By Christian Viveros-Fauné
By Miriam Felton-Dansky
By Tom Sellar
By Tom Sellar
By Jessica Dawson
By Tom Sellar
By R. C. Baker
By Tom Sellar
I think it’s something that I have wanted to read more about. As someone who is a writer and is a mother I was kind of fascinated by — if you read biographies of male writers — what a small footnote in many of them their family seems to be. And that’s kind of where I came up with the joke of calling them “art monsters.” Because I was thinking, well, right, if you aren’t worrying about any of that, then that’s so exhilarating to think of nothing but what’s in your own head and what you might make. But the world of actually having a kid and loving your kid more than you could ever imagine creates this tension. I think it’s a hard tension to talk about.
I have a theory, which I’m sure is quite filled with bunk, which is that to ever suggest, even if it’s just that you wish you had more sleep or more time or any of those things, is to perhaps bring down the wrath of some horrible god upon you, who will say, You wish you had your old life back? Here you go. And then your child disappears. Anyone who has a child or anyone who just loves a child knows that there is really nothing you can imagine that would be more terrifying than that being taken away. I know people who will talk about any other bad thing that might happen to them, but not that.
In the book, the wife steals time to write by pretending to go to yoga and then pulls over and writes in her car instead. How did you find time to write again after you had your child?
My normal writing habits are not at all conducive to any kind of regular domestic life, because I would kind of write in these spurts and then not write at all. But during those spurts, I’d go completely feral and only eat Lucky Charms for days and wear my dirty bathrobe. And so one of the things that I had to learn was a new way to write. I used to procrastinate. I used to have these acres of time. And I didn’t particularly realize that until they went away. But one of the things that I at least have found from having a child is it’s not ever just one way. For a while it will feel like there’s no time, and then time will feel expansive again. And then there will be times when I don’t even want to write because it’s just kind of completely compelling to me to be doing other things. And then there will be other times where I feel like if I can’t write and have time to myself, I’m going to scream. But kids are so funny, too. They’re much more fun than most of the things I did when I was just a depressive-freak single person.
At Columbia, you taught a course on writing from the perspective of an unhinged narrator, which is something you do really well in this book with the wife. What’s the trick to being successful at this?
I use the term unhinged rather broadly, like unhinged could basically mean unmoored. So sometimes it meant someone going mad and other times it meant someone who was really kind of standing to the side, no longer able to feel a part of that crowd going by. So, for this class, I started to realize that, after book after book that we were reading, you have to have a jumping off point. It’s not that interesting to have someone begin unhinged, stay unhinged, and end unhinged. There has to be a sense of some kind of emotional trajectory. And by that I don’t mean any kind of false uplift or redemption, because I don’t really care about that particularly in fiction. But I do care about the sense of momentum. And I remember with my first book, I was talking to a friend of mine, and I said, “The problem is, I don’t think it has any plot at all.” And he said, “Well, descent is a plot.” And so I feel like that was one of the things that I was trying not only to teach my students, but also [with Dept. of Speculation] I wanted to start when things didn’t feel like they were coming apart and go from there.
Was writing something you always knew you wanted to do?
I thought I was going to be an actress, which is bizarre to me. But quite quickly I discovered that I don’t like to collaborate, and I didn’t actually like to be in plays. I think most writers have a control-freak side — at least I do. When you write a book, it rises or falls on you, for better or for worse. And sometimes it’s a disaster and sometimes you bring it off. But in a play, there were just so many variables. So I took a writing class by chance. My parents were both English teachers, so it’s not that I hadn’t grown up with a lot of books around, but I didn’t quite identify that way. But then once I did, I was pretty much a one-trick pony. And I waitressed and I did all the other little jobs you have until you can figure out how to make a living.