Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Q&A with novelist Meg Wolitzer

Meg Wolitzer, photo by Nina Subin
Meg Wolitzer is the author of nine novels, including The Ten-Year Nap, The Uncoupling, and, just released, The Interestings.

Q: How did you come up with the characters for The Interestings, and did you always plan for the book to encompass several decades of their lives?

A: I wanted to write a book about what becomes of early talent over time. The concept came first, and the characters, who represented different possibilities involving talent, came second, except for my central protagonist Jules, who was already formed in my mind from the start. I was very influenced by the director Michael Apted's documentary film series, the Up movies (7 Up, 28 Up, etc., and I loved the way time passed in those films.  I knew that I wanted time to pass in The Interestings, and that we would get to see what became of all the promise those young characters possessed.

Q: The Interestings grounds the characters in recent American history, including Watergate, the AIDS crisis, and the economic troubles of recent years. Do you think these characters are products of their specific time period, or are they more timeless?

A: Their time period affects the choices they make, certainly, but I think people are products of their time only to a certain extent.  You could also say, of course, that eras are created and shaped by the people in them.  It's a bit of both, in the book.  I was pleased when readers in their early twenties told me they related to the young characters who are in their twenties during the 1980s.

Q: You are able to create characters with whom the reader feels a connection. Do you have favorites among your creations, and what, in your opinion, makes a character sympathetic?

A: I kind of fell in love with Ethan Figman, one of my main characters, a brilliant, homely animator.  He is the only character who is really able to inhabit his imagination and creativity fully.  There's a lot of emphasis out there in the world on whether characters in a book are "likable" or not.  I tend not to think that way, but I really do try and give them as much wholeness as I can, and then, because they're human and fallible and mortal, I often feel sympathetic toward them.

Q: Your mother, Hilma Wolitzer, is also a novelist. How would you say your writing compares with hers?

A: Well, this book is certainly longer than hers tend to be, and I think my novels often include more points of view.  But we do have some overlaps in how we see the world, including a particular blend of humor and sadness.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm at the very early stages of a new book, but so early that nothing is visible yet to the human eye, so I think I'd better keep it to myself.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: A lot of online Scrabble gets played around here between chapters.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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