There is that fear among female authors that if they choose a female protagonist that their books won't be as successful. Is that something you worried about before starting this book or ever think about in regards to your work? It is certainly something that I have thought about over the years. Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks, “I want to be a woman novelist,” any more than anybody thinks “I want to be an Asian-American novelist.” No, you just want to be a novelist. You hope that you will be able to reach as broad of an audience as possible. In writing this book, the story felt urgent to me for all sorts of reasons, and so I wasn’t thinking about it. Usually when I’m writing something, I’m not worrying about who’s going to read it. But I was aware that if any of my books could be said to be one that women are more likely to read, this would be one. But I also felt like, well, that’s fine. There are plenty of novels about baseball, and I don’t read them. The novel is about being human, and it should be of interest to everybody. But if it’s not, then that’s OK.

Writers, especially female writers, are told that having children will prevent them from writing books. Your first bestseller came not long after your two children were born. Is parenthood good for writing fiction? Parenthood generally has got to be good for writing fiction because you learn so much. So you have to feel that it’s gotta be better than knowing less. But I also felt, for me, The Emperor’s Children was written in such a different way than things I’d written before. I can be a little obsessive in the revision. I would go over and over things, and I just couldn’t as much that time. I always wondered if that was actually better, if that had actually been an improvement. Perhaps the prose was less tortured or less something.

Lisa Cohen

Did you try to use that same approach this time? There was a lot of revising with this book. But it's always a little bit like learning the lines for the school play. You don't really know how you do it. You just fumble along until you get to the end. So I don't really know.

Recently, in the Sydney Morning Herald, you described your husband's role as your first reader as that of "a vague but loving cheerleader." It almost sounds like he's not very critical of your work. No, he's more critical the more there is. If I have 50 pages, and I ask him to read it, he’s supportive unless he thinks they're really dire and says ditch this project. But if he doesn't say that, he's unlikely to say, “You know, the section from 28 to 32 really needs work.” He's not going to do that at that point. When he's first reading things, he's mostly saying, “Keep going! Great! I'm interested!” And that's it. And when there is a whole manuscript, then it's different. Then, he reads it in a different way. It's like if you have a little shoot in the garden, you don't want to cut it, you wait till it's bigger to trim it.

Being too nitpicky at first can be stifling or make you overthink things. Right. Basically, in the early stages when he reads it, he's doing me a favor. And, really we both secretly know that what I want is a sort of pat on the back to say keep going. And then later it's different. I guess he's still doing me a favor later. It's a different sort of favor.

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