Faith Sullivan is the author of the new novel Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse. Her other novels include The Cape Ann, Gardenias, and The Empress of One. She lives in Minneapolis.
Q: Many of your novels are linked through their characters and setting. Did you plan Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse as you were writing the earlier novels, or did the specific idea for this book come to you later?
A: The idea of linking Wodehouse, an idol of mine, and Nell Stillman came to me later though it was always my intention to write about Nell. When writing The Cape Ann, I created histories for many of the characters, including Nell. I like to do this with major characters, and even then I considered her a major character though her role was not huge.
When Nell's time came, I said to myself, "Here's a woman with a pocketful of troubles. In telling her story, why not give her a source of escape and relief?" Wodehouse has long been the author to whom I personally escape so I loaned him to her.
Q: At one point, Nell thinks, "The years could rob [people] of friends and farms, of youth and health but books would endure." What role do you see literature playing in your characters’ lives?
A: I make a conscious effort in most of my books to convey the notion that literature, more than religion, is the path to understanding ourselves and the world, if indeed either can be understood.
I truly believe that the more people read worthwhile books, the more empathic they become and consequently the more they value human life.
Q: Can you say more about your use of P.G. Wodehouse's work as a major theme in the book?
A: Well, as I said, I have always turned to him when I really needed to escape. He was perhaps the quintessential stylist of the 20th century and in my opinion the funniest writer ever. I have long hoped to pay homage to him.
And, great humor has the ability to heal. Who knows why or how? Maybe by taking our minds off the kind of thoughts that make us sick, maybe by making us laugh. Laughter is healing, who would deny it?
Q: How did you research all the historical details in the novel?
A: I was a history major in college, and 20th century American history was my special interest. Over the years, I've amassed a fair library of books on the subject. Since I'm not on the Internet, I turn to these reference works constantly. They are old friends.
Add to this the fact that I am no spring chicken, as the saying goes. I lived a great deal of the 20th century.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A novel titled Ruby, set in the early years of the last century. The idea grew out of Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse and Nell's recalling the story of a farmer's hired girl who fell in love with a neighbor, another farmer, who happened to be married.
This fellow's wife discovers his deceit but doesn't know who his paramour is. The wife attempts suicide, hanging herself in their barn, but is rescued by the hired man.
In the rescue, however, she breaks a hip and her husband's lover (Ruby) is sent to help during her recovery. You can see why Nell considers this story as complicated as a Wodehouse plot.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: After Ruby, I will finish a novel about Lark Erhardt, a character in several of my books.
One might guess, upon reading Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse, that I love people who love books, whether they write them or read them. Books and writers are my religion, and that religion has served me well.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb