This is the third and final installment of “Mature Fangirling at Literary Sojourn,” in which I summarize the true-life experiences – some embarrassing, some inspiring – of other best-selling authors featured at this event. (See Tuesday’s post on author Patrick deWitt.)
Author of Beautiful Ruins, We Live in Water, and five other books;
co-host of the podcast “A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment” with author Sherman Alexie
On figuring out the best writing method for you
Walter uses the “scattershot method,” working on multiple projects at the same time. He’ll focus on one, then move to another when he gets tired of the first one, then “cannibalize what worked and throw away what didn’t.”
On the passage of time and “writing shadows”
Walter said time passes slowly for children. Morning shadows are short. There’s no shadow at noon. Time passes quickly for older people. Afternoon and evening bring longer shadows. He realized after raising children and experiencing parents dying: “The shadows were what I was writing.”
Walter mentioned Edward Albee’s quote, “I write the plays to find out why I’m writing them.”
On raising readers
“That’s what my wife and I try to do, raise the best readers we can. … We don’t have bar mitzvahs, we hand down books.” He and his wife discussed whether their children were ready to read Albert Camus and Toni Morrison.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett became a passion among their 16-year-old son and his friends. The oft-asked question circle became “Who has the Bel Canto?”
Author of Fates and Furies, and three other books.
On patience and dedication
“…because novelists take 10 years to finish a thought.”
On gathering life experiences and being a writer
“I think it’s important for young writers to take many cruddy jobs.”
“It’s hard, it’s so hard to be a creative person when you’re young.” Groff suggests writing daily, such as one hour in the morning: “dream into fiction.” Your stories won’t be great in the beginning. Good writing is a “war of accumulation” that requires faith.
“Have an art monster inside you…Let it stomp around the room.”
On the work it takes to become a successful author
She wrote three novels in three years before studying creative writing at the University of Madison, Wisconsin; acclaimed author Lorrie Moore was one of her teachers. Those early books are still in a drawer at home.
On the danger of telling other people’s stories
In her short story collection Delicate Edible Birds, “I wrote my mom’s story into it, which you should ask permission for [first],” she said. Her mother was upset, but finally forgave Groff after her children were born. (Apparently the birth of grandchildren can mend any rift.) Still, her parents haven’t read the book.
On how she views her writing and readers
After her writing is published and goes out into the world, it’s like “a fingerprint on glass.” “You’re carrying around my ghost with you,” she told the Literary Sojourn audience. “Thank you.”
Author A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and The Tsar of Love and Techno
On the first novel he wrote
The unpublished novel he wrote before Constellation was set in Northern Ireland. Because he didn’t know how to write in that dialect, he made all the characters deaf.
On his first published novel
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena was the only English-language novel about Chechnya published in 40 years. He was the first American tourist in post-war Chechnya.
On short stories
His grandma asked, “Why can’t you write a book where no one gets shot in the woods?” So he’s working on a short story collection, and mentioned his admiration for Pulitzer Prize-winner A Visit From the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan.
Short story collections paint “postage stamp-sized portraits” and provide readers with a “double sense of suspense” because you read them to see how the characters end up and also to see whether the author can pull it off.
But they don’t have the same pull as novels for some readers: “What are you working on?” people ask Marra. “A short story collection.” “Oh.”
On awkward moments that contributed to him becoming a writer
Marra’s father taught him about the birds and the bees by having the two of them listen to a romance novel on a road trip. The cover featured a model who looked like Fabio, and Marra said the book was titled something like The Brazen Scotsman Seduced Me. He was mortified. His father didn’t say a word to him the entire time, until the end of the trip: “Good talk, son.”
author of two novels, The Muse and The Miniaturist
On developing new goals
Burton, at age 27, said she had attained a certain level of success as an actor, then admitted to herself that she was at the end of the line with that career.
She worked as a personal assistant for a hedge fund and advocates that young writers work “crappy jobs.” “It sharpens your hunger,” she said. She stole time at this day job to draft her novel The Miniaturist, which contains a theme of “imagination can set you free.”
On the writing process
She revised The Miniaturist 17 times. “I still don’t know how to write a novel.” With her second novel, The Muse, she used a skeletal frame outline and plotted it using Post-It notes. “I always read [my books] aloud five to six times and think of the audience at the third or fourth draft.”
She wrote an essay about success and its effects. Writing, she said, is taking a gamble on your own talents: “Where an idea starts is never where it ends.”
Author of seven books including America, America and Emperor of the Air
Canin read a moving essay about returning to a career in medicine after becoming a writer. He relied on the knowledge of nurses and physicians’ assistants to fulfill his duties. He said forgetting things is not necessarily bad for a novelist: “I forget the details and they become imagination.”
Katherine Valdez waited in line for Lauren Groff to sign Delicate Edible Birds. She mentioned to the National Book Award nominee that she’s working on short stories. Groff immediately went into Good Samaritan mode and began thinking aloud about short story writers she admires; one is Gary Lutz. Valdez walked away a new Groff fan, even before she read the author’s inscription: “For Katherine. Good luck with your work!”
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