Why does this feel so natural?
Maybe because I question myself all the time, especially when I write. Is that the perfect word? Is this scene pointless? Is my protagonist having another boring conversation with another character who’s going to get cut in the next draft?
So you write a lot of drafts?
I’m a drafter, not an outliner. I’ve never been good with the planning-ahead thing—in writing or in life. I recently heard Emma Donoghue, who wrote Room, talk about writing as architecture. She plans her novels out in detail before she sits down to construct them. I’m too impatient for that. I get an idea—a crisp sentence, a stranger engaging in some intriguing activity, such as trying and failing, for days on end, to do a cartwheel—and I start speed-writing. But eventually, my engine stalls: “Wait…where was I going with this?” or, “Who is this awful character I want nothing to do with?” And I start over. And over and over and over.
Where are all these characters you’ve killed?
I didn’t kill them. I never brought them to life.
Do you still think about them?
Not often. Although…
There was this one guy.
This magician. In my first novel, WHO BY FIRE, there was a magician who performed at corporate holiday parties, making his way around the long table of employees, pulling handkerchiefs out of secretaries’ ears and lighting CEOs’ napkins on fire. I cut him because he had nothing to do with anything, but I hope to plant him in a novel one day.
You couldn’t plant him in your second novel?
My second novel, SKINNY, is set at a weight-loss camp, no place for corporate parties or magicians. I could have forced the magician in, but forcing anything into a piece of writing usually leads to cutting it later.
So SKINNY is a book about fat people?
In part. It’s about fat people who want to stay fat, fat people who want to lose weight, thin people who think they’re fat, people who can’t stop eating, people who won’t let themselves eat, people with broken hearts, people with attitudes, people who love and cry and long for things they can’t have. It’s also about food.
Seems like everyone writes about food these days.
Our culture is obsessed with food. The concept that really boggles my mind is the self-proclaimed “foodie,” who fetishizes food, as if it’s a French maid uniform, and overlooks the problems food causes, or at least represents. In many parts of the world, there’s not enough food. In America, we suffer from obesity and eating disorders. In more and more “Americanized” countries, industrialized food delivers excesses of chemicals and sugar and salt and ingredients that we can’t even pronounce. So yes, food is a popular topic, and that’s a good thing; we need to talk about it because we need change.
Are you ready to step off your soap box now?
The soap box is officially in the recycling bin.
Did you enjoy writing SKINNY?
I enjoyed researching it—spending ten weeks at a weight-loss camp in North Carolina, teaching water aerobics, living with the oldest girls, falling in love with the personal trainer. That was fun.
That’s not what I asked.
Writing is not always much fun. To circle back to the first question, writing involves a lot of self-doubt. I constantly question myself. But when I can break through the self-doubt, when the questions go quiet, when my mind goes quiet, then writing is like being on an open stretch of highway on cruise control.