So congratulations! The book is officially out today, right?
Yeah, today’s the day, finally! It’s exciting!
And this is your debut novel?
Did you find that to be a liberating experience or an intimidating one, in terms of not having anyone have specific expectations of you or what you should sound like?
I think that’s probably the easiest place to be, because there are no expectations; everybody imagines (hopefully) really nice, wonderful things of and for you. I haven’t disappointed anybody yet. [Laughs]
Well it’s gotten great reviews so far, so that’s exciting!
Yeah, I’m really excited about it. I think people are liking it, which is great; it’s all you can hope for.
So has this always been the goal, to write a book? When did that come about?
I think I wanted to write a book from the time I was about six years old, but it’s obviously taken a little while. I’ve been working on it for seven years, and it’s been another year since I sold it, so it’s been an eight year gestation. I had tried with other books before this, and for reasons that are probably good, they’re in a drawer somewhere and will probably stay there forever. I guess my feeling about it all is that I had to find subject material that I cared so deeply about that I was willing to keep going for however long it took.
And it took me a long time, and it didn’t always go well. It often didn’t go well [Laughs], but to persevere and to keep going back to it, it never bored me; I’ve been interested in this story my whole life, so I kept coming back to it until it was really done. It took a long time to figure out how to do it. I felt that with my first novel, I got a lot of the way there and couldn’t finish it; I didn’t know how. I’m a good enough reader to read my own work and say, “This isn’t good enough,” and it’s really disappointing when you feel that way. But then I learned slowly how to make it good enough. And I think this is it; I’m really proud of this novel.
No, it’s a huge accomplishment! It’s the worst thing when you kind of realize that what you’ve been working so hard on just isn’t working. I mean, there’s no other choice; you can’t force something that isn’t happening, so it’s great that this all came together to completion. Now, did you know from the outset that you wanted to do the characters’ voices the way you did, or did you kind of play around with that a little bit? Because it’s just the one who is in the first person, and then the rest are in third, right?
Exactly. For some reason, all along I knew that Julia’s voice would be in first person; I think ultimately it is her story, and she’s the narrator in that she’s able to flash forward a little bit and give a small sense at the very end where they all end up in the near future. But in terms of structure, I think at first Julia was every other chapter, and then that felt like that was too much, that I wasn’t getting enough from the other voices. So then I relaxed my standards a bit, and felt that it didn’t need to be as mathematically perfect; when you needed to hear from a character, you could, even when it wasn’t their “turn”. But I did know that everybody else would be in the third person, and that seemed to work. It was actually one of the few things that didn’t change from the beginning.
That’s great! And in terms of managing all those characters, did you switch back and forth mindset-wise a lot, or did you focus on one character’s development at a time?
Well, I think that sort of gets to the heart of the difference between a good draft a finished novel; for me, it was the realization that it isn’t as neat or as tidy as that. I might be in an Anne chapter where it’s from her point of view, but (for example) in the scene where she and Hugh are kind of having it out in her office when Teddy comes home with the baseball card, Hugh is every bit as much in that chapter. So Anne might say something, but however Hugh responds, I have to be able to access where he is in that moment, given everything he’s been through. You condemn the internal thoughts to one character, but you can’t stay there; you have to be constantly aware of the other characters in the book.
That makes total sense. And when you’re writing, what does a day look like for you? Are you the type of writer who has to make things very structured, and to treat it as a job, where even if it’s not coming straight away, you just write and write and write until it does?
In seven years there’s nothing I didn’t try. I can’t speculate what other people are able to do, but for me, I’ve tried everything; I’ve tried writing in the morning, I’ve tried writing five days a week, I’ve tried writing only on the weekends, I’ve tried writing at night…there are times when I felt like I couldn’t get in the chair. After the first novel didn’t work out and I was trying to start this one, I felt claustrophobic sitting in the chair in front of the computer, to the point where I bought a hacksaw and sawed off the arms of the chair so it didn’t feel quite as confining. [Laughs] I mean, how do you get yourself to do it? You just find a way.
For me it was about being a little more flexible; there was a time I didn’t write a year, and I know I was always thinking about it, which I think in many ways is just as important, but you can’t have one without the other, and eventually you have to get back in the chair and do it. It was hard for me, and I can’t say that there was one particular time of day or schedule that made it work, it’s more like you have to make it work and you try to figure out what is feasible; at the end of the day you just have to get in the chair somehow, and whatever way that happens is the way it works.
Right. I know people who’ve got a set formula that works for them, but personally, that doesn’t exist for me; if it’s not coming, it’s not coming. Now, also, how much does audience input or opinion matter to you? Obviously it’s wonderful if people enjoy the work, and it seems they have so far, but I think writing is kind of an interesting creative field; we’re used to people picking our stories apart, we do writing workshops, etc., whereas certain other kinds of art aren’t necessarily as focused on that kind of critique during the creation or completion process. I mean, do you think the commentary will influence your future work, or not so much?
I think you can’t think about that; it is true, people have opinions, but I really think you can only write what you can write. With a novel, it takes so long, and you have to prepare so much material, that you really have to find something that interests you. The truth is, you never know if the book is ever going to be anywhere but right in front of you, so the idea of trying to predict what somebody might want just makes no sense. You really have to do it because you want to for yourself.
Right. And have you already started anything new, or are you just breathing a sigh of relief that this first novel is completed?
You know, I have been taking notes for a new novel, but right now I’ve been working on some shorter personal essays, which has been a lot of fun; it’s a different kind of writing, and it doesn’t take seven years to do. [Laughs] It feels nice to have a more short-term outlet for creative work, though I have every intention of trying again at writing a novel, and I will. But it’s nice to just enjoy this, too, and just be present for it.
SPEAKING of being present, don’t forget to swing by powerHouse Arena tomorrow night for the book launch! In the meantime, grab a copy of Love All, and follow Callie on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest updates.