Balancing Fact and Fiction: A Q&A with Journalist, Novelist and #ASJA2019 Keynote Speaker Camille Pagán

In addition to being co-chair of #ASJA2019, Jodi Helmer (@helmerjodi on Twitter) writes about food, farming and the environment. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Sierra, Modern Farmer and Wine Enthusiast. When not writing, she raises chickens, goats and bees on a small hobby farm in North Carolina.

There’s still time to register for #ASJA2019, on May 5-6 at the New York Marriott Downtown, two action-packed days of programming; exciting, dynamic keynoters; a plethora of networking opportunities and much more. New this year is an app, “ASJA Annual Writers Conference 2019.” Download it on iPhone or GooglePlay to maximize your conference experience.

#ASJA2019 keynote speaker Camille Pagánhas published five novels. She calls her latest book, I’m Fine and Neither are You, her most personal yet. Critics have praised the novel, which debuts in April, as “compulsively readable,” and “a poignant novel that explores truthfulness and boundaries in friendship, marriage, and more.”

Pagán, a longtime ASJA member, started out as a journalist and still writes articles for publications like Forbes, Real Simple, Time and WebMD. With five books and hundreds of articles under her belt, she shares her strategies for getting it all done.

Jodi Helmer: You write both articles and novels. How is a fiction career different than a journalism career?

Camille Pagán: With fiction, there are no deadlines. Even if you’re on contract for a book and have a year [from contract to deadline], you could write it in five months and then still have many months until the manuscript is due. Or you could take the whole year and not be done. You have to pace yourself. With fiction, you never quite know what you’re walking into. The story maybe more complex or you may realize after the draft is done that you need to pull a whole thread together again. So you have to give yourself a little more space than you would think.

JH: With no immediate deadline pressure, how do you make sure words get on the page? Do you set daily goals for fiction writing?

CP: I do. I’m now determined to have [fiction] be the bulk of my work so I look at it as a job—and other authors who do this successfully approach it the same way. It’s not a hobby or a vocation, it’s something that you just sit down and do. You set your goal and you meet it. And then, if it’s not right, you fix it.

JH: How do you structure your time to fit both journalism and fiction into your schedule?

CP: I work nine to five every day and break the day up into two parts. I write from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and don’t schedule calls or other tasks then; it’s all writing time. From 1 to 5 p.m., I do marketing and journalism.

JH: As journalists, we live by the mantra, “Don’t read the comments.” As a novelist, how do you deal with critics?

CP: It gets easier with every book. My first book, Life and Other Near-Death Experiences, wasn’t particularly well reviewed. I mean, to be fair, I had some really great reviews but I also had some really bad ones and those have stuck with me all this time because it is personal. You’re not dealing with facts: It’s something that you created entirely on your own, out of your mind and someone is saying, “I don’t like this.” But it happens to every author. Over time and with every book, I get a little more removed [from criticism] and understand that this is just the nature of the game. I’m writing a lot of books, and some of them are going to work better than others.

JH: Which of your books is your favorite?

CP: I think it would have to be Life and Other Near-Death Experiences because that was really the start of my career as it is today. I wouldn’t say that it’s my strongest book, but it was the one in which I really learned to trust myself as a writer and [writing it] was such a freeing experience.

Pagán will share more insights about her career as a journalist and novelist when she presents the keynote address at the 48th annual ASJA conference. She is scheduled to speak from 8:45 to 9:45 a.m. on Monday, May 6. A book signing will follow. Register now to hear Pagán and attend other top-notch conference sessions.