Q: You've written in several different forms--novel, novella, short story. Is there one that you prefer, and why or why not?
A: I've found that the material generally determines the form. Once I know what I'm doing--who the characters are, where they are, what's happening to them, what they're doing and not doing--then the form is clear and I focus on how to write the particular piece and don't think a lot about alternate forms.
That said, my third book, Songs Without Words, concerns in part a family in which a teenaged girl hits a rough patch psychologically and begins to spiral downward, and many years before I started writing that book I'd written a short story about a different family under the same kind of pressure. So in that case the raw material supplied both a short story and a novel.
A: Plot and character really come into being together--along with setting, voice, etc. It's all of a piece. Usually I begin by discovering that I'm imagining a character in a certain situation and it builds from there. As to the difficult situations, I subscribe to the idea that if there isn't a problem there isn't a story. The nature of my characters' difficulties comes from my particular life experience, obsessions, etc. I don't mean I draw directly from my experience; I mean that the only way I can explain why I write what I write is to say my work is a product of my mind, which is a product of my life. And of course this is true of every writer.
Q: Your brother, George Packer, is also a writer. Were you both interested in writing from an early age?
A: My brother was very interested in writing from early on--I think before he was 10. I came to it much later, when I was in college.
A: No, I don't believe so. I think about the characters in my current work all the time, but that's because I'm trying to figure out how to write them. They exist in images and ideas that either find their way into language or don't, and disappear. Once I'm finished with a book I'm no longer trying to compose the characters in it, and my mind moves on to the next project.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm working on my third novel.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb