In two weeks, fiction writer Meg Wolitzer will take to the Hugo House stage to read her commissioned piece for Lit Series on the theme “One Hour.” Here, she answers some questions about the piece and her writing life in general. Interviewing her is Lisa C. Taylor, who will read at the Lit Series as this year’s New Works Competition winner. You can buy tickets to Lit Series here.
LCT: Your novels span years, depending heavily on the evolution of relationships. How was it to write a story that takes place in the span of an hour?
MW: Well, I am still writing it even as I answer this question, so you should probably ask me again in a week. But certainly, it’s a challenge to keep everything within a certain time frame. As a novelist, I both appreciate and feel relieved by the allowance for sprawl. The hour frame is exciting and demanding, and, without a doubt, different.
LCT: How is your process for short fiction different from your process for a novel?
MW: I have an eighty-page plan when writing novels. (I’ve spoken and written about this before.) Essentially, I believe that it’s a good idea to write eighty pages without worrying about what the novel will be, what people will think about it, and so forth. At eighty pages you can print it out, go somewhere and read it through and mark it up, getting a sense of what you have actually done, and what it really is. At eighty pages, you can also feel proud of yourself for amassing a significant chunk of a novel, and yet if you decide not to continue with it, you won’t have to feel as though you’re in so deep that you’ve ruined your life.
LCT: What are you reading these days?
MW: The new Jonathan Franzen novel, Purity, and the Knausgaard books, and Elena Ferrante.
LCT: The Interestings begins with the memory of the camp group at age fifteen or sixteen and how “they began to call themselves the name with tentative irony” while The Position begins with the book in question on a high shelf that the reader knows one of the children will find. Both of these beginnings demonstrate how early memories and experiences can imprint on and influence lives. Do you know at the onset how you will begin a novel or is it a process that reveals itself slowly?
MW: I’ve compared novels to advent calendars; there are a lot of different doors through which to enter. For me, the idea is central, and the characters usually follow, and along with that I try to generate a strong first image or scene that can carry out my initial ideas. It’s very important to me early on to ground a novel in a moment that’s both representative and evocative.
LCT: The dialogue of your characters reveals a lot about their temperament. How are you able to effectively get into the skin of the unique characters you create?
MW: I think that characters’ dialogue ought to create a particular “feeling” in readers. And if that feeling doesn’t happen, then perhaps the characters haven’t been thought through fully, and it’s back to the drawing board until they can speak in a way that is saturated with who they are. The more time one spends around one’s own characters, the easier it gets.