Connor, she learned, “the story and the theme should be… inseparable.” But she admits she does “knock on the same doors.” Her most common themes include the attraction to the mean girl, problems with parents, and issues between girls and older men.

The next question was about her style. Freshman Reilly Cox pointed out Landis’ style usually involves Latin names, repetitions, and unusual comparisons. He called it “strange but very beautiful.” Landis explained that she wanted a writing voice that was “part teenager, part me [her], and part voice that would capture the sense of mystery a teenage girl cannot possibly articulate.”

Another question was about Landis’ writing process particularly dealing with revision. She says she revises her work “endlessly.” It makes up “90 percent” of her writing process. She explained that she’ll start writing a piece but then go back to revise it. She compared it to combing hair— starting at the top and working her way down. “The story grows that way.” Then when Landis gets stuck, she’ll call in her first reader and ask, “What’s wrong with this story?” From that feedback, she’ll continue with her revisions. Another part of her writing process is research. She’ll either be on the internet looking up tid-bits for her next piece, or she’ll be reading novels to better understand what she’s writing about. She’s currently reading a biography on Miles Davis to better understand jazz for her next story on her character Rainey.

One student pointed out that Landis did not know from the beginning that she wanted to be a writer. This was true; Landis thought most writers had to be born that way. She went into journalism, but she believed that was a “thinking job” with writing attached. When asked how long Landis had been writing, she explained that in October 1996 she attended a fiction workshop for the novel “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle. That workshop experience was “transforming” for her. Landis decided then and there that she wanted to write fiction. She quit her job as a journalist, began attending workshops, listening to tapes, and reading as much as possible. It took her five years to write “Normal People Don’t Live Like This.”

Landis has a very poetic voice. When asked what inspired her to use that voice, she replied there was no inspiration. She read books to get inspiration to write, but her voice came from revision. It’s how she crafted it. When asked if she ever thought about writing poetry, she said she’d prefer to read it than write it. However, she is thinking about challenging herself with flash fiction next.

In closing, Landis has three tips for would be writers. The first trick is to set your alarm an hour early to get up and write. In the morning your defenses will be down so you can just write. Second, don’t watch television. You’ll have a lot more time that way. And three— drive with your radio off. Use that time to “inject yourself in a scene.” Dylan Landis said “austerity is the price you pay for keeping yourself inside the work,” but “the rewards are phenomenal. You get to live in the work, you get to produce it, and you get to finish it.”

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