You wrote a novel, Little Known Facts, about a family in Hollywood. What business do you have doing that? For one, you’re not from a Hollywood family.
Hey, it’s fiction – not memoir! I get to make things up. I’ve been interested in movies my whole life, in the huge personalities that make films, and in the fascination many of us have with famous people. I wanted to see what would happen if I wrote about all of these things at one time.
What happened when you did?
I had the most fun of my life.
Maybe. But it really was fun; I love these characters. Even if one or two of them might not be that nice. I hope, even if they’re selfish in one or two cases, that they’re still interesting.
What if someone you know, someone younger and more innocent, told you s/he wanted to be a writer? What would you say?
Stop talking about it and start writing. I’d also say, It’s going to take a while to get your work published, at least if you plan to publish it in the traditional way – with a reputable publisher, in good literary journals and magazines, etc. It almost always takes longer than you expect it will. Tea Obreht is one of a few recent exceptions to that rule. But it didn’t happen overnight for her either, I’m guessing – just at an age long before it happens for most of us.
What’s the best advice you’ve gotten lately about how to write well?
From George Saunders when he was at DePaul University recently for a reading; he said what he tries for when he’s writing is line-by-line energy. If that’s in the prose, the story is much more likely to work.
One more piece of writerly advice that has stayed with me comes from John Updike who said during an interview years ago with Teri Gross that he aspires to write prose that reads like poetry, that if a reader were to take any page from one of his novels, he wants that page to read like a poem. Who can write a sentence like Updike could? Whatever your view of his topical interests and not-so-progressive sexual politics, the man did know how to string a sentence together.
As for your new novel, what’s it about?
There are several point of view characters, and they all have something to say about the book’s focal character, Renn Ivins, who is a famous actor in his 50s with two grown children, two ex-wives, a girlfriend younger than both his son and daughter, who are 24 and 26 when the book opens. Renn eventually gets to speak for himself too. I wanted to write about the effects of fame, as I imagine them, on both the famous and the people they are closest to.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to move to Hollywood and become famous?
I’m guessing that it’s even harder than becoming a writer who has two nickels to rub together. Wouldn’t advise it. But I’d admire your cojones if you tried it.
Christine Sneed’s second book, the novel Little Known Facts, is out on February 12, 2013, from Bloomsbury. Her first book, Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry, won AWP’s 2009 Grace Paley Prize, Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year, and Ploughshares Zacharis Award for a first book. Portraits was also a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, first fiction category. She lives in Evanston, IL and teaches for Northwestern University and the low-residency MFA program at Pacific University.