August 31, 2011
Thank you for coming.
It’s the least I could do.
What’s the most common question you’ve been asked lately?
What’s wrong with you?
What do you say?
I just shake my head.
Do you know the answer?
I know half the answer.
Now that all “this” has begun, what are some of the most interesting questions you’ve been asked?
That’s also a good question. Here are two.
1. It took a long time to get this novel published. Why did you keep working despite apparently endless rejections?
I don’t know exactly. I think it must be the same thing that keeps me writing now. I’m not sure what that is. It would be easy to say that it’s the desire to tell a good story, to entertain, to make my mark on the world. But while I suppose I hope to do all of those things, it isn’t why I write. It’s all very mysterious, and I think the most I can say is that I write because of that mystery. I hope this doesn’t sound pretentiously abstract, but I do think I write in honor of mystery and to surprise myself.
2. What’s been most surprising about having your novel published? What’s happened that you’d not expected to happen?
I began writing You Deserve Nothing without anyone’s help and with the support and enthusiasm of only a few very good friends. At the start I felt isolated and disconnected and the novel is to a great extent about isolation and disconnection. But what has been surprising is that out of this deeply solitary act, I have found a community. I began to read the pieces of the book at a Cabaret Populaire in Paris. Slowly, I began to feel as if I was part of something larger. We were all writers and musicians trying to make our place. I made good friends at Caberet Populaire because of my work, and because of theirs. And at a very difficult time in my life I began to feel a sense of belonging. Later, I read chapters aloud to a friend in New York who listened while she painted. After I’d finished the novel and had given up on it being published, I moved to Iowa City where I made a very few extraordinary friends and those friendships were born out of a shared passion for writing. When I was deciding whether or not to come to Iowa, my agent – also a fundamental part of this strange and evolving community – asked me how lonely I was. It was the right question; I was lonely and so I went. At Iowa, the more seriously I worked, the more intent I became on writing as a profession, the stronger this community felt. And then the novel sold. Suddenly, there were all of these people working together – at Europa Alice Sebold, Julia Haav, Kimberly Burns, Michael Reynolds. And when the book was sold to the UK, the community grew to include–Eleanor Birne and Lyndsey Ng. Each of these people possesses a genuine respect for writing and publishing fiction that goes beyond commerce and personal advancement. Given the state of the literary world, that strikes me as noble and it feels good to be part of it.
And now, in response to the novel, I’ve begun to receive beautiful letters from readers. I’m surprised and honored by all of it. I love that out of a dark isolation, a community of people has sprung up around me. When I began writing five years ago, such a privilege was beyond my imagination.