After one year of writing my novel, I took stock of what I’d accomplished—which seemed like very little. Would writing always feel like flailing? How do novelists find their way through? For guidance, I turned to published novelists, whose interviews are presented in the One Year In: Writing the Novel series.
Today’s novelist is fellow Ploughshares blogger Rebecca Makkai, the author of the novels The Borrower and The Hundred-Year House (forthcoming in 2014), and Music for Wartime, a story collection (forthcoming in 2015).
Rumor has it The Borrower developed over the course of nine years. Not to sound like your mother, but what took you so long?
It’s funny, I’m actually a very fast writer, so the “nine years” thing is kind of misleading.
It was really nine years start to finish, the first few years of which were just wimpy outlining. I refused even to refer to it as a novel for about five years—just “this longer thing I’m working on.” I was very young (21) when I started it, and I was fortunately smart enough to realize I had no real business writing a novel. It took nine years not because I was drafting, but because I was growing up and figuring out how to write.
Did writing your first novel prepare you in any way for writing your second?
I think that if your first novel fully prepared you for writing your second, that would be a very bad sign. If it doesn’t feel completely foreign and new and like you’re working without a net, then you’re probably repeating yourself.Continue Reading
The Immanence of God in the Tropics
Leapfrog Press, September 2012
George Rosen performs a neat, almost anachronistic trick in his new book of seven stories, The Immanence of God in the Tropics: he plays it straight. When writing about exotic locales, the temptation is to mimic the lush strangeness in prose, but Rosen does the opposite; he writes with such stark, unadorned clarity that distant places snap into focus, no matter the vegetation or the weather.
Birds of a Lesser Paradise
Megan Mayhew Bergman
Scribner, March 2012
In the twelve stories in Megan Mayhew Bergman’s debut collection, the past is always present. Children live in the failing light of dying parents. Lovers make their beds on inherited sheets. The furniture in a rented house smells of a previous tenants “chicken suppers and cigarette smoke.” Continue Reading
For this blog post, I am interviewing Krys Lee, author of the short story collection, Drifting House, published this year by Viking/Penguin. Drifting House follows the lives of Koreans both in their homeland and in the United States. According to the book’s website, “Alternating between the lives of Koreans struggling through seventy years of turbulent, post-World War II history in their homeland and the communities of Korean immigrants grappling with assimilation in the United States, Krys Lee’s haunting debut story collection Drifting House weaves together intricate tales of family and love, abandonment and loss on both sides of the Pacific.”
TL: First of all, congratulations on the publication of Drifting House. The reviews have been deservedly positive, and it is generating buzz and praise rarely seen for a short story collection. Many Ploughshares readers are writers of short stories who, like me, are submitting to literary journals with the hope of publishing a short story collection some day. I’ve noticed that you have published in several prestigious journals, i.e. the Kenyon Review, Narrative, and Granta (New Voices), prior to publishing Drifting House. At what point did you think you had more than just a group of stories? When did the stories you were writing start to gel together in your mind as a collection that could be published together in a book?Continue Reading
Alfred A. Knopf, February 2012
This post was written by Caitlin O’Neil.
Waiting for a Helen Simpson short story collection is like waiting for a teenager to open up; it’s going to be a while. Yet even though she puts out a brief volume—under 200 pages in this case—only every five years or so, she still manages to command a place in the culture’s conversation.Continue Reading