I wish I had five novels stashed in my desk. But no, this is really my first novel. I did start one back in the late 80s. I got about 50 pages in and showed it to a writing class. Big mistake. One of the other writers, an experienced editor, or so I thought at the time, told me I had no idea what I was doing, that my pacing was all wrong, more like a short story than a novel, and that I would run out of steam unless I made an outline and slowed things down. Now that I am recounting this, I wonder why I didn’t just make the outline and keep on going? But I didn’t. I put the book away and never finished it.
Why did you write your first novel from the viewpoint of a man?
It wasn’t exactly a choice. A male voice came to me, in the form of the rant that starts the book. For a long time that’s all I had, the ranting of a man who worked nights and couldn’t sleep days, because his upscale neighbors made so much noise renovating. I found this voice to be endearing and radical at the same time. I mean, it’s almost anti-American to be anti-renovation! Although, when you think of it, home improvement is a fairly recent phenomenon. My parent’s generation didn’t renovate. They did almost nothing to improve their homes. They took them at face value. If there was mustard-yellow tile in the bathroom, they bought mustard-yellow-hand towels. If the wall-to-wall carpeting was baby-shit brown, they averted their eyes, or remarked how it warmed up a room. If the dishwasher broke, they used it to store dishes instead. So the voice of the main character, Bob Boland, came to me, and I was taken by it.
Does your writing always start with a voice?
Yes, actually, it does. I might have an idea for a story or a character, or a situation but I can’t really get into it, until I hear a voice. It doesn’t have to be a character’s voice per se, it can be a narrative voice, a certain stance towards the material, or a distance from it, but somehow the voice of the story announces itself to me.
Is that limiting?
Yes, sometimes the voice that starts me out is not what I would have chosen to start the story, but it was the first thing that came to me, that started the flow. Maybe I get too attached to it, too grateful! But also, I like limits, constraints. Perhaps if I had a more analytical mind, I would create limits in the structure of the piece, but generally, I embrace the limits that happen randomly.
Did you take that long ago editor’s advice and work from an outline for Everyone Loves You Back?
No, I wrote the whole first draft without an outline and then I revised it, with an eye toward structure and plot. I vowed then that on my second novel, which I am writing now, I would make an outline, get things right the first time around.
And did you?
No. Or at least, not yet. I’m not wedded to the idea of never using an outline. If it suddenly got easier for me to work from an outline, I would do it, in a minute. But so far it hasn’t felt right or easy. I do go back and make sort of retroactive outlines — you know, this happened, that happened, shit, now what happens? — but I need to know the people and the world of the book, before I can plan something out for them.
I really admire people who can plan everything ahead, who can think big picture, who can step back and see the structure and the flaws in the structure. But it doesn’t come naturally to me. Although neither did dialog when I first started writing. I had to learn how to write dialog. Perhaps structure will respond to the same determination. Just talking about this makes me want to get back to my second novel and try it out.
Has getting a novel published been a distraction from writing your second one?
Yes, definitely. But what a good distraction! I’ve been writing for a really long time, taken classes, gone to grad school, published stories in little magazines, surrounded myself with wonderful writer friends and mentors. It’s something that has defined me, kept me sane, given meaning to my life. But not many people had ever read any of my writing. It was this very well kept secret for years. Now to have a novel out, and to have my friends, family, colleagues, and strangers actually reading it, is such a treat.
Are you just working on novels now?
No, I’m still writing short stories and essays, too. But I am enamored of the novel right now. I never thought I could write one. I always thought I had to have some grand, overarching idea to write a novel. But I really liked writing one. I liked the length, the freedom to explore multiple paths, the structure, and the years-long practice of it. A friend from my writing group expressed it perfectly when he said, “There is nothing like the feeling of having a novel going.”
Did you always know there was going to be a love story in Everyone Loves You Back?
No, I started with more of a hate story. Bob is at war with his neighbors, and in a way, with the whole modern, consumerist world. But then pretty quickly, romance blooms. His coworker makes a play for him. He is attracted to a Harvard professor. I guess I am a matchmaker at heart. The more I wrote Bob, the more I liked him, and I saw no reason why other women wouldn’t like him, too.
LOUIE CRONIN, author of the novel Everyone Loves You Back, is a writer, radio producer and audio engineer. For ten years she served as NPR’s “Car Talk” traffic cop, producing the show and ensuring that every call was entertaining. Everyone Loves You Back won the 2016 Molly Ivors Fiction Prize from Gorsky Press in LA, leading to the novel’s publication. A graduate of Boston University’s Masters program in Creative Writing and a past winner of the Ivan Gold Fiction Fellowship from the Writers’ Room of Boston, Louie has had her fiction and essays published in Compass Rose, The Princeton Arts Review, Long Island Newsday, The Boston Globe Magazine, and on PRI.org. Her short stories have been finalists for both Glimmer Train and New Millennium Writings awards. Louie has been awarded residencies at the Ragdale Foundation, the Virginia Center for the Arts, and the Vermont Studio Center. Currently she works as a technical director for PRI’s The World and lives in Boston with her husband, the sculptor James Wright.