I was having a hard time interviewing myself, so I decided to let my book interview me. These questions are all taken verbatim from dialogue in the first chapter of The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, posed to/by Sophie or another character.
I think I started writing, at first, because I had a bunch of stories in my head and I wanted to get them out somehow. Now I think I do it because it allows me to get to a quieter, but also more uncanny and unpredictable state of mind than I usually get to visit in my day-to-day life. Also, writing fiction is one of the few things I do that is intrinsically justified; it’s worth doing for its own sake, even if it doesn’t benefit me or anybody else in a tangible way.
I definitely write about the things that scare me, which are probably the same things that scare a lot of people: isolation, death, failure, betrayal. In some ways writing is a way to confront what really freaks me out, deep down, and also to take the painful aspects of life and make something, if not beautiful, then at least interesting out of them.
What’s the movie about?
It’s a novel about a director, Sophie Stark, who makes movies in part based on the lives of people close to her, which creates a lot of problems for her and for them. One of the movies is about the love of her life, Allison — it’s fictionalized, but Sophie ends up using Allison’s real life in ways that hurt Allison and their relationship. Another is about the mother of the man Sophie ends up marrying. It’s hard for me to say what they’re about on a deeper level, what Sophie’s work is about overall, because one of the most important things about her is that she’s unknowable in a certain way, even for me. I will say that I think her movies are an attempt to make her life into art, and to create a legacy for herself that’s bigger than just her life story or the stories of people around her.
That’s not a true story, is it?
The Life and Death of Sophie Stark isn’t based on anything real, although I do feel like some aspects of myself are in all the characters (and maybe all the characters I’ve written). I think Sophie was an opportunity to express the megalomania that maybe all artists have a little bit of, the desire to make something great and be great, not just good. That desire isn’t totally socially acceptable to express in normal life (maybe especially for women), so Sophie felt like a safe outlet for it. I wouldn’t, I hasten to add, ever want to treat other people the way she does; I don’t even think she wants to.
What are you doing here?
I moved to New York after grad school because I had a job that was based here — I’d been telecommuting, but it seemed like a good idea to try living in the same city as my coworkers. I considered moving home to Los Angeles but I was twenty-six and I felt like I wanted a lot of new things to happen to me; I was worried they wouldn’t if I went back to my hometown. Now I’ve been here almost six years and often it feels like home, though I miss L.A. in ways I never thought I would. I miss my family, of course, but I also miss the light — we just don’t get light like that here. Light is something I have in common with Sophie; we both think a lot about the color and angle and quality of it, even though in general I’m much less visual than she is.
Where’d you get that?
I think my writing in general is influenced by my favorite novels (Infinite Jest, early Neal Stephenson), but also by essays (especially Annie Dillard’s), poetry (Anne Carson, Li-Young Lee, Louise Gluck, Claudia Emerson), and TV (Star Trek, Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, The X-Files). Movies have influenced me too, but I wouldn’t say there are necessarily any movies that directly inspired The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, or Sophie’s films. I think in general the movies that have influenced me most are the ones I watched when I was first allowed to see movies without my parents (I remember watching Fargo, which I was probably too young to see, and the 1996 remake of Diabolique, which I definitely was), and the ones I watched in 2003 when I was briefly a movie critic for my college paper (The Swimming Pool, The Station Agent, The Singing Detective). These movies, even the ones that aren’t very good (let’s be honest about Diabolique here), gave me this feeling of just being smacked in the face with awe, which I try to recreate, in a small way, in fiction.
What do you want?
I’d like to keep writing novels, and I’d like them to be good, by which I mean I’d like them to give me that feeling of rightness I sometimes get when I feel like I’ve said what I wanted to say (or at least gotten as close as I’m going to get). I’d like to keep trying new things, and I’d like to keep writing about the things that are important to me, which right now are questions about heroism and how people are remembered, but also about how people relate to one another and what happens when they don’t. I’d like people to keep reading novels, not just because I like writing them but because I like reading them, and I’d like to have plenty of people to talk about them with.
You’ll have to read to find out.
ANNA NORTH is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and her writing has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Atlantic, Glimmer Train, Nautilus, and Salon; on Jezebel and BuzzFeed; and in the New York Times, where she is a staff editor. The author of America Pacifica, she lives in Brooklyn, New York.