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Fiction writers R.O. Kwon, Lydia Kiesling and Alexia Arthurs talk about their craft at the Brooklyn Book Festival

September 16, 2018 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
R.O. Kwon, author of “The Incendiaries,” signs books at the Brooklyn Book Festival. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan

Will is a former child evangelist who no longer believes in God.

Phoebe is a could-have-been piano prodigy who gave up on music and drinks a lot.

How did this college girl wind up getting involved in domestic terrorism?

R.O. Kwon’s debut novel, “The Incendiaries,” tells the story of this star-crossed college couple.

It took Kwon a decade to write the book, she said at a panel discussion called “The Feminist Future of Fiction” at the Brooklyn Book Festival on Sunday.

She said she wrote “The Incendiaries” to console a younger version of herself.

She lost her faith at age 17, she told a standing-room-only audience at the festival’s North Stage, which was outdoors on Cadman Plaza East.

The panel was presented by Books Are Magic, novelist Emma Straub’s Cobble Hill bookshop. Straub moderated the panel.

“I grew up deeply religious, so religious I thought I was going to be a missionary or, like, a recluse in a cave,” Kwon said.

Losing her faith was the most painful experience of her life, she said.

“In a lot of ways I was writing this book for that 17-year-old-girl who felt desperately lonely … to tell her that she’s not as lonely as she feels, and she was never as lonely as she feels,” Kwon explained.

Concerning the craft of fiction writing, Kwon said she can spend a whole day working on a sentence and is obsessed with punctuation.

Fortunately, her editor shares her obsession.

The two of them have told each other they’ve stayed awake at night thinking about semicolons.

Sources of inspiration

The authors on the panel talked about writers who have inspired them.

Kwon said when she was writing “The Incendiaries,” she would start her work day by reading a short passage of Virginia Woolf.

Alexia Arthurs, whose debut short-story collection is called “How to Love a Jamaican,” said she thought of author Junot Diaz when she wrote her book.

Diaz portrays Caribbean people’s experiences from a man’s point of view. Arthurs wanted to examine them from a female perspective.

Also, Arthurs said, her story collection was inspired in various ways by “Lucy,” Jamaica Kincaid’s novel.

Lydia Kiesling, a panelist whose debut novel is called “The Golden State,” pointed to Anita Brookner and Iris Murdoch as inspirational women writers and said she loves Helen DeWitt’s book “The Last Samurai” and Elisa Albert’s novel “After Birth.”

Also, when Kiesling was working on “The Golden State,” she thought about Terry McMillan’s novel “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” It’s narrated in a first-person, present-tense voice.

Kiesling decided to use that voice to write her book.

The present-tense narration effectively evokes the alternating tedium and hysteria that the protagonist of “The Golden State” experiences as a mother spending 10 days alone with her small child.

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