The 2011 Mark Program, our rigorous, manuscript finishing school for Emerging Voices alumni, is well underway with an impressive roster of writers and mentors. We are pleased to present this interview with Diana Wagman, a current instructor for the program.
Diana Wagman is a novelist and screenwriter. She is the 2010-2011 Fiction & Non-fiction instructor for the Mark Program. Her first book, Skin Deep, was heralded by the New York Times as a “brilliant debut.” Her second novel, Spontaneous, won the 2001 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Fiction. Bump, her last novel, was short-listed for the Dublin Literary Prize. Most recently, she has published short stories in Los Angeles Noir, Black Clock, and the premiere issue of Electric Literature alongside Michael Cunningham and Jim Shepard. As a screenwriter, Wagman wrote DELIVERING MILO (2001) starring Albert Finney and Bridget Fonda. Her reviews and essays have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The LA Weekly, and Poets & Writers. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children.
The Mark: You have taught in many different capacities. How does The Mark differ from a standard writing group?
There’s a level of seriousness among the Mark participants and a desire to move quickly that I have not seen in other on-going groups. Maybe it’s the fact that we have a limited time together, or maybe that it’s not a casual choice. But I think really it’s because everybody has come with a finished draft of a manuscript. They are so close to being ready to send it out into the world and there’s an excitement and almost a second wind that happens after a completed draft.
M: What should a first chapter accomplish?
Times have changed. Publishers want books—just as studios want movies—to start with a bang. A story needs to hook the reader in the first few pages. At the same time, that first chapter will establish tone, style, language, mood, and character.
M: What is the most difficult scene you’ve had to write?
Sex scenes are hard. Too often, describing a couple making love can sound like so much plumbing and worse, clichéd. But, the hardest scene I ever had to write was in my new novel when the antagonist has to kill his best friend. His combination of love, sorrow and resignation, while committing a brutal act, was really tough.
M: Tell us a little but about your piece in the current issue of Black Clock: Five Elements of Noir. What was the origin of this piece?
I love film and I really love noir. I have taught noir and the five elements are something scholars talk about. I was reading Julio Cortazar and thinking about meta-fiction and this idea of film in combination with fiction came to me. Noir seemed the perfect place to start.
M: What are you working on now?
My latest novel, The Care & Feeding of Exotic Pets, has just gone to my agent and I hope will find a good home. While I wait, I’m continuing work on a collection of short stories each one based on a different film genre. The above Five Elements of Noir is the first I completed. Now I’ve written one on the French New Wave and one on the western. I’m currently working on science fiction.
M: Who would you recommend apply to the Mark program?
Any Emerging Voice graduate with a first or second draft would benefit from this program. A Mark program participant needs to be open to change and willing to do more work.
Application for the next Fiction/Non-fiction cycle will be released in Sept 2011. Please visit the Mark tab under programs for more info.