Does the creative process get easier for you with each book?
Not really. Each book seems to be its own creature, with its own demands and needs. With each one, I feel I’m learning – but learning only how to write exactly this book and no other. I think it eases things to have the sense that the book will likely get published, which I’ve felt more assured about as I’ve gone along, but the process is always unique. I’ve had a few books that came with miraculous ease for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, but that’s not been true for most of them.
How did you think of the title of the book?
I’ve often had trouble with titles. The titles of my first two novels were, in fact, invented by others – the first, The Good Mother, by my literary agent; the second, Family Pictures, by the publisher. The title for this book, Monogamy, seemed just to be there, from the start. From the blue. I’m only grateful.
How does it feel to hold your book in your hands?
Miraculous. Every time. If I like the cover, even more miraculous, like having the person you love turn up looking very elegant. And I love the cover of Monogamy.
Do you write about people you know? Or yourself?
I certainly use bits of people I know in coming to know the people I’m creating. I’ll make a note to myself – “Her voice has the assurance that Lynn’s has” – for instance, in my attempt to make a character, to come to know her. For the adolescent brother in Family Pictures, I was aware of using some of the intensity of my son as an adolescent, some of the witty philosophising of a college lover, and certainly the sense of my older brother’s ease in moving around Chicago, where the book is set, and where we grew up. But I’d feel confined if I were using wholly one person, trying to recreate him on the page. I like the freedom to use some things – certain verbal tics, certain firmly held beliefs, even some events – but only to attach them to my person, the one I’m in the process of inventing. When I was writing my sole non-fiction book, about my father and Alzheimer’s disease, I was aware of feeling constricted by the need not to invent, by the lack of a sense of playing, which is part of the pleasure or writing fiction.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Read. Notice everything in a book you like. If you find a sentence beautiful or compelling, write it out in your own hand, or type it in at your own computer. And as you read, think about what the writer is making you feel, and then look, again and again, at precisely how she’s done that. What words on the page brought that feeling on.