Did you learn anything from writing this novel? If so, what was it?
I've learned something valuable from every book I've written. This particular
novel, I Couldn't Love You
More, taught me to trust myself and to persevere, even if everyone in the
universe––agents, editors, family members––is telling
I worked on I Couldn't Love
You More for four years but my former agent wasn't able to sell it.
Although this wasn't the first time I'd spent years on a book that didn't sell,
it was the first time I felt so strongly about the material that I disagreed
with my agent. After working together for fourteen years and two books, she was
as beloved to me as a family member; but she felt the book was dead, and I
didn't, so we parted ways. Eventually (after uncurling from my fetal position),
I called my current agent Jennifer Gates for advice. Jen and I had worked
together many years before (she co–edited my first novel, Hunger Point),and I
thought she might have some advice. It never occurred to me that she would be
interested in the manuscript, but after I explained the situation, she asked to
see it. In addition to being a brilliant agent, Jen is also a gifted editor
(and stunning and tall and generous and kind). She and Rachel Sussman (who's no
longer with the agency), read the book and offered their opinion. Their
feeling? Nothing in the novel was working except the architecture; that is, the
book's structure. Everything else—characters, storyline, pacing,
everything—had to be reconceived and rewritten. So I sat down at my
computer, took a deep breath, and started over. With Jen and Rachel's help, I
stripped that manuscript, literally, down to its bones and rebuilt it. Two
years later, I finally had a decent draft, and two weeks after that, the book
Who are two authors have inspired you and why.
Although it's difficult to pick only two, I'd have to say Philip Roth and Mona
Simpson. Both are fearless writers whose mastery of the craft of fiction is
awe–inspiring. They write brilliantly about complex family relationships,
which is very difficult to do, and their voices are clear, indelible and true.
Roth writes in a raw, often brutal way about flawed people, but he respects his
characters, so they're vulnerable, and that vulnerability can break your heart.
Simpson's style isn't as aggressive, but she's just as honest. Her characters
are complex and haunted, and her observations about the way we live are as
powerful as a punch to the gut.
What's the most interesting comment you've received about your books?
I don't know if it's the most interesting comment, but I love hearing that my
characters are hard to shake even two, three days after reading my novels
because they seem so real. One woman called it "fiction that reads like
memoir," which thrilled me.
If you could name your next character after a
city/state/province/country, what would you choose?
Phoenix because if I'm ever in the Witness Protection Program, that's where
I'll ask to live.
What's one piece of advice you would give aspiring authors?
Sometimes it's important to trust yourself (see question #1), but most of the
time, you're better off keeping your mouth shut. Nine times out of ten, your
agent is right.
Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
When my daughters were younger, my husband used to take them to Barnes & Noble
to visit my books. Now that they're older, trolling through the aisles to find
my novels on the shelf no longer holds the same appeal. But a few years ago?
Man, I was a freaking rock star.
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(Ponting Samith 8:04am August 18, 2012)