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Twenty Questions with
Diana Y. Paul, writer :
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Twenty Questions with
Diana Y. Paul, writer

Diana Y. Paul  lives in Carmel, California with her husband, Doug, and two cats, Neko and Mao. I got to know Diana through a friend we have in common, Connie Mayo – the three of us have been sharing our experiences of being debut novelists. It’s wonderful to be part of a network of international writers who are setting sail in the world of published fiction. Whenever I fall in love with a new writer, I go straight back to their first novel: it feels like getting to know the real them, right at the start, before the spotlights were switched on. Reading a debut hot off the press makes that experience even more more thrilling.

Diana’s debut, Things Unsaid: A Novel (She Writes Press) is out this month. Jules, her sister Joanne, and her brother Andrew all grew up in the same household―but their varying views of and reactions to their experiences growing up have made them all very different people. Now, as adults with children of their own, they are all faced with the question of what to do to help their parents, who insist on maintaining the upscale lifestyle they’re accustomed to despite their mounting debts. It’s a deft exploration of the ever-shifting covenants between parents and children and has been described as a ferocious tale of family love, dysfunction, and sense of duty over forty years.

Diana has also written Women in Buddhism (University of California Press) and Philosophy of Mind in Sixth-Century China (Stanford University Press). Her short stories have appeared in a number of literary journals and she is currently working on her second novel, A Perfect Match.

Alongside these wonderful books, Diana is a former Stanford professor in Buddhist Studies. The psychology of Buddhism permeates her writing and her life. Things Unsaid interweaves Catholic guilt with Buddhist karma in a tale of family obligation and duty.

Here’s a little glimpse into Diana’s world.

What three words would you use to describe yourself?

Energetic. Optimistic. Analytical.

How would you describe your writing style?

Lean, mean and clean.

Tell us a bit about the inspiration behind your wonderful new novel, Things Unsaid.

Several friends were facing their parents’ deaths a few years back—because we are at that age, babyboomers. And I kept thinking of the question as we discussed their situation—what would you say to your mother as she lay dying, a mother who wasn’t the one you wanted. That is the inspiration for Things Unsaid. Both my parents died while I was writing this novel so I asked myself the same question.

We never really know who are parents were, separate from their role as mothers and fathers. This has always intrigued me.

What do you love most about writing?

Falling into the rabbit hole of making the characters come alive, become real and complex personalities, and not knowing how they will evolve.

What do you find hardest about writing?

Trying to get into the head of the character at the same time I am understanding them from the point of view of the reader. I call it double-vision.

What kind of child were you?

Studious, perfectionist, and an avid reader and scribbler, usually dreaming of other worlds.

If you could choose a superpower, what would it be?

To fly.

Which fictional character would you most like to meet?

Either Olive Kitteridge or India Bridge (Mrs. Bridge).

What book do you wish you’d written?

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, which is often a comparative description of Things Unsaid, but I didn’t read Olive Kitteridge until after I saw the wonderful HBO adaptation. I felt as if Elizabeth Strout had read my mind!

Do you have any writing tics that you’re forever editing out?

Too much backstory. I am always thinking of a character’s flaws, their wounds, and trying to reveal them through backstory.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I enjoy creating mixed media art– combining Japanese woodblock techniques with etching, watercolour and chine collé.

What are you reading at the moment?

Three books—all nonfiction—Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier, Gap Year Girl by Marianne C. Bohr, and Make a Wish for Me: A Family’s Recover from Autism by LeeAndra Chergey.

What’s your favourite word?

“Titillation” because it tickles and teases, with subtle and not-so-subtle sexual connotations. The listener never knows what you really mean.

What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?

To expect anything.

Which writer do you most admire?

Can’t decide between Elizabeth Strout and Evan S. Connell.

What song or piece of music would you choose as the theme tune to your life?

Somewhere Over the Rainbow/It’s a Wonderful World ” by Iz Kamakawiwo’ole or “I Can Walk on Water” by Basshunter.

Where do you write?

Anywhere I feel like it with my laptop—usually outdoors.

What or who inspires you?

Anyone who does not give up in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

When were you happiest?

Still am—every time I am around my family, even when they drive me crazy.

What are you top three writing tips?

  • Read and then read some more.
  • Write what first comes to your mind, without the self-critic raising its ugly head.
  • Learn to enjoy revising and editing, because of the surprises lying beneath the surface.

To find out more about the wonderful Diana, rush out and by her awesome book, Things Unsaid, visit her two websites: her author website and her website on art food and movies/TV. You can also follow her on twitter and Facebook.

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