By Christian Viveros-FaunĂ©
By Miriam Felton-Dansky
By Tom Sellar
By Tom Sellar
By Jessica Dawson
By Tom Sellar
By R. C. Baker
By Tom Sellar
I do think about that. I don’t know if I feel burdened by it. I feel it’s a challenge. I want the same thing. I really want to tell a story that’s complicated and challenging, and I don’t want to compromise the prose, but I definitely want people turning the pages. I guess it’s not a burden; it feels like an imperative. But sometimes I think, “Oh, what if I want to write a really quiet, strange book with no plot? Could I do that?” I do feel like there isn’t much tolerance for that kind of thing anymore, which is a shame.
In your acknowledgments, you thank Jennifer Egan and Jhumpa Lahiri for their “crucial advice and encouragement.” What was the most helpful advice that each one gave?
Jhumpa had been reading the draft, like, hot off the press—as soon as I wrote a page, practically, she read it. She was with me from the very beginning and sort of deserves credit for my ever finishing this book at all because she was so encouraging, and I was having such a hard time. But the really crucial thing she said to me—we were on this long drive together and babbling to each other about our projects and where they were, and I said, “Yeah, well, you know, now that all this has happened, I think I’m going to have this happen and this happen.” And she looked at me and she was like, “Susan, your book is done! The plane is landing. No more, take it out of the air. You’ve got to start winding it down now.” And I was like, “Really? It doesn’t feel like a full book.” She was like, “It is. Calm down, end the draft, and then look at it.” I had this idea that I was going to write this 500-page book about this woman’s life. I don’t know what would have happened if she hadn’t said that, because I did sort of lose sight of the story.
Then, I was having terrible struggles revising this book. There was something really wrong with Regina’s point of view. It’s hard to explain, but Regina’s point of view just wasn’t working, and that’s the point at which Jennifer read a complete draft and gave me the most incredible set of notes. And suddenly I was like, Oh my God! I know what to do! Sometimes that happens, and it’s so amazing. You just need to have somebody else look at it and talk about it. It helps if it’s someone as smart as Jenny.
In an interview you said you were interested in writing as a child and wrote a lot of stories, and then lost interest in your teens and became more interested in acting and visual arts. Did you stop writing because books weren’t seen as cool by your peers, or was it something else?
Definitely not. It wasn’t peer pressure at all. It’s actually bewildering to me why I made those choices, because I went to a high school that specialized in the visual and performing and media arts. There was a whole department at my high school dedicated to fiction- and poetry-writing and photography, and I decided to do the theater department. I think it was me taking my interest in writing for granted. I just didn’t see it really as anything special. I had always written little stories. I was one of those annoying kids who was like, “I made a book. Will you read it?” I think by my teen years I was annoyed by myself. I was like, “Uch, whatever. So, I like to write. Who cares?” So, it was really me. In college, I took fiction classes and took it a little more seriously, but I definitely wasn’t, like, the literary-magazine person. I wanted to be a graphic-design major. I think I devalued writing because it was something that I was actually pretty good at, and I was really bad at those other things—just terrible.
I saw that you gave a talk recently titled “Raising Independent-Minded Passionate Readers in the Digital Age.” You have two children. What’s your advice?
Oh God! That was so hard. I felt so unqualified to give that talk. The talk should have essentially been: “I don’t know how to do it!” My eight-year-old is turning nine in a matter of days and he really wants an iPod touch, so we’re in the throes of that debate: Do we buy him an iPod touch? What’ll it mean? We get a little too agonized about it, me and my husband. But I worry about it, I do. Because statistically kids read so much less, and even kids who do read are reading books at lower levels than in the past. I’m a bit of a knee-jerk Luddite about it. It’s just hard for me to find value in video games. At the same time I don’t want to be that mom who’s like, “No video games!” My parents were definitely very strict about certain things and it just made me want them desperately. I guess the best thing to do is to create a culture of literacy and books and love of that sort of thing in your own home and just hope it takes without having to be a cop about it.