For someone who doesn’t have children, you write with exquisite precision about the pain of parenthood. Where does this come from?
It’s often said that only children become hyper-attuned to the world around them because they don’t have the extra stimulus of siblings and they don’t compete for their parents’ attention. As a writer, I came to use this only-child sensitivity to my benefit. Human suffering is not so complicated. You’d have to be like Spock, or a sociopath not to at least grasp the spectrum of possible pain involved in parenting.
If you could meet one dead writer for coffee, who would it be?
Sylvia Plath, queen of metaphor and high drama. After having read her journals, I feel we had a lot in common (minus the suicidal impulses). Eerily, I am the age right now that she was when she killed herself. (No need to worry about me).
You’re deep into the MFA program at Bennington. How has it changed the way you approach your writing?
Yeah, about neck-deep, at this point. For those sneering critics of MFAs out there, it hasn’t turned me into a literary automaton trying to compose pretty little pieces of meaningless fluff! I’ve come to accept the inevitable reality that good writing happens in the revision process. The program has further impressed upon me that writing is a viable, critical and meaningful contribution to the world and it has forced me to look at all the bad habits I have so successfully hidden from writing groups. Anything that forces you to read 100 books critically in two years has got to be good.
You interview writers for the radio program, Word by Word. As we sit here trying to come up with interesting questions for you, we can’t help wondering how you decide what to ask your subjects.
I do it just like you do. I sit around scratching my head. Mainly, I think of all the times I’ve listened to Terry Gross’s “Fresh Air” and thought “Terry! Why’d you ask that idiotic question?”
We’re all voyeurs; we want to know what moves a writer, what compels them, what bad things happened in their childhoods and why the hell they bother to sit for hours doing something that most people consider a painful part of their high school experience.
M&Ms: plain or peanut?
Depends how wild I’m feeling. But definitely suck off the candy coating first.