Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Q&A with Lisa Gornick

Lisa Gornick, photo by Sigrid Estrada
Lisa Gornick is the author of the new novel in linked stories Louisa Meets Bear. She also has written the novels Tinderbox and A Private Sorcery. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including AGNI and Slate, and she lives in New York City.

Q: How did you come up with the various characters you created in Louisa Meets Bear, and why did you set the linked stories over a period of decades?

A: My characters usually begin with a tiny flash, a glimpse in my imagination of a face or a snippet of conversation or even a situation, a bit like the way we might glimpse a stranger on a bus or at a party or in a doctor's office.

Just as we get to know people over time, as their stories fill in, so it goes for me with fictional characters as slowly I imagine their lives: Was she injured as a child? Has he had his heart broken? What does she do in the middle of the night?
During this time, I take a lot of notes, but I usually don't begin what I think of as the real writing until I have a handle on who my characters are.

Then, in the same way that we only really get to know a person through our interactions—Is he generous or restricted? Is she brave or retreating? Is he able to see himself or not?—it is only after I’ve put my characters into scenes that their true natures emerge.

This book was literally decades in the making. The earliest version of the earliest of these stories stretches back over 25 years.  All of the stories were rewritten when they came together as Louisa Meets Bear, but for many of them, the era in which they take place mirrors when they were originally conceived.

Q: Did you need to do any particular research to write the stories?

A: Both my last novel, Tinderbox, and the one I am working on now, required extensive research before I began writing. By contrast, the stories, while not autobiographical, are set in places I’ve lived or visited against the backdrop of the social unrest and social fluidity of the second half of the 20th century—the era of my own life.

That said, I feel compelled to do my best to have my facts straight, both to honor history and because I am interested in how social forces—be it class or unemployment or corruption—are understood through individual lives.

Q: In our previous interview, you said that you “see and understand the world through an analytic lens.” How does that way of looking at things carry through to Louisa Meets Bear?

A: By an analytic lens, I mean a deep belief in the powerful impact unconscious experience has on everyday life. All of my characters—like all of us—live with ghosts of past relations that are encoded in their dreams and fantasies and replayed in their current lives.

Q: Which authors have inspired you?

A: As a story writer, my earliest and most important influence was Alice Munro: I was awestruck by the economy and depth with which she conveys an entire life in a single story.  

I’ve also been inspired by three writers whose books have been labeled “linked stories,” but which are, in my view, better described as “novels in fragments”: Elisabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.  

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working a new novel, titled The Peacock Feast, that centers on the imagined fall-out over a century from a true event that took place in 1916, when Louis C. Tiffany, the exacting glass genius, torpedoed the breakwater in front of his extravagant and eccentric Oyster Bay mansion rather than allowing the townsfolk to reclaim it for public bathing. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I’ll be giving a number of readings from Louisa Meets Bear in June and July (including at D.C.’s Politics and Prose), and I’d be delighted to meet your readers at any of these events. For details, see www.lisagornickauthor.com. And thank you, Deborah, for the interview!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For a previous Q&A with Lisa Gornick, please click here.

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