Interview with… Loree Westron

It’s the final interview of the year, and, as I’m typing this, our freezing temperatures have warmed dramatically and now we’ve got so much rain!

Today, I’d like to introduce Loree Westron who I met in a Facebook group last year.

Loree is an American writer now living in the UK. Her short fiction has been highly placed in numerous competitions including the VS Pritchett Memorial Prize, the Fish Prize, and the Seattle Review Fiction Contest, and published in London Magazine and anthologies including Borderlines, In Our Own Words, and Never Hit by Lightning. Missing Words is her first longer publication. She has an MA and PhD in Creative Writing, and works as a university mentor.

Hi Loree, welcome to the Fountain Pen. Tell us a little about yourself

I grew up in Idaho, in the northwest of the United States—the state where Hemingway spent his final years. It’s a wild and beautiful place, full of mountains and forests and deserts, and even after 35 years of living in the UK, it still fuels my imagination. When I was younger, though, I was anxious to get away from my small town, and at the age of seventeen, while each of us was cycle touring on the west coast, I met her future husband—an Englishman. Two years later I dropped out of university to travel the world with him, and we eventually settled in Portsmouth.

How did your writing career begin?

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. I found a story a few years ago, which I wrote with the help of a teacher when I was just six or seven years old. Though I’m sure it was mostly down to the teacher, it was actually quite good—with a proper narrative arc and everything.

In high school, I got into journalism because that’s how Hemingway started out. I was the editor of my school magazine, and I thought journalism would give me a foot in the door. By then, I knew I wanted to travel, so I planned to start out as a travel writer. After I moved to the UK, I wrote a few travel articles for the local paper, cycling magazines, travel websites and for some of the free publications you used to find on the streets in Earls Court. I thought I was going to be the next Bruce Chatwin! But I’d studied Creative Writing as an undergrad in the States, because I ultimately wanted to write fiction.

Years later, I returned to university and did an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester, followed by a PhD. The novelist Alison MacLeod was my supervisor for both, and was hugely supportive of my efforts. Going back to university was the best thing I did. It gave my writing a legitimacy and made me focus. And it exposed me to writing and writers I probably wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. It also taught me about perseverance, which is absolutely essential for any writer. My novella Missing Words grew out of my MA dissertation.

Why literary fiction? Did you choose it, or did it choose you?

Good question. When I look back at the books that influenced me most as a young reader and a budding young writer, I think they would largely fall into the ‘literary’ category. I read a lot of American classics: Steinbeck from an early age, followed later by Hemingway (of course), and as an undergrad I discovered Emerson and Thoreau and their successors such as Pirsig. Most of the books I was drawn to were about ideas rather than a specific sort of plot. I’m also captivated by the rhythm that words make when they’re put together in a precise way on the page. And I like fiction that matters; that has something say about the human condition. That sounds snobbish, doesn’t it? But that’s the sort of thing I strive to do—to write something that matters to someone else.

How do you approach a new project? Are you a plotter or a pantser, or somewhere in between? Where you do get your ideas?

At heart, I think I’m a pantser. It’s an exciting thing to watch a story unfold and have no idea where it’s going to go. My short stories often evolve from a first line involving an image or a particular voice, but sometimes I only know the ending and then have to work out a way of getting there. That was the case with Missing Words. I had the final image in my head before I even knew who the characters were. However, if I’m honest, there was a certain amount of plotting involved, too. We had a guest lecturer on the MA who did a session on Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. I’d already written a substantial amount of the first draft by then and I was encouraged to see that it appeared to follow the classic structure (Ordinary World, Call to Adventure, Refusing the Call, etc) as if by instinct. I guess that’s what reading does—it suffuses a person with a sort of cultural/literary awareness about how these things are done. I don’t, however, plot out a story scene by scene, or even chapter by chapter. That would bore me to tears.

Does social media help or hinder?

Does social media ever help anyone? I remember when I first opened a Facebook account, the writer Laura Pearson, who was on my MA, told me to watch out because it was ‘a time-suck’. Those were her words. And boy, was she right. She clearly has far more self-discipline than I do, though, because she’s managed to publish three novels since then and write a couple more. Facebook has, however, helped me to connect with people I wouldn’t otherwise have met. And it’s a great way to quickly find answers to research questions. I recently posted a question to my high school graduating class, asking how old we had to be to take driving lessons in the 1980s. I knew we could get a licence to drive during daylight hours when we were fourteen (scary, I know!) but I didn’t know if we were allowed to take driver education classes before then. Turns out that many of the farm kids I grew up with had exemptions and were driving, legally, at the age of twelve! So Facebook has had its uses. I have a serious love/hate relationship with it, though, and frequently think about pulling the plug. As for Twitter, Instagram and all the other platforms, they really crush my spirit.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a novel that’s been simmering away for quite some time, and is currently undergoing what I hope is the final draft. It’s set in Idaho and has interweaving modern-day and historical storylines. It’s been a real passion project, which is part of the reason it’s taking me so long. I do all the things I tell my students not to do (don’t edit while you write; don’t wait for the muse; don’t make excuses). I’m a hypocrite, really! But all the creative people I know are the same. We’re all terrible procrastinators. 

My latest endeavour (I know it’s a procrastination activity) is the Portsmouth Authors Collective, a group of local writers who help to promote each other’s books. It’s been a great source of encouragement, and since we started in October, we’ve sold about 250 copies of our books at local markets and other face-to-face events. Most of the authors in the group are self-published and they’ve found it a real challenge to get their books into the hands of readers. It’s great that we’ve helped to sell a few books, but more importantly, we’re helping to build each other’s confidence. Writing can be a lonely business, so it’s good to have a network of people who can give us a bit of support from time to time.

I’ve been following the exploits of the Portsmouth Authors Collective on your Facebook page, and it looks like a lot of fun. Good luck with your novel, Loree, I’m looking forward to reading it.

You can find Loree on her Facebook page, learn more about the Portsmouth Authors Collective, and buy Missing Words here.

My review of Missing Words on Goodreads: A gentle yet heartbreaking of grief and emotion, of a family tearing apart. This novella goes much deeper than the words on the page.

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4 thoughts on “Interview with… Loree Westron

  1. Hi Annalisa – Loree certainly has some advantages … having travelled, and having experienced both American life and being here in the UK , while she’s obviously taken advantage of improving her skills and her passion for writing. Interesting interview – thank you … cheers to you both and all the best for 2023 – Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

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