Yesterday on the fiction panel you mentioned your reluctance to read “Virgins,” the story that debuted in the Paris Review. I’m curious about your hesitation. Is it the audience’s reaction or something else?
I think my reluctance to read “Virgins” has less to do with where I am, and more to do with the fact that for years it was the only thing I’d written that anyone had really heard of, so when I was asked to do a reading, I was always asked to read it, and I got kind of sick of it, and also worried that people would assume it was the only kind of story I could write, and also annoyed by how surprisingly often complete strangers would think it appropriate to speculate about or directly ask about the circumstances under which I lost my own virginity, because I read a completely fictional work called “Virgins.”
Someone did that?
It’s sometimes flattering that people assume your work is true, because you want the characters you create to be that convincing, but it’s also a bit grating. As a fiction writer, your job is to make things up, so when people insist that you haven’t made anything up, it can also feel like they’re assuming you’re bad at your job.
I do sometimes say that I can’t read “Wherever You Go, There You Are” on the east coast, because my father says that if my family ever hears it I will never be allowed to go back to Delaware for a family reunion. He’s kidding. I think.
These are fictional stories, of course, but how do you both pay homage to home and reveal the delicious dysfunctions every writer observes?
I think one of the pleasures of being a writer is that you can go back into those moments where life could have been more interesting, and make it so, without actually having to pay the price in lived experience. Most of my work starts with either “why” or “what if.” I hear about something, or imagine a scenario, and I have no idea why someone would behave that way, so I write my way into an explanation, or, I think about a situation in which some sort of tension or disaster was avoided or defused, and wonder how it might have gone differently. Sometimes that means changing the outcome. Other times it means changing the entire dynamic of the situation so that it happens to a different person or so that something invented in the character’s past makes them a different enough person to make a different kind of choice.
Ολόκληρη η συνέντευξη εδώ.